Thursday, March 26, 2009

Caffeine...A Legal PED

According to The New York Times, "caffeine, it turns out, actually works. And it is legal, one of the few performance enhancers that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)."

According to the article, the benefits of caffeine are relevant to all athletes whether you are an endurance athlete or one involved in anaerobic activity. Previously, researchers thought the benefits of caffeine only entailed helping muscles use fat as a fuel, sparing the glycogen stored in muscles and increasing endurance.

Turns out, that caffeine increases the power output of muscles by releasing calcium that is stored in muscle. This effect can enable athletes to keep going longer or faster in the same length of time. Caffeine also plays tricks on the mind's sense of exhaustion, that feeling that it’s time to quit, and you can’t go on. The improvement in performance using caffeine may average about 5 percent, still significant if you goal is to obtain a personal record (PR).

A former sculler who competed nationally and internationally, Mike Perry, only knew one athlete who used caffeine. He said, “People would have psychological issues with using it (caffeine). They would see it as against the spirit of the law, even though it’s not against the law.”

Well said, against the spirit of law even though not against the law. At marathons across the country, there are several people crushing coffees before the start. I doubt any of these weekend warriors have any qualms with the spirit of law even though caffeine is not against the law. The problem with caffeine is that it is so prevalent in our culture. To expect a competitive athlete to give up coffee seems incredulous. If one's motives are looking for every shortcut to optimal performance and is popping Mountain Dew's before a 7am race, then one would have to question that individuals decisions.

But the question remains the same: Is doing something legal wrong in the pursuit of greatness? Mike Perry and his teammates seemed to think so.

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