The Use of Ergogenic Aids by Athletes

Ergogenic aids are substances that some athletes use to improve strength and endurance. Anabolic steroids are one type of ergogenic aid that many adults and even adolescents often employ in their efforts to improve their athletic performance and appearance. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, individuals who are experienced in weight lifting and employ the use of anabolic steroids will experience increases in strength and muscle significantly beyond those from training alone. It is this need to win and gain a competitive edge that drives athletes to seek a variety of ergogenic aids.

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Throughout history, humans have sought after foods and potions to discover new ways of creating more powerful and fit bodies. Norse warriors would ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms to prepare for battle. Greek wrestlers would eat massive quantities of meat to build muscle. In the 1860s, swimmers in Amsterdam were considered the first to be charged with using ergogenic aids, such as drugs and nonfood substances, to gain a competitive advantage. According to Healthline, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, amphetamines and anabolic steroids were used extensively. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), concerned about the trend, banned the use of these substances by Olympic athletes in the early 1960s.


According to to Marc D. Silver, M.D., in an article entitled "Use of Ergogenic Aids by Athletes," an ergogenic aid is defined as any means of enhancing energy production and utilization. Ergogenic aids are generally classified into five categories: (1) mechanical aids, such as:

  • "blood doping," which is designed to increase red blood cell content; (4) pharmacological aids
  • which includes anabolic steroids;
  • (5) nutritional aids

The last three categories are the areas that result in the greatest amount of discussion and controversy.


Anabolic steroids, popular among athletes and body-builders, increase muscle mass. A variety of types are combined in a process called "stacking," which athletes use to gain the best attributes from each particular drug. "Blood doping" increases red blood cell content, which improves muscular endurance. Red blood cells transport oxygen to the working muscles. Obtaining a higher percentage of transport vehicles allows the muscles to work harder and for a longer duration without fatigue. Some pharmacological drugs such as beta blockers can be used to reduce anxiety and tremors. This is beneficial for individuals competing in sports that require smooth, focused movements, such as archery or shooting.


Not all ergogenic aids are considered illegal or banned from sports. As athletes continue to seek new ergogenic aids in efforts to improve performance, athletic organizations will continue to review each particular type and decide if it provides an unfair advantage or could cause serious health problems in users 2. Although using pharmacological drugs to increase red blood cell count is banned from sports, athletes can sleep in hyperbaric chambers, which cause the body to produce more red blood cells. Utilizing these hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, chambers has not been banned from sports, though they produce the same outcomes as do the banned drugs.


Many ergogenic aids have negative side effects and can be very dangerous. The American College of Sports Medicine, when discussing the use of drugs for "blood doping," states that complications such as death from thrombosis, hypertension and seizures have been reported. Anabolic steroids have also been reported to cause both physiological and mental health issues. Make sure you fully understand the risks and benefits before using an ergogenic aid.