Beta blockers refer to a group of three different prescription drugs that, in essence, stop adrenaline from binding to nerve receptors, thus "blocking" the effects of adrenaline. Beta blockers are commonly prescribed for heart conditions--most commonly to control or reduce high blood pressure.
Use of Beta Blockers in Athletics
Despite the common use of beta blockers for heart conditions, for years now athletes have used beta blockers as a sports enhancement drug. Beta blockers widen the arteries, allowing for greater blood flow and reducing involuntary muscle spasms. Research has also determined that beta blockers reduce anxiety. Both reduction of muscle spasms and anxiety is useful in many sports.
Beta Blockers in Gymnastics
Gymnastics is a sport that relies heavily upon balance and stability. Cramping and involuntary muscle spasms are common in the sport and can easily be the difference between winning and losing. Gymnasts often use beta blockers to reduce or eliminate these spasms. Additionally, since any level of athletic competition can be nerve-wracking, beta blockers can calm performance anxiety.
Beta Blockers in Archery
Archery depends heavily on a steady body, especially the arms and hands. Any twitch or spasm in the entire body can send the arrow off the mark. Beta blockers are used to steady one's anxiety and muscles, allowing for solid control of the body and greater accuracy. In almost the exact same way, beta blockers are used in shooting sports to control the muscles and reduce anxiety for more accuracy.
Beta Blockers in Other Sports
While the above sports rely heavily on balance and the stability of certain muscles, beta blockers are also used by a wide range of other athletes, especially at the collegiate or professional level. As noted, beta blockers reduce anxiety, and many athletes use them to calm their nerves during competition.
Legaility of Athletic Use
With few exceptions, the use of beta blockers as a sport enhancement drug is illegal. The International Olympic Committee bars the use of beta blockers in all of its sports categories. The same can be said of the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB. Because beta blockers "block" naturally occurring chemicals in the body and are quickly absorbed, it can be difficult to identify if the athlete is using them, despite strict enforcement.