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PEDs and You: The Benefits of Cheating

Clearly the biggest controversy in the history of baseball, and professional sports in general, has been that of the dreaded Performance Enhancing Drug. Stars have dimmed, records and championships overturned, and fans disillusioned due to simple pharmaceutical chemicals. The magic of modern science has been a blessing and a cure to athletes as while formerly catastrophic and career ending injuries are no longer as big of a deal as they once were but the magical drugs and steroids available have done serious public relations damage to entire leagues and has cast doubt on the legitimacy of professional and amateur sporting events.

There are two sides to the debate about PEDs. Hundreds, if not thousands, of sanctimonious articles have been penned, waxing poetic about how clean and pure things used to be and simply whining about the damage that has been done by these drugs. No one is safe from these accusations and some believe, correctly or incorrectly, that an entire generation of athletes are tarnished due to a few rotten apples who cheated. 

On the other side of the debate is the “who cares?” crowd. Sports have always had cheaters and nothing we can do about it can stop it. In the high pressure culture of professional sports who can blame these athletes for using any advantage possible to be the best that you can be? If we can’t effectively stop the use of PEDs, catch the people you can and hopefully others don’t want to lose money or have their reputations ruined.

Earlier this season, Melky Cabrera, the San Francisco Giants outfielder who at the time was winning the batting title, was popped for using PEDs and suspended for 50 games. Many people called for him to lose the title (which he did, he told MLB to make him ineligible) and as he was a free agent at the conclusion of the season, probably cost himself untold millions of dollars. Once again, the firestorm of accusations, blame, and vitriol filled the internet as the PED debate started all over again.

When this happened, I was curious — considering the number of people who say that steroids and other PEDs aren’t really that big of a deal and might not effect performance all that much — how much of an effect can drugs have on peak athletic performance? These drugs are pretty widely available so I wondered what would happen if an average person, let alone a professional athlete, started taking a substance banned by the MLB and the US Anti-Doping Agency. I obviously wasn’t going to take steroids or anything illegal, so I had to find something that was banned but still legal to take. So I didn’t break any laws or whatever.

I used to wrestle and play football in high school but the mental aspect of exercise just didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t tough enough to survive the pain and injuries and just wasn’t motivated enough which is why I stopped. Obviously one of the biggest parts of exercise is the mental aspect of it — it is an absolute grind to train. I was in the process of losing weight and exercising nearly every day to some success and I decided to be a guinea pig of sorts and track how much progress can be made previous to and after adding a supplement banned by professional sports.

I looked around on the internet and after doing some research, I found a supplement called JP8x Hardcore. It was banned by all the major sports leagues and the olympics and illegal everywhere but the United States.

It claimed: 

"Pumps…sick! Endurance….Sick!  Strength Gains….Sick! Mental Focus, Energy, Drive……Sick! There is JP8x Hardcore and then there are the other products.  Period!  No need to sugar coat it."

It has “Dangerous!” in Spanish on the bottle! It apparently tastes like shit! It has to be good, right? The banned substance in this supplement is 1,3-dimethylamylamine, or DMAA for short. It’s a stimulant that, when used in conjunction with caffeine, apparently just turns you into an exercise machine that can run through walls or something. It is apparently similar to ephedra (which is now illegal and it’s well documented that it killed a bunch of people, including former Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler). A bunch of Rays prospects were suspended for taking it. DMAA is banned by the US Military because two soliders died after taking it during basic training. It’s apparently serious stuff. It also has pregnenolone, a steroid hormone banned by the olympics so I figured that would give me some sort of insight into what taking an illegal steroid would be like. 

So I bought a bottle. And I went to my doctor and talked with him about any potential side effects or problems and while he expressed concern he gave me the okay as long as I was careful and got regular checkups so my heart doesn’t explode. I’ve been taking it for the past four months and I believe I’ve come to a good enough conclusion to accurately state that Performance Enhancing Drugs have an absolute and almost immediate benefit.

Before I started taking this supplement, I lost about 70 or so pounds just doing cardio. I lifted weights once in a while but I was pretty weak and constantly in pain after doing it so I avoided it. I could do 30-45 minutes of cardio but it wiped me out and recovery was constantly an issue. I ached but worked through it. This is me being fat at about 330 pounds, and then slightly less fat at around 270:

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I never really wanted to go to the gym. As I said before, the major component of exercising is the mental aspect. You aren’t competing against anyone, you’re competing against your mind telling you to stop. But you obviously have to push through that to make any gains and I just couldn’t do that. I was okay with what I was doing and while I never dreaded going to the gym, it wasn’t something I really ever wanted to do.

I still remember the first day I took the supplement for the first time. My body tingled due to the beta alanine and all of a sudden my mind was completely changed. I had to go to the gym. It wasn’t a question. It had to happen. So I went on the elliptical and had the hardest and best work out of my life, a full hour! Holy fuck I though to myself. How the fuck am I doing this? I’ve been an out of shape mess for the majority of my adult life, and now all of a sudden not only am I having a compulsion to go to the gym but I’m suddenly going harder and longer than I ever have before? This doesn’t make sense. It’s fucking food magic, not real. This stuff can’t work, there’s no way. It has to be a placebo.

I kept on taking it and over months the gains I was making were astronomical. Suddenly I was running 5ks. It took like 38 minutes. Still wanted more. The compulsion got stronger. I had to push myself. The time started shrinking. 35 minutes. 33 minutes. 30 minutes. 28 minutes?! This is wrong. I can’t really be doing this. Weights time. Started doing curls and squats and presses. Things I could never do before. 80 pounds. 90 pounds. 100 pounds. What the hell had gotten into me? I couldn’t believe it. And this was only at the start. Then I started looking at the amount of time I was there for. Thirty minutes became an hour. An hour became an hour and a half. An hour and a half became two. It was unbelievable. The weight started flying off. Instead of being 270, suddenly I was 235 and healthy. I went from a 44 pant to a 36. The doctor took my blood pressure, 110/80 from 130/90. In three months. I was floored.

This was me today, a pretty big difference.

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To see those results for me, an average person, I couldn’t even imagine the benefits that something like this could give to a professional athlete. There is a reason why athletes take these drugs — there are benefits. And for people who believe that they don’t improve performance in the gym, they absolutely do.

There is one distinction that I have to be make, however. These drugs would not suddenly make me into a baseball player. I am not going to become Barry Bonds because I started taking a banned substance. I can’t recognize pitches. In the batting cages, I can’t hit anything faster than 50 miles per hour. On the mound, I still can’t find the plate and I can’t throw all that fast either. There is still a lot of work that goes into honing your body and becoming an athlete. It’s not easy work. The athlete still has to put in the time and effort in the gym to become great.

However, the conclusion that I came to is that it definitely helps. I’ve seen first hand what happens when you cheat. PEDs certainly make athletes better at what they do. And when you take a once in a lifetime talent like say Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong and add in something that makes their talent and potential even more real it can turn men into immortals. If an average person can take this and over time and with work become stronger, fitter, and healthier, I still can’t even imagine the benefits that these PEDs can bestow upon someone with real athletic ability. An athlete is made in the gym, they are constantly working on getting stronger and improving. Being able to work out harder with few issues and have unprecedented strength gains will allow an athlete to run faster and hit the ball harder. They absolutely benefit greatly from taking these drugs. 

While Babe Ruth did it with beer and hot dogs, today’s athlete can do it even better with synthetic chemicals. And that truly is worrysome.

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