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Sports in general and body building in particular have been altered to one degree or another by drugs. In football, for example, drugs have been used to stimulate athletes or to enable them to "play hurt." In body building, drugs have been widely credited with producing the look that has been in vogue for the past decade or so. A body builder's physique is the equipment he wins with, and since the late '60s and early '70s this look has been changing.
Builders are no longer winning contests by displaying a body slightly more developed and more symmetrical than normal. To compete successfully in contests such as Mr. America and Mr. Olympia, one must now have an appearance of massiveness, density and definition. Builders strive to achieve the abnormal look they were criticized for more than two decades ago, when they were expected to more nearly resemble a piece of well-proportioned Greek sculpture.
Competing 20 years ago might have meant having 17-inch biceps, 23-inch thighs and a 45-inch chest; today measurements would have to be 22, 28 and 57. Besides enormous muscle size, body building fans are now treated to the sight of veins running down the sides of a builder's arms, the distinct outlines of the deltoid muscles on his shoulders and almost the exact point of insertion for each head of the biceps. If one were to look still closer, he might see the actual strands of muscle fiber pumping through the paper-thin skin. Some argue that the new look is the result of improved diet and exercise, and thus "real"; others consider it artificial, to the extent that it has been achieved by a little blue five-milligram pill, Dianabol.
Body building is slowly becoming overrun by drugs such as this anabolic steroid, with builders popping Dianabol the way Reggie Jackson pops pumpkin seeds. Steroids are products of the body that are generally divided into two categories: the estrogens (primarily produced in females) and the androgens (produced mainly in males). Androgens are responsible for anabolic effects such as an increase in muscle mass and strength. Androgens also precipitate the development of male secondary sexual characteristics during puberty, such as increased body hair and enlargement of the sexual organs. But after puberty heavy dosages of steroids taken for prolonged periods have an opposite effect, leading to decreased function and atrophy of the testes.
Anabolic steroids are potentially dangerous drugs. While all of the side effects and the possible damage to other parts of the body have not yet been determined, it is certain that after several years' use first the liver becomes damaged and then the kidneys. One builder, a heavy user of drugs, was advised by his doctor that his liver had been damaged and he should discontinue taking steroids. It wasn't until his kidneys began to fail and blood appeared in his urine that he was convinced.
Dr. Lawrence Golding, co-chairman of the medical committee for the International Federation of Bodybuilders, says, "I was asked to do some research on the use of steroids among body builders by Ben Weider, president of the IFBB.
"In a formal approach to the problem I found all the athletes I interviewed would vehemently deny that they were taking any kind of drug whatever, but in an informal verbal survey we conducted we found almost all were taking them.
"We also found that many athletes were taking about 30 milligrams per day—the therapeutic dosage is five milligrams—and I discovered a great many taking as much as 100 milligrams."
Says former Mr. Universe and Mr. America Lou Ferrigno, "The problem is those who abuse the drug by taking high dosages. I wish body builders could go back to competing without it." Asked whether he took steroids, Ferrigno said, "I would rather not elaborate on that."
Golding says his research on anabolic steroids indicates that they have no effect at all on building lean muscle mass and explains the continued use of the drug as a result of peer-group pressure. However, endocrinologists feel that the most conclusive study of the effects of anabolic steroids such as Dianabol was conducted by the physiology department of the University of Leeds last year. Working with men undergoing weight training, the Leeds experimenters found, contrary to Golding, that "subjects taking 100 mg/day for six weeks gained weight, mean 3.3 kg [7.26 pounds], and the increase in weight was confined to the lean part of the body." Through the use of radiographic measurements they also concluded that "the muscles increased in size." Some scientists also believe that Dianabol decreases skin-fold thickness—viz., the paper-thin quality of the skin of body builders taking the drug—though here, again, others claim this to be an effect of a high-protein, low-fat diet. Moreover, many builders are convinced the drug gives more definition, or "cuts," to muscles and increases vascularity.