Forget the ‘roids, there are ways to improve your sporting performance that won’t earn you a doping ban.
1. Altitude Training
“Altitude training is all about increasing the amount of oxygen contained within your blood, thereby allowing you to perform better, for longer,” says medical writer Dr Nicola Ray. As you can probably glean from its name, this technique requires you to get preeeetty high up – at least 2,400 metres (8,000 feet) above sea level. You can definitely see your house from up there.
“With the air being relatively ‘thin’ up at that height and oxygen being in short supply,” says Dr Ray, “athletes who train at these altitudes find their bodies acclimatise by producing greatly increased amounts of oxygen – and these unnatural oxygen levels then remain in place for 10 to 14 days, more than enough time to give them a distinct advantage during professional competitions.”
So effective is altitude training that some endurance athletes permanently reside at high altitude, only descending to walk amongst us normal folk when it’s competition time.
But is it cheating? Well, maybe not exactly, although you are at a massive disadvantage if you don’t have regular access to a whacking great mountain range to run around. “Although there are a few places where you can try simulated altitude training, unfortunately,” shrugs Dr Ray, “there’s not really anywhere in the UK naturally high enough for effective altitude training.”
2. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
You may never have heard of transcranial magentic stimulation (TMS), but it’s an increasingly big deal in athletic training, and is likely to become a source of great controversy as the technology involved gets better and titchier.
So what is it, exactly? “TMS involves placing a metal figure-of-eight coil on specific point on a subject’s head,” explains Dr Nicola Ray. “A magnetic pulse runs through the coil, which causes an electrical signal to travel into the brain.
“You place the coil over the exact part of the brain you want to stimulate, and it happens locally – so it doesn’t spread throughout the brain, it’ll just excite one specific section.”
Okaaay… but why? “Well, if you do it at exactly the right time, while you’re learning a new motor skill – hurdling, for example, or archery – you’ll become an expert far quicker than you would if you weren’t using TMS.
Using TMS would be cheating, obviously – although morally, rather than legally
“For professional athletes – rather than amateurs – this wouldn’t be particularly useful, as they’ll already be highly skilled at their chosen sport. But TMS could be used by pros in other ways: to alter a marathon runner’s pain perception; to increase dopamine production to keep a Tour De France cyclist motivated; or to stimulate an archer’s brain to create a 15-minute window in which they can completely overcome the body’s natural tremors – be superhumanly still, in other words.”
All of which would be cheating, obviously – although morally, rather than legally, because there exists no official legislation surrounding TMS as yet. But expect sporting bodies to take a long, hard look at TMS in the near future, as the tech becomes increasingly effective and practical.
“In general, the devices are too large and heavy to be used by athletes during actual events,” says Dr Ray, “but it won’t be long until an athlete can have a TMS implant beneath their skull, powered by a battery located elsewhere within the body, under the skin. This technology already exists, and is used for Parkinson’s Disease patients. They will be, essentially, cyborg athletes – and that’s something we’re going tosee more and more of in coming years. It’s going to completely change sport.”
Cyborg athletes are going to completely change sport
If you fancy being an early adopter of TMS tech – maybe you want to become a fencing wizard in a matter of hours, or you want to decimate that 5k fun-run next weekend – then it’s perfectly legal and viable for you to do so. DIY brain stimulation is just a Google-search away.
“There are already TMS devices available to buy commercially for home use,” says Dr Ray. “However, they’re not as powerful or accurate as the devices that you’ll find in laboratories. Again, though, that will change as the technology becomes more commonplace…”
TestoBoost is a somewhat controversial product manufactured by Muscle Science, who claim that the capsules are the most powerful supplement available – illegal steroids aside – for boosting male testosterone levels.
“TestoBoost works – theoretically – in the exact same way as steroids do,” says Dr Nicola Ray. “The only difference being, it’s legal.”
TestoBoost works in the exact same way as steroids – the only difference being, it’s legal
In technical speak, TestosBoost “provides an anticatabolic environment” that promotes rapid muscle growth if you’re engaged in strength training. As a saucy side-effect, it will also crank your sex drive up into the red – which will either be a cheeky bonus or a raging nightmare, depending on your ability to actually do anything with this new-found raging horniness.
A lip-smacking mixture of such delicious-sounding ingredients as ZMA, Longifolia Jack and Piper Nigrum Ext 4:1, TestoBoost has split the bodybuilding world down the middle (as have the dozens of other testosterone-boosters available). Some claim to have seen genuine results; others that the testosterone increases are negligible, and the entire market is built on hype and false claims.
So: approach with caution. Particularly if you’re a long-time bachelor with a stifling inability to talk to people you fancy.
The most lo-fi, ethically sound and easily achievable of all these cheats, drinking caffeine is nevertheless a surprisingly effective way to supercharge your fitness.
“Obviously, coffee is a stimulant,” says Dr Ray, “and this stimulation – the energising of the mind and body – can be used to improve your performance.
“A scientific study performed on cyclists and triathletes split subjects up into four groups: one group drank cups of coffee containing 350mg of caffeine; one drank an energy drink also containing 350mg of caffeine; one group drank ‘placebo’ coffee; and the fourth group drank decaffeinated coffee.
Coffee is the performance-enhancing drug you can buy at Tesco
“An hour later, all the subjects performed a cycling test, and the ‘normal’ coffee and caffeinated drink groups performed markedly better than the two caffeine-free groups.”
Basically, coffee is the performance-enhancing drug you can buy at Tesco, rather than from a shifty guy with bulging eyes in the dark corner of a gym locker room.
And if you’re exercising to lose excess weight – which will, of course, improve your fitness levels overall – then a cup of coffee before you head out the door can be just the ticket. “If you have a cup of coffee before you head out for a run,” says Dr Ray, “you’ll burn off more calories and lose more weight, because your metabolism has been accelerated.”