Performance-enhancing drugs

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Performance-enhancing drugs (also known as PEDs) are substances used by athletes to improve their performances. The term may also refer to drugs used by military personnel to enhance combat performance.[1] Although the phrase performance-enhancing drugs is popularly used in reference to anabolic steroids or their precursors (hence the colloquial term "steroids"), world anti-doping organizations apply the term broadly.[2]

Types of performance-enhancing drugs[edit]

The phrase has been used to refer to several distinct classes of drugs:

  • Lean mass builders, which drive or amplify the growth of muscle and lean body mass, are also used to reduce body fat. They can also reduce the time it takes an athlete to recover from an injury. This class of drugs includes anabolic steroids, xenoandrogens, beta-2 agonists, selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs), and various human hormones, most notably human growth hormone, as well as some of their prodrugs.[3] Performance-enhancing drugs are also found in animals as synthetic growth hormone.
  • Stimulants can enhance cognitive and athletic performance by increasing focus, energy, metabolic rate, and aggression, and by decreasing perceived exertion. Some examples are caffeine, ephedrine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine.[4]
  • Nootropics can increase cognition including memory short term and long term.
  • Painkillers allow performance beyond the usual pain threshold. Some painkillers raise blood pressure, increasing oxygen supply to muscle cells. Painkillers used by athletes range from common over-the-counter medicines such as NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen) to powerful prescription narcotics.
  • Sedatives and anxiolytics are sometimes used in sports like archery which require steady hands and accurate aim, and also to overcome excessive nervousness or discomfort. Diazepam and propranolol are common examples; ethanol and cannabis are also used occasionally.
  • Diuretics expel water from the body. They are often used by athletes who need to meet weight restrictions, such as wrestlers. Many stimulants also have a secondary diuretic effect and are also used as masking drugs.
  • Blood boosters increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood beyond the individual's natural capacity. They are used in endurance sports like long-distance running, cycling, and Nordic skiing. EPO is one of the most widely-known drugs in this class.
  • Masking drugs, as a group, do not have any specific type of pharmacodynamic action; a masking drug is simply any drug used to prevent the detection of other classes of drugs. The chemical compositions and administration regimens of masking drugs change as quickly as testing methods do.[5] A common example of a masking drug is epitestosterone, which possesses no performance-enhancing effects, but restores the testosterone/epitestosterone ratio (a common criterion in steroid testing) to normal levels after anabolic steroid supplementation.


The classifications of substances as performance-enhancing drugs are not entirely clear-cut and objective. As in other types of categorization, certain prototype performance enhancers are universally classified as such (like anabolic steroids), whereas other substances (like vitamins and protein supplements) are virtually never classified as performance enhancers despite their effects on athletes' performance. This is because athletes can get the correct amount of protein and supplements their body needs by having a proper diet[6] As is usual with categorization, there are borderline cases; caffeine, for example, is considered a performance enhancer by some athletic authorities but not others.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anon. Better Fighting Through Chemistry? The Role of FDA Regulation in Crafting the Warrior of the Future. Food and Drug Law: Final Paper. March 8, 2004.
  2. ^ "Performance-Enhancing Drug Resources". Drug Free Sport. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  3. ^ McKelvey Martin, Valerie. "Drugs in Sport". Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  4. ^ "Stimulants". Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Yesalis, Charles (2007). "12". Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 
  6. ^ Clark, Nancy. "Athletes and Protein: The Truth About Supplements". Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  7. ^ "Caffeine and Sports Performance". Retrieved 2012-03-04. 

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