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Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) in Competitive Athletics

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There’s been quite a bit of publicity on performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in athletics recently. Many of you have likely learned from one or another media outlet about Lance Armstrong’s extremely controversial confession to Oprah Winfrey last month.

After being stripped of his 7 Tour De France wins it appears that now other athletic organizations are cracking down on the use of PEDs.  Adding fuel to the fire it was recently revealed that Vitor Belfort was on TRT during his win over Michael Bisping on Jan. 19th.

Belfort vs Bisping

Dana White, President of the UFC, made some rather strong comments on the subject during the UFC on Fuel TV 7 post-fight press conference yesterday, Feb 16th.

“I’m against it,” White explained and continued with “I don’t like it, and I’m going to fight it. And if you are using TRT in the UFC, we’re going to start testing the s— out of you through your entire camp.”

He later went on to say, “If you’re tested during your training camp, there’s a number that you should be at. That better be where your f—ing number is when you get tested.”

The number he referred to had not been disclosed during the conference.  However, medically accepted typical Testosterone serum levels for those in their late twenties to early thirties can range from a low of 300 ng/dL to a high of 700 or 800 ng/dL. The intent to ensure a fair fight by controlling the abuse of PEDs is a welcome position by many athletes and fans of the sport.  However, the application of fair use controls are medically and scientifically far more challenging than many assume.

One challenge is the time of testing. Testosterone levels are greatly affected by the time of day and also the amount of activity the individual is engaged in prior to testing. Levels can rise due to exercise and they can also fall due to lack of rest. Typically Testosterone levels are highest in the morning and drop off steadily throughout the day. Considering that “morning” is dependent on when one goes to sleep, it may be possible to manipulate results by changing sleep patterns. Effectively making regulation and testing more challenging.

Mr. White also added, “Listen, I’m no f—ing scientist, man, and every time we try and talk abut this stuff, I sit there and my head just spins, and I say this is bulls—,” White said. “If it’s this f—ing complicated and this many people don’t understand it, it can’t be good. It can’t be good.”

Some blogger’s fans have made derogatory comments towards Mr. White’s prior comment. In his defense, the subject of TRT has been hotly debated in the medical community. While there are medical guidelines that are generally accepted there are a number of studies that bring into question what an ‘appropriate’ level of Testosterone for a healthy male should be.

An article written from WebMD published in 2003 highlights the benefits of TRT for men with depression and other abnormal metabolic developments.

Depression

Much of the scientific data we have on hormone levels for healthy humans is subjective and based on data from targeted studies of limited populations of individuals. Drawing a line in the sand using a specific number for hormone levels may only be as fair and effective as drawing a line in the sand on weight classes. Fighters typically cut weight quickly by dehydrating themselves for the weigh in and then quickly rehydrate by a number of means (some including IV infusion of fluids) the night before the fight.

The net effect being that while someone may have weighed in at 205 lbs, the day of the fight their actual weight is 220 lbs. This can have an extreme impact on athletic performance and is considered questionably fair by many athletes and fans. If testing for TRT should become more strict, especially for those with medical exceptions, then a valid question might be, why not perform the weigh in just prior to the fight?

At the end of the day, it is important to remember these controls are meant to ensure fairness in the sport, not to exclude or discriminate against those who legitimately need treatment. The key to success here will be in gaining a better understanding of what appropriate baselines are and ensuring people are not unfairly disqualified for skewed test results.

Our position on PEDs at SciFighting is that the risks often outweigh the benefits, regardless of the legality. It is important to work within your body’s potential. Artificially enhancing performance for the sake of competition is burning the candle at both ends. Even with PEDs you will need to have adequate training and develop technique that no supplement can provide for you to become an excellent athlete!

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Luca Rajabi
Luca has been passionate about martial arts and eastern philosophies since childhood. As an athlete, inventor and entrepreneur Luca founded SciFighting on the principal lessons learned from his life experience "fighting" to preserve his health and fitness. Although born with inherently poor and inconsistent health he pushed forward to learn as much as he could about the sciences of technology, medicine and mental health. Years of study, working with physicians and combined analysis finally began to bare fruit by his early twenties. Starting with Fencing, cross training and body building then moving to Boxing, Western Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Eskrima and an eclectic assortment of self defense techniques. Luca's core philosophy is that to win a battle every fighter must balance their mental and physical health. Luca has said that "With well developed technique, conditioning and mental focus a sound strategy will most often win over brute strength alone." It is in this spirit that he passionately advocates for the "Science of Fighting".