University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Performance enhancing drugs in sport

Anabolic Steroids



Examples of steroids include testosterone and related steroids such as DHEA, THG, stanozol and nandrolone.

Taking steroids in combination with a high protein diet and intensive training builds body weight and stimulates muscle development. This increases an athlete’s strength and their speed over short distances. Users report being more aggressive and competitive as well as being able to train harder over longer periods of time. Athletes can train harder because steroids decrease their recovery times helping them recover more quickly from strenuous exercise.

Steroids are banned in sport, in 2004 the British 4x100m relay team disowned their team member Dwain Chambers after he tested positive for THG. Because of his test results the entire relay team lost the silver medals they won at the 2003 World Championships.

Side effects from taking steroids include liver damage and mood swings where aggressive feelings can be felt up to 24 hours afterwards. There are reports of regular users becoming physically violent and long term use can lead to sex specific side effects such as infertility and baldness in men and hair growth and deepening voice in women.

Nandrolone poses a particular problem. After ex-Manchester United footballer Jaap Stam tested positive for nandrolone in 2001, FIFA conducted their own research into the steroid. A survey of some 356 professional footballers found that, under stressful conditions, players produce nandrolone naturally in their bodies, and at levels that would breach the International Olympic Committee's permitted threshold.

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson

Case Study:Two Sprinters

1) Ben Johnson  more info 

Sprinter Ben Johnson was sent home from the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 in disgrace.  He was also stripped of his 100m gold medal after testing positive for the anabolic steroid, Stanozol. Samples of Johnson's urine were tested for drugs immediately after the 100m final which he won in a world record time of 9.79 seconds. He returned to competition in 1991 but in January 1993 he tested positive again for steroids at an indoor meeting in Montreal, Canada. This resulted in a life time ban from the International Association of Athletics Federations.

2) Linford Christie   more info

Linford Christie also ran in the 100m in Seoul gaining third place until Johnson’s disqualification gave him the silver medal. Until 1999 he was more famous for running in body hugging lycra to reduce air resistance however, in August 1999 he was suspended after testing positive earlier in the year for the banned anabolic steroid, nandrolone.

He was reinstated a month later by a British disciplinary committee as it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that he had used a banned substance but this was not ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations who suspended him for two years. A small scale study since has shown that the metabolites of nandrolone found in Christie’s urine may have been produced by taking legal nutritional supplements that wrongly contained them. He has always insisted that he did not knowingly take the drugs.

Question: Should Christie be appointed by UK sport as a mentor to young athletes? Why? Would you appoint Ben Johnson to a similar role?

Question: Should athletes be allowed to take chemically refined nutritional supplements?

Further Research:

Nandrolone is one of the most hotly debated performance enhancers – read more about it at

Next: EPO and other Peptide Hormones

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