Next Tuesday, Liverpool John Moores University will host a public awareness day on anti-doping in sport, aimed predominantly at high school students, their teachers and practising coaches. In this post, Professor Graeme Close explains why it’s important to get an anti-doping message out to schools. The event is supported by a Society for Endocrinology public engagement grant.
Athletes who dope fall into two broad categories. Firstly, those who believe that it is not possible to be successful in their sport without using performance enhancing drugs and secondly those who accidentally take contaminated supplements or over-the-counter medication that contains prohibited substances. Without doubt, the best way to tackle both of these mistakes is by effectively educating athletes in schools before mistakes are made. In wake of recent doping scandals, this Society for Endocrinology sponsored event is not only timely but essential to promote clean sport.
We want attendees to think about why athletes do not need to dope in sport. We will cover the science of muscle mass and strength increases, which is very poorly understood. Many junior athletes believe that the only way to increase lean mass is to use sports supplements and/or take prohibited substances. In reality, this goal can be achieved through correct nutrition and optimisation of training plans. The problem is that many people do not understand how to eat and how to train to gain muscle mass and as such their training is often ineffective.
It is important to tell the truth about sports supplementation. There is currently a trend that you either have to join a “no-supplement” or “pro-supplement” team and there is no place for a balanced opinion. The reality is that there are a handful of supplements that may be beneficial if taken at the right time. If we are truthful with our education, athletes will come to qualified people for advice, such as nutritionists on the Sport and Exercise Nutrition register (SENr). In contrast, if we have a blanket no-supplement policy the danger is that athletes may take the matter into their own hands and take supplements that not only do not work but more worryingly have not been tested for contaminants.
As sport scientists, it is our moral and ethical duty to educate athletes on doping. It is crucial that respected practitioners and academics provide appropriate education with regards to anti-doping. As well as facing a potential lifetime ban from sport, there are many dangerous consequences of taking performance enhancing drugs such as cardiac damage and mental health problems. There are even fatalities following the misuse of drugs in sport.
The event we are hosting at LJMU will include highly experienced researchers and practitioners who support some of the world’s greatest athletes, as well as top level athletes themselves. In addition, the Rugby Football Union and UK Anti-Doping will be present to help us reach out to kids more effectively.
We hope that this is the first of many such educational days and that the students, teachers and coaches will leave the event feeling inspired and motivated to commit to a future of clean sport.
Public engagement grants have been developed to help Society members and public engagement professionals (non-members) organise and deliver outreach activities, aimed at school children and/or the general public, to communicate the science of endocrinology. Find out how to apply for a public engagement grant on the Grants page of our website.