Over 1 in 7 dope at Ironman Triathlon, according to study of 3,000 triathletes

The largest survey into both Physical and Cognitive Doping was carried out amongst triathlon competitors has shocking results.  It was carried out on 2997 triathletes at Ironman Frankfurt, Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden and Ironman Regensburg.  The triathlon-doping-study conducted at German Ironman races was published in the international, peer-reviewed, open-access publication PLOS ONE (eISSN-1932-6203).  The shocking findings are

  • 13% admitted to physical doping; Steroids, EPO, Human growth hormone, etc
  • 15% admitted to cognitive doping; antidepressants, beta-blockers, modafinil, methylphenidate, etc.
  • 10% admitted to both physical and cognitive doping
  • 20% admitted to physical doping at Ironman european championships Frankfurt

Triathlon Doping is not just for high performing athletes

These figures are for recreational ironman triathletes, pro athletes were excluded from the study.  While many have suspected that there was a doping problem in Triathlon, I think few would have expected it to be as big as 1 in 7 ironman triathletes.  People may have suspected that it was just the professional athlteles who maybe tempted to dope to win, but this study shows that it goes right across the spectrum of athletes.  The table below compares the physical and training characteristics of those doping, with those not doping.

Physical doping Not physical doping   Cognitive doping Non cognitive doping
Age, years 38 40 39 40
Height, cm 180 180 179 180
Mass, kg 74 74 74 74
BMI 23 23 23 23
Years of training, years 7 7 7 7
Hours/week, hours 14 12 15 12
Km/week bike, km 200 180 200 200
Km/week running, km 42 40 40 40
Km/week swimming, km 6 5 6 5

Triathlon doping points that jump out are

triathlon doping is overwhelming pill poppong

triathlon doping is overwhelming pill poppong

  • There’s little difference between the doping and non-doping ironman triathletes in terms of age, weight, BMI (body mass index).
  • The doping athletes only train slightly more than the non-doping athletes, by 2 to 3 hours a week.
  • These dopers are not kids trying to make the step up to the pro ranks, as the average age is 38 or 39 years old.
  • These dopers are clearly not high training volume athletes, the 14 to 15 hours a week is typical of what many club athletes would do (who are racing olympic distance races), let alone the high volumes required to properly race at Ironman distance.

A few other points are contained within the triathlon doping study

20% of Ironman Hamburg competitors were using physical doping, according to the study

20% of Ironman Frankfurt competitors were using physical doping, according to the study

  • there’s little difference between male and female doping.
  • there’s more doping at the Ironman Frankfurt (almost 20%), which is the ironman european championships, in comparison to approx 10% at  Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden and Ironman Regensburg.
  • 1/3 of the questionnaires were filled out in english, so these results are not just typical of German ironman triathletes.

Also these figures just relate to doping substances, the use of legal substances was much higher (legal suplimente axamples are: creatine, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, caffeinated drinks, gingko biloba).

Triathlon doping study, author’s comments

“We were not too surprised at the extent of cognitive doping,” said Prof Perikles Simon, from the University of Mainz, one of the authors.  “I think it is quite realistic and it goes hand-in-hand with the prevalence rates that have been found in the US at the college level.”

“There is some searching for additional help, we found a strong connection between those taking legal cognitive enhancers and those taking illicit ones,” said Prof Simon.

“There seems to be a certain proportion of our society that is willing to take a bit more of a risk to gain an advantage.”

Statistical accuracy of triathlon doping findings

It surveyed almost 3,000 recreational ironman triathletes and excluded those racing in the pro-field.  While the number of responses decreased as the survey questions progresses (as is typical, but also expected when the questions are contentious), the results were large enough to have state at a 95% confidence level that the confidence intervals are 10.5-15.4% (so 13% mean is used) for Physical doping and the confidence intervals are 12.7–17.6% (so 15.1% mean is used) for Cognitive doping.

Clarity of triathlon doping questions

The authors accept that getting to a precise definition of what constitutes doping is difficult. They tried to be as clear as possible in their questions on the different types of enhancement.

Physical doping: Have you used substances which can only be prescribed by a doctor, are available in a pharmacy, or can be bought on the black market (such as anabolic steroids, erythropoietin, stimulants, growth hormones) to enhance your physical performance during the last 12 months?

Cognitive doping: Have you used substances which can only be prescribed by a doctor, are available in a pharmacy, or can be bought on the black market (such as caffeine tablets, stimulants, cocaine, methylphenidate, modafinil, beta-blockers) to enhance your cognitive performance during the last 12 months?

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446 Responses to “Over 1 in 7 dope at Ironman Triathlon, according to study of 3,000 triathletes”

  1. David #

    I use 200mg caffeine pills in training and during races. According to this I’m a doper. What the shit?

    January 16, 2014 at 5:57 pm
  2. brian #

    Caffine pills are not down as physical doping. They’re a prescription medication in Germany, where the study was done, so are not for reactionary use in Germany. They’re down as substances to enhance your cognitive performance.

    January 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm
  3. Tim Egge #

    This is why I suck, I am not pushing the gear

    January 18, 2014 at 10:00 pm
  4. clean triathlete #

    This “study” is worthless.
    If you took anything that is availabable in a pharmacy – for example one totally legal caffeine pill – they call you a “doper”. Bulls**t!

    January 19, 2014 at 12:00 am
  5. Someone taking antidepressants is engaging in ‘cognitive doping’…? That’s just friggin’ stupid…

    January 19, 2014 at 12:37 am
  6. Nico vandaele #

    Simpel, let Antoine testes before the race……

    January 19, 2014 at 9:20 am
  7. Maria T #

    I’m surprised it’s not 100%! Look at the drugs listed in cognitive doping – caffeine is one of them. This study is very skewed and vague as to what it categorizes as doping. This should have been aligned to Olympic standards – which are a more accurate reflection of performance enhancement (I drink coffee to help me wake up on tri mornings – coffee is a stimulant, therefore I would be categorized as doping… Seriously?)

    January 19, 2014 at 9:00 pm
  8. David Chapman #

    caffeine isn’t banned so anyone using it is NOT doping

    January 26, 2014 at 9:48 pm
  9. Here is quite a good comment about the study mentioned in the article summarizing that there is strong evidence, that the number of 20% is proably false especially if we think of “real doping” like Epo, Steroid and simular substances.
    The authors of the study has used a complete different Definition of Doping than the well known WADA-Doping-Definition:

    January 29, 2014 at 12:02 pm
  10. Here is quite a good comment about the study mentioned in the article summarizing that there is strong evidence, that the number of 20% is probably false especially if we think of “real doping” like Epo, Steroid and simular substances.
    The authors of the study has used a complete different Definition of Doping than the well known WADA-Doping-Definition:

    January 29, 2014 at 12:03 pm
  11. And here is the Google Translate Version in Englisch:


    Mainz Study: Not every pill is a doping agent
    A study of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz estimated the share dopender participants at Ironman Frankfurt to 19.8 percent. This resulted in a questionnaire from the year 2011. On closer inspection , however, shows that the statement is false. Many athletes are outraged and feel denigrated .
    By Arne Dyck
    2,997 triathletes were recorded at the Ironman competitions in Frankfurt , Wiesbaden and Regensburg anonymously by questionnaire , according to a press release by the Department of Sports Medicine at the Institute of Sport Science under the direction of Prof. Dr. Dr. Perikles Simon . According to her, ” is the proportion of athletes who have taken in the twelve months prior to the survey on illegal and banned doping substances , estimated at 13.0 percent.” In Regensburg, Wiesbaden and the rate was around 10 percent , in Frankfurt at kapp 20 percent. That makes an average of 13 out of hundred .

    The high proportions allegedly dopender amateurs make suspicious . A closer look at the study, 15 November was published in 2013 , but stirs up doubts as to the seriousness and significance of the study . Of the athletes they will be questioned on a broad front , many feel defamed . The scientists are accused of substances classified as doping agents which are none at all, but can be consumed legally by each athlete.

    The resentment among athletes is correspondingly large. Because the term ” doping ” targets defamatory , in sport, by the regulations for prohibited substances or actions , justifiably, have drastic sanctions against the affected athletes by themselves . Therefore you should only those athletes refer to as doping , who actually doped.

    Unusual extension of the concept of doping

    The athletes were asked via anonymous questionnaire did not directly after the use of doping substances . But much more common for substances which they would either prescribed by a doctor or bought at the pharmacy or on the black market and consumed with the intention of performance improvement :

    Have you used substances Which can only be Prescribed by a doctor , are available in a pharmacy , or can be bought on the black market (eg anabolic steroids , erythropoietin , stimulants , growth hormones ) to Enhance Your physical performance falling on the last 12 months ?

    The question thus formulated has it all . Because it includes everything what is available in a pharmacy and is consumed with the hope of better physical performance . This of course includes magnesium tablets as well as amino acids ( protein building blocks ) to increase recovery or royal jelly . Even non-prescription pain relievers you get there, their use in competition , however, poses health risks. Allen said substances in common is that they are not at a doping agent . Who wants to ask of his liver and his purse , can consume these products bags full , without violating the Anti -Doping Regulations . Their use is not doping.

    The use of prescription substances must be drug-free. Example: Who noticeable limp feels in training and therefore gets prescribed by a physician for therapeutic purposes iron, does not engage in doping. However, the Mainz study evaluates incorrectly everything as doping , which has been prescribed with the hope of improved physical performance by the doctor. It may be doping (the doctor then risked his approval) , but not necessarily.

    The study participants were explicitly asked about the use of stimulants. Who they consumed in the previous 12 months with the hope of improved performance, include the Mainzer to the doping offenders . This is factually incorrect : Stimulants are banned in competition, but allowed in training. No matter how one may think to stimulants in person : who they used in training, is not doped. These are the anti-doping rules , whether we like it or not .

    The three examples show that in the study all possible is called doping , which is no doping in truth. The message of almost 20% of doped athletes in Frankfurt is a duck .

    January 29, 2014 at 12:16 pm
  12. And here is he second part of the translation (quite a long text):

    Populism at the expense of athletes

    19.8 % allegedly doped triathletes at Ironman Frankfurt? This result of the questionnaire is in contrast to other studies , which did not work with questionnaires , but with drug tests ( urine samples). When Switzerland’s biggest running event in the world’s biggest doping tests in 2013 were unannounced asked 151 sportsmen and women to urinate in the frame. It banned substances was found in only two samples. This writes the Foundation “Anti Doping Switzerland ” . At the time of publication it was not clear whether the two suspected cases nor medical exemptions shall be submitted . Matthias Kamber , Director of Anti-Doping Switzerland is therefore convinced : ” The Amateur Running in Switzerland is clean. ”

    In only 6% of the urine samples, residues of drugs such as Voltaren , Aspirin or Algifor were detected. Mind you, painkillers are not doping. The figure makes it clear that the painkiller use among athletes , although perfectly legal ( in terms of performance and useless to harmful) , is much smaller than often is assumed .

    Frequently in the media , a study is cited , after the Jungfrau Marathon 1998, about 30% of the athletes had taken painkillers before the competition. The number seems to be in contradiction to the just -mentioned number of only 6% , so here are worth taking a closer look at the results . When analytical methods used could not distinguish whether, for example Voltaren was administered as a tablet or as an ointment . Voltaren ointment is an anti-inflammatory ointment very commonly used by athletes , which is used in typical sports injuries. The Virgin trial threw the use of this type of ointments in a pot with swallowing painkillers. Since then haunts the number of 30 % with painkillers ” of doped ” marathon runner through the newspapers . The fact that only a fraction of these athletes had actually taken painkillers , of which and in no way did this several medically well-founded due to an expected increase in output , of which no one now speaks .

    The example shows where imprecise or sloppy surveys and inaccurate reporting result : Although it has hardly any reliable evidence for large-scale doping in amateur endurance athletes , they are increasingly the reputation of being doped. Only on closer inspection or to demand one learns in the case of the Mainz study that the term used in that doping is much broader than what is generally understood in the sport including , namely, a violation of the Anti -Doping Rules .

    We athletes have to defend ourselves against it . Not only to our reputation ‘s sake, which is paid to a hard-earned competitive performance also not just about the occasional , sparing recognition sake. But to prevent the constant doping suspicions develop their insidious poison . Nothing lowers the threshold for the doping as much as the conviction of each athlete that all do it. Scientists and journalists have truthfully and honestly deal with the issue , otherwise just wishful thinking , what you wanted to fight .

    January 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm


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