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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