Former rugby pro James Hudson, who is now a nutritionist, explains the health risks of breaking anti-doping regulations

Clean Sport Week: The Dangers of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Image- and Performance-Enhancing Drugs (IPEDs) have traditionally been associated with body builders and athletes involved in sports requiring high levels of muscle and size. They cover a broad spectrum of drugs including anabolic steroids and hormones, but also chemicals to alter skin colour and appearance.

Unfortunately, there are a number of rugby players currently serving anti-doping sanctions. This shows there is work to be done to better educate players across all levels of the game who are making poor decisions to use these substances.

At the top end of the sport, where testing is most prevalent, failed tests are thankfully very rare. It is also important to highlight the work of the RFU and other governing bodies in educating players and contributing to the testing programme. Testing happens at all levels of the game, so players at the lower tiers shouldn’t think: “I’ll never get tested”.

Dangers of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

High-profile case: Wasps’ Ashley Johnson was banned for six months after failing a drugs test last year (Getty Images)

However, the ever-increasing financial rewards of contracts at the elite level means the temptation for sub-elite players to dope may be at its greatest.

At the purely amateur levels of the game, drug use is very much reflective of society. The pressures upon young men and women feeling as though they are constantly judged by appearance and the desire to fit an aesthetic ideal is causing more to abuse these substances, resulting in many of the failed tests we hear about.

The values we share as rugby players across all levels are what draws us to this wonderful sport. The friendships and camaraderie between team-mates on and off the field are why we roll out in the wind, rain and mud of a weekend to do battle.

Dangers of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Playing days: James Hudson in action for Gloucester in 2013 (Getty Images)

The thought of risking using these substances, and being banned from the sport we love, just doesn’t make sense. Athletes still in many cases don’t comprehend the part of their life they would lose as a result of an anti-doping rule violation.

There are also serious health consequences resulting from abusing IPEDs. You increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney and liver failure, as well as infertility, by using them. No Instagram selfie in the gym is worth your health, or the negative consequences your drug use can have upon your close friends and family.

In so many cases players may be looking for a short cut to gaining muscle and getting stronger. There are no quick fixes but as a performance nutritionist, I regularly witness athletes progress rapidly once they unleash the power of food! Simply eating enough, showing discipline and dedication to preparing meals, staying hydrated and fuelling all their training properly can bring the desired outcomes.

Dangers of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Eat right: A diet including plenty of fruit and veg is key (Daniel Gould)

There is no ‘magic window’ after a gym session where a protein shake must be guzzled down immediately. Good habits around nutrition, focusing on real food and being consistent, are key. Organising four to six meals and snacks with each including a quality protein source, foods to provide energy and plenty of vegetables and fruit will get the best from any athlete naturally.

UK Anti-Doping’s Clean Sport Week, running from 20-26 May, is an opportunity to celebrate the values of our sport and stand up to support the hard work the RFU, WRU, SRU and UKAD are doing in the fight against doping.

I am proud to look back on the years playing rugby from school right through to professional teams knowing that any achievement was borne out of hard work and being a committed clean athlete. Please respect the rugby family but most of all respect yourself and stay safe.

James Hudson is a member of UK Anti-Doping’s Athlete Commission and was speaking ahead of Clean Sport Week, which runs from 20-26 May. You can follow the week on social media via #CleanSportWeek

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