I’m sure that by now, many of you have seen the initial reports on a WADA-funded growth hormone study, which was published yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It’s an intriguing study, one that is bound to stimulate discussion, so I thought I’d do a very short post more to say that I’ve seen the reports, I am hunting the study down as you read this and I hope do a more comprehensive post on it as soon as time allows.
I’ve found the news reporting quite vague and uninformative about the study, and so hopefully I’ll be able to bring out much more of the study’s findings when I get hold of the original paper and then do a post, hopefully tomorrow. But in a nutshell, what has been found is that in a group of recreationally active men, aged 18 to 40, growth hormone use improved their sprint capacity enough to lead researchers to conclude that it was worth 0.4 seconds in a 100m race.
If you think that’s a pretty small difference, think back to to when Usain Bolt won the 100m title in a world record of 9.58s last year in Berlin. The man who finished seventh was Marc Burns, in a time of 10.00s. Now remember the race…did you notice Marc Burns, finishing 0.42 seconds behind Bolt? Doubtful, and that’s because at 0.42 seconds, he was a life-time behind Bolt in sprinting terms, but that is the same difference made by growth hormone, according to the research paper.
There will be, as there always are, problems and questions about the paper’s method and the conclusions drawn from it. For one thing, the study didn’t use elite, highly trained sprinters, and so the margin of performance improvement may over-estimate the actual benefit gained by elite athletes. Or under-estimate it, depending on what your inclination is – this is always a problem with these kinds of studies. We’ve discussed this before with reference to EPO use, where studies find improvements that are probably inflated compared to what an elite athlete would achieve. Then again, the elite athlete gaining even 2% is going to change their “life” as a result, and they benefit from a controlled, systematic environment within to dope, so this is a contentious issue.
Further, the study used a dose that the researchers described as lower than what athletes are reported to use, and for a shorter time, which means, in theory, that the 0.4s improvement predicted may be less than what is actually achieved. According to the lead researcher, Ken Ho: “The drug’s effects on performance might be greater than shown in this study, and its side effects might be more serious”.
So there is lots to discuss, but unfortunately, that’s for another time, as I said. Hopefully tomorrow, when I’ll try to break down the method and findings in a lot more detail.