The Jiu-Jitsu Community Needs To Have An Honest Conversation About PEDs

Because of the relatively recent rules instituted in the IBJJF’s black belt division, more and more black belts have been getting caught using performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs.  This brings about some interesting ethical and practical questions in regards to the use of PEDs.

When people think of PED users, they think of large, beefy looking people with overly veiny muscle mass, widened jawlines, and acne.  People think they’re dirty cheaters, and there may be some validity to that thought.  However, there is the stereotype, and then there’s reality.

When one looks at the most recent black belt caught using PEDs, Paulo Miyao, one doesn’t see an individual who looks like a roid freak.  There’s a good chance that whatever regimen Miyao was using was tailored specifically to his needs.  The drugs used in these sorts of situations are not necessarily intended for muscle growth, but rather muscle maintenance and recovery.  At the highest level, athletes in this sport train at a professional pace with all of the benefits and drawbacks it brings.  There are certain perfectly competition-legal foods and supplements that an athlete can take that accomplish these results but on a smaller scale, and most PEDs do things to the body that it naturally does for itself. PEDs, however, accelerate the body’s natural processes unnaturally.

At the end of the day, no amount of PED use will make you good at jiu-jitsu.  Muscles in a bottle don’t translate to skills in a bottle, and if I started taking steroids right now, I wouldn’t be a world champion level grappler overnight.

Nate Diaz famously said “everybody is on steroids” in reference to his colleagues in the MMA world, and the reality is that there’s a good chance that a large number of professional level jiu-jitsu athletes at all belt levels take PEDs.  However, only a select few will get caught, those that make it to IBJJF Pan or Mundial gold, and many see it as a calculated risk that they can avoid by cycling through their PED use intelligently.

The crucial problem with PEDs lies in their inherent unfairness.  It is unfair to athletes who want to build their bodies naturally to have to contend with athletes willing to hack their own bodies with PEDs, and that’s really what it comes down to.

At this moment, jiu-jitsu is an amateur sport, and there aren’t the kinds of programs in place to help professional jiu-jitsu athletes train the way other professional athletes train.  PEDs are a way to address this issue.  However, those who want to do things naturally will inherently be at a major disadvantage, hence the existence of rules banning PEDs.

Perhaps the trickiest aspect of PED usage and testing is the denial that we as a community see from those who we may hold in high esteem.  The truth is, if you get caught, you were probably got caught for a reason.  Accepting responsibility and realizing that using PEDs sets the athlete on an unfair playing field is the first step to understanding why PEDs are a real problem and to moving past them.

What do you think of PED usage?  Do you think it is inherently immoral, or do you think it lies in a grey area?


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