Notebook > Sports
Iris Millikan

All bulk, no bite

Sports | New study says HGH serves to enlarge muscular size but not strength

Issue: "Shattered dreams," April 5, 2008

The risk of embarrassment, shame, and penalty for professional athletes secretly using human growth hormone (HGH) may be for nothing. A new study from researchers at Stanford University and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center found that HGH serves to enlarge muscular size but not strength.

The analysis, which relied on data from 44 previous studies, determined that healthy people from age 13 to 45 who took HGH gained about 5 pounds but showed no marked increase in biceps or quadriceps strength. They were also more likely to develop joint pain, lose endurance, and maintain higher levels of lactate, which fatigues muscles.

The added bulk in HGH users, the study found, resulted largely from muscles retaining more fluids-a potential benefit for body builders or fitness models but of no consequence to ballplayers or cyclists. Lead researcher Hau Lui admits that the results are far from conclusive on whether the banned substance could help in hitting home runs or conquering a mountain stage. The study did not examine the effects of HGH when used in concert with anabolic steroids, a tandem some scientists believe to significantly enhance athletic performance.

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For many athletes, HGH is preferred over steroids because it remains undetectable in drug tests. But it is not immune to tough policing efforts. The testimony of former athletic trainers has exposed widespread use of the substance in Major League Baseball. Former Senator George Mitchell's report, released this past December, implicated such high-profile players as Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

The greatest evidence against the findings of this new study is that so many finely tuned athletes believe HGH provides a competitive edge-and are willing to risk so much on that conviction.

Breathing room

The International Olympic Committee has vowed to postpone some events at this summer's games in Beijing if smog levels are determined detrimental for competition. Air pollution in China's cities has increased dramatically in recent years as environmental concerns take a back seat to economic growth and the accompanying alleviation of poverty.

Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie, an asthma sufferer and the marathon world record holder, has already said he will not compete in the Olympic marathon due to concerns over smog levels. Gebrselassie will instead attempt to qualify in the 10,000 meters.

One in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808

For any savvy college basketball fans with illusions of achieving perfection in their March Madness tournament bracket this year, consider this: The odds of correctly selecting every winner in the 64-team field are about one in 9 quintillion-9,223,372,036,854,775,808, to be exact. That number doubles if the play-in game is included.

Were some mathematical zealot to fill out every possible 64-team bracket on letter-size paper, the sheets would bury the entire surface of the globe 50 feet deep. To pull the right page from that pulp stack is about as likely as winning California's Super Lotto Jackpot three times in a row.

Of course, many games in the first round of the tournament are near locks, reducing the odds considerably. No 16 seed has ever dethroned a top seed. Still, even if the entire first round is discarded, the chance for perfection is about one in 2 billion.

It's no wonder numerous websites offer million-dollar-plus prizes to anyone who pulls off the impossible.

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