Bigger, Stronger, Faster: Doping, Training, and Human Evolution, and How Sports Change as Players Get Huge

Floyd Landis's admission that he did indeed take performance-enhancing drugs is one of the least shocking sports headlines in recent memory. In fact, the idea that doping scandals are still making news might be more surprising: illegal drug use exists in all major sports. It's a vicious cycle: players get bigger as the sport evolves, others feel the need to take performance-enhancing drugs to compete, and they get even bigger as a result. The good news: doping is down, according to David Baron, professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral science at Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital. During this year's Olympics, where he helped coordinate the drug screening, no athletes tested dirty. "I don't think we learned to be better cheaters," he says. "The culture is there are other things we can do: you can get fairly close [to the effects of steroids without the side effects] with high-end training techniques available now that didn't exist."

So one way or another, players are getting bigger and faster—and their increased size, no matter how it's obtained, changes the game. Below, we look at the drugs of choice for pro athletes, and how breeding bigger, faster, stronger players has changed sports and the effect those drugs have on them.

The Shortcut: Anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.
The Natural Way: Training and nutrition. It sounds simple, but the advancements in exercise science mean that players can spend the entire off season fine-tuning their bodies. "In today's culture, there's more of a commitment to being to elite athletes, more so than they idea that are just big guys," says Baron.
Effect on the Sport: Football has always been a game of brutes, but the players have gotten larger and the hits harder as the years go on. The increase of on-field force is translating into concussions, post-career injuries, early-onset dementia, and painkiller addiction. "Think about the impact of two individuals colliding that are both bigger, faster, stronger," says Dan Lebowitz, director of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. "What's a human body designed to take?"

The Shortcut: Anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.
The Natural Way: Nutritionists and trainers. Baseball players can no longer afford to be big galoots who hit home runs but get winded rounding the bases.
Effect on the Sport: The offensive explosion of the 2000s is often attributed to steroid use, which gave users extra power and strength. "In baseball, if you think about balls caught on the warning track—all they need is 10 more feet and it's a home run," says Lebowitz. "Steroids were giving you that 10 extra feet." Baron says thanks to more rigorous testing standards and improved training techniques, the breadth of steroid use is much diminished. At the same time, giant stadiums have begun to be replaced by more intimate ballparks—with more batter-friendly dimensions.

The Shortcut: Blood doping, wherein athletes increase the number of red blood cells to improve aerobic capacity; synthetic testosterone.
The Natural Way: Altitude training. Working out up in the mountains creates the same boost as blood doping without increasing the volume of blood in the body, which can put a strain on the heart. "Swimmers, runners, bikers—elite athletes will go to Colorado Springs. In the high altitude, the body will compensate for less oxygen" in a way that pays off in lower-altitude races, says Baron.
Effect on the Sport: Courses have become more challenging while times have dropped; meanwhile, doping is so pervasive that it's hard to have any success without being accused of cheating.

The Shortcut: The advantage in tennis is less clear; performance-enhancing drugs don't improve the hand-eye coordination that provides the biggest advantages in sports like tennis and golf. But there have been reports of anabolic steroid use: on Thursday, American Wayne Odesnik was given a two-year suspension for doping.
The Natural Way: For years, kids who have potential in tennis have honed their skills in year-round schools, and there have always been beefier players, like Boris Becker. But since the arrival of Pete Sampras and the Williams sisters, strength training has become increasingly important.
Effect on the Sport: Tennis players have been getting taller and stronger: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have the more classic physiques, but more and more players are either incredibly big, like Andy Roddick, or incredibly tall, like Juan Martin del Potro. So while skill and finesse still rule, more players are relying on brute strength, and the sport has become more about whether a player can return a monster serve than engage in a complicated series of volleys.

Not everyone gets big by the book. Visit our gallery of steroid shame to see players caught cheating.