Massey University lecturer in sports coaching Paul Macdermid

Should stamina-boosting gases be banned?

Massey University lecturer in sports coaching Paul Macdermid is questioning why the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has banned the use of two performance-enhancing gases without the means to enforce the rules.

The international drug-testing agency’s three-month notification period has now expired and this week the use of argon and xenon gases is officially banned. The agency believes these noble gases are being inhaled to improve endurance.

Mr Macdermid from Massey’s School of Sport and Exercise is critical of the ban being introduced when there is no effective blood test to detect usage. “Banning these gases might raise the profile of Wada and make a few morally conscious athletes say no to the idea but then if you can’t police a rule, is there any point in implementing it?”

Mr Macdermid says the gases improve endurance by increasing the body’s production of a protein known as hypoxia inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF-1). “HIF-1 triggers the production of natural erythropoietin (EPO) that regulates and increases red blood cells which ultimately increases the amount of oxygen delivered to the working muscles.

“However, the link to performance enhancement is still unsubstantiated as there is no published documentation supporting such a link,” says Mr MacDermid.

Mr Macdermid questions why the gases have been banned when methods such as high altitude training, hypoxic chambers and oxygen tents, that mimic the same blood boosting effect, are allowed.

“I don’t condone the use of these gases but from my experience, altitude training and simulation can have quite a significant and similar effect but they are expensive and not available to everyone.”

Xenon is used as an anaesthetic in many countries and is present in the air we breathe in minute quantities.

Mr Macdermid says xenon gases can be purchased online from the United States for about $80 for a two-week supply.

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