Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Weird samples

Doping hunter Mario Thevis of the German Sport University wote in a trade journal for lab analysts about the most remarkable doping samples he had examined in recent years. His revelations had us grinning ear to ear – and we hope they'll do the same for you.

The most interesting urine sample Thevis describes wasn't a urine sample at all. It looked like urine, and it may have smelled like it, but analyses showed that it contained no testosterone, no epitestosterone, no androsterone and no etiocholanolone.

That's impossible of course; the human body produces steroid hormones, whether you like it or not. At the same time they noticed that the sample contained high concentrations of hordenine, a phenol shown below.

Hordenine is found in barley [Hordeum vulgare]. Because beer is made from barley the researchers took another look at the sample, and found that it contained 0.015 percent alcohol by volume. Ergo: the ‘urine sample' was actually alcohol-free beer.

Weird samples

Weird samples
Sample #2 – shown here on the photo – was green. Although green urine is pretty rare, there was nothing wrong with the sample. The athlete had taken methylene blue, a malaria medicine, virus inhibitor and potential medicine for Alzheimer's. Methylene blue colours the urine.

Left and right on the photo you see red urine samples. These had not been tampered with either. The red colour of sample #1 was caused by haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen. Doping hunters find this regularly in samples taken from karatekas who've taken large numbers of kicks.

Sample #3 was a different kettle of fish. The figure below shows that the red colour was caused by betanin and isobetanin, both substances found in beetroot. Athletes are increasingly using beetroot juice, as studies have shown that the naturally occurring nitrates in it boost endurance performance.

Weird samples

Lastly, Thevis describes four urine samples that did come from official samples taken from the bladders of different athletes. The steroid concentrations in the sample were very similar in all four. So similar that the analysts didn't trust them.

That's why they analysed the samples again, but this time they looked at the DNA. This showed that the four samples all came from one person: the woman at the sports organisation who was in charge of collecting the samples.

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2012 Jan 5;57:26-32.

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