Australia’s ‘darkest day in sport’ has centred around the use of ‘peptides’ by our sport stars and legends. The Australian Crime Commission named peptides as one of the notable substances used by professional athletes in their report on ‘Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport’.
But apart from being illegal, what are peptides? And why are our athletes taking them?
Most people have heard of proteins – large biological molecules consisting of one or more chains of amino acids. Peptides are simply smaller chains of amino acids, not long enough to be considered a full protein.
Peptides are as numerous as proteins, which are as numerous as grains of sand, so I will focus on those peptides identified in the ACC report as being used within the Australian sporting community known as GHRP-2 and GHRP-6.
GRHP stands for growth hormone releasing peptide, and the numbers correspond to a different structure. The purpose of this small family of peptides is to stimulate the pituitary gland to produce increased natural secretion of human growth hormone through the activation of a specific, G protein-coupled receptor.
It is Growth Hormone secretion that helps the athlete.
As the name suggests, Growth Hormones stimulate cell regeneration and growth. For the athlete this means increased recovery from damaging matches and training. Increased Growth Hormone will speed up the natural recovery process.
Because the body uses damaging matches and training as a signal for muscle growth (stimulus & response) the increased Growth Hormone being released also has the effect of our body rebuilding our muscles larger and stronger than before.
But it is important that we realise that Growth Hormone is a natural process.
And this raises the interesting question of where we draw the line. Protein powders give athletes taking them a competitive edge over athletes who are not. Just like good training, nutrition, compression wear. But does that make taking protein powders unfair and unsportsmanlike?