With doping an ever-present subject of sports news headlines, a study has shown that an energy supplement drink can improve athletes performance, and is completely legal, after the World Anti-Doping Agency ruled against it being banned after the initial study in 2011.

The drink is known as ∆G, and works by releasing a ketone chemical that muscles can use to produce energy. The initial study of the supplement was conducted on 22 elite rowers and those who were drinking the supplement achieved ten season best performances, six personal bests and even a world record. The most recent study by Kieran Clark at Oxford University has bolstered these results. The team gave the drink to elite cyclists completing a 30-minute time trial and found they were able to cycle an average of 411 metres further during the trial than those drinking glucose drinks.

The supplement works by providing another source of energy for athletes. Ketones are naturally produced by the body when fat is broken down, and normally only occurs when energy reserves are running low (for example when starving, or on a low-carb, high fat diet). The supplement provides ketones in the form of beta-hydrozybutyrate, allowing athletes access to this source of energy that they would only normally have when their energy reserves are depleted. Thus, their muscles are able to draw energy from ketones, fat, and glucose at the same time. This also lowers the athlete’s likelihood of ‘hitting the wall’, as the glucose reserves can be preserved. This theory is supported by the observation that the cyclists who consumed the glucose drink produced significantly less lactic acid, which is a product of burning glucose.

There is some scepticism about the findings, which may prompt further studies into the supplement. However, the athletes who have used it so far (more than 300) have reported positive results. The World Anti-Doping Agency made the decision not to ban the supplement because ketones can be increased naturally through the diet.

Biology and Medicine applicants should investigate in more depth the bodily reactions that take place during exercise and how the supplement works to improve performance. Law students should look into the laws and recent legal battles surrounding doping in sport, and should, along with Anthropology and HSPS students considering the ethical implications of using any performance enhancer in competitive sport. 

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