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Should Steroids Be Legal in BJJ?


Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only. We do not condone or recommend using PEDs for training or competition.

With the increasing attention paid to steroid use in all professional sports, steroids in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have become a hot topic of discussion in the community.

Specifically, questions revolve around whether steroids should be legal in BJJ competition.

If they are allowed, how can steroid use be regulated to ensure safety and fairness for all competitors?

If they are not allowed, can the use of steroids be effectively detected and penalized in competitive athletes?

The following discusses some of the ins-and-outs of steroid use to give a realistic take on performance enhancing substances in BJJ competition.

First Off, Let’s Define Steroids

The word “steroid” can be misleading.

While we intuitively understand that “steroids” in sports generally refer to substances that improve performance, this is somewhat of a mislabel when it comes to the actual discussion of performance enhancing substance use.

When we refer to steroids in the context of athletic performance, we are typically referring to ‘illegal or banned performance-enhancing drugs.’

Synthetic anabolic steroids are the most well-known performance-enhancing drug (PEDs).

Typically, these drugs improve performance by artificially increasing testosterone levels, leading to enhanced physiological adaptations that improve performance and recovery.

One noticeable effect of testosterone and its synthetic derivatives is the increase in muscle mass and strength among athletes who are on these substances.

However, when it comes to actual sport substances, these are only a single category of performance enhancing drugs.

Additional substances include things such as growth hormone, which can improve the effect of testosterone and enhance recovery, as well as EPO, which enhances aerobic endurance by artificially increasing red blood cell counts.

Thus, to clarify the discussion of ‘steroids in BJJ,’ we are best served by talking about performance enhancing substances overall, with synthetic steroids being one example.

How Widespread is Performance Enhancing Drug Use?

Despite the notion that steroids and other PEDs are banned in professional sports and thus not a component of elite athletes’ regimen, this is most likely not the case.

While discussion of PED use is typically ‘hush-hush’ due to their prohibition in most sports and the illegality of many substances in question, use of PEDs is widespread among athletes at all levels of sports, including at the amateur and elite levels.

We do not know the exact number of athletes taking PEDs, however it is likely far from the small minority we would like to imagine when discussing PED use.

In fact, as recent documentaries and discussions have shown, taking PEDs and avoiding detection is a huge aspect of competitive sports that most people in official capacities do not want to acknowledge.

Of course, there are plenty of athletes who do not take illegal or banned PEDs.

However, this may be a smaller number of people than we are led to believe.

The Arguments Against Performance Enhancing Drugs and Substances

When it comes to justifying the prohibition of certain substances in organized sports, there are two main arguments against allowing their use:

  1. PED use is risky and puts athletes’ health and well-being in jeopardy
  2. PED use gives athletes an unfair advantage against their non-enhanced competitors – specifically in a 1-v-1 sport such as Jiu Jitsu.

Can Performance Enhancing Drugs be Used Safely?

When it comes to using PEDs, there is certainly some risk.

The endocrine system, the target of anabolic steroids, is an incredibly complex system that biologists and doctors still do not fully understand.

Even small endocrine changes can have drastic effects on biological function.  

Massive doses of steroids certainly have acute health effects that if not effectively managed could lead to adverse issues, including increased mortality, among users.

Similar risks emerge from the use of EPO and other PEDs as well.

Nevertheless, recent evidence suggests that when used with proper medical supervision for shorter periods of time, the negative effects can be mitigated, and these effects can be reversed following cessation of use.

As such, it is theoretically possible to minimize the health risk of PED usage through proper supervision.

In many cases, the illicit nature of these substances prevents legitimate medical supervision, leading to unsupervised use and increased health risk.

Is PED Use in BJJ Unfair?

There is certainly a good argument that PED use is unfair to competitors.

As much as we like to believe in good technique over strength, if you are not using PEDs but your opponent is on them during training or competition, you are at a disadvantage.

However, due to the widespread use in sports and now that some of the larger organizations such as the IBJJF have implemented PED testing, a secondary contest emerges. 

Specifically, its not about who is using PEDs, its about who can beat the tests and get away with it.

Additionally, we already accept certain levels of unfairness in competition. 

Some athletes are genetically gifted or have access to superior coaching.

Regardless of PED use or not, athletes still must dedicate their entire lives to training to have a shot at being elite competitors.

Furthermore, legal, proven performance enhancing drugs and supplements, such as caffeine and creatine, are permitted. 

In fact, the dividing line between permitted and banned substances often falls on the magnitude of benefit and the criminal legality of the substances in question.

While laws do not change overnight, deciding on whether a PED is ‘too effective for fair use’ is ultimately a subjective determination.

Options For Allowing and Regulating PED Use in BJJ Competition

Given that PEDs are a reality of competitive sports, there are a few options to make PEDs safer and ‘fairer’ for competitors.

This is an interesting topic for discussion.

Separating competitions based on those that allow PED use and those that do not could allow competitors to make a personal choice as to whether they take PEDs as part of their regimen.

While not a perfect system, this is perhaps a better solution than driving the entire enterprise underground.

Improve Testing Protocols for PED Banned Tournaments

Any BJJ tournaments that ban PED use must rigorously enforce this ban. 

A rule is only as good as its enforcement. 

With improvements to testing infrastructure in other professional sports, there is no reason that BJJ cannot do the same. As mentioned previously, larger organizations like the IBJJF have anti-doping policies (USADA), but since there is no random testing it’s definitely a flawed system. Sure, there have been a few black belts get caught recently, but that’s most likely due to them not timing their cycle right.

Allow PED Use Under Medical Supervision

If a competition decides to allow PED use, they should require medical supervision to keep athletes safe.

Competitive teams in most sports already have supervising physicians, so its not a stretch to suggest medical supervision for BJJ athletes using PEDs.

Of course, this would require these substances be lawful to possess and use in the first place, which may be wishful thinking.

The Bottom Line

PED use, including steroids, is a reality in competitive sports. Jiu Jitsu is no exception to that.

Particularly when substantial sums of money are on the line, most BJJ athletes will always be looking for any extra ‘edge.’

Underground PED use and the battle to cheat the testing system is possibly a worse option than having a system for regulating and monitoring athletes’ health.

Allowing athletes the freedom to use PEDs in a safe manner, provided their opponents may use the same substances, is a fairer solution than assuming PED use can be stopped altogether.

Finally, if recreational BJJ athletes use PEDs to win local tournaments with no money on the line, is that really the end of the world?

If these individuals choose to risk the possible health effects of steroids or other substances to win white belt champion in NAGA, in the grand scheme of things, it is probably not worth stressing over. Unless of course, you were the guy who got smashed and missed out on the Samurai Sword.

Jordan Fernandez

Jordan Fernandez 

Jordan is a 10th Planet Purple Belt, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and personal trainer. When not on the mats or at the gym, he writes about all things BJJ and fitness and aggressively stretches and foam rolls on the living room floor.

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