There will be First XV play­ers tempted to take sup­ple­ments which claim they can help ath­letes be­come stronger and big­ger. But ev­ery­one needs to un­der­stand the risks and dan­gers such prod­ucts present. GRE­GOR PAUL with the story.

NZ Rugby World - First XV - - CON­TENTS -

Sup­ple­ment tak­ing is pop­u­lar in First XV rugby. But there are hid­den dan­gers and play­ers need to know what they can and can’t do.

The sup­ple­ments in­dus­try is a mine­field. Al­most lit­er­ally in that some prod­ucts prob­a­bly could be ex­plo­sive so ran­domly and in­ex­pertly have they been put to­gether.

Not ev­ery­one will care about that, though. The dan­ger of sup­ple­ments is that they make the most tempt­ing prom­ises and who doesn’t love think­ing they are get­ting ahead of ev­ery­one else?

This is a largely un­reg­u­lated mar­ket where man­u­fac­tur­ers of pro­tein and whey pow­ders can pretty much claim what they like. This is a busi­ness that is with­out ques­tion a tri­umph of style over sub­stance. It is the mar­ket­ing men, not the chemists, who have the tough job.

The truth, un­palat­able as it may be to a bil­lion dol­lar in­dus­try prey­ing on those who have a clear idea of what they want to see in the mir­ror, is that the bulk of prod­ucts, at best, of­fer users in­fin­i­tes­i­mal phys­i­cal gains.

There is, as much as some would love to be­lieve it, no magic po­tion out there – not one that is le­gal or safe - that can turn a 75kg in­side back into a 95kg in­side back in the space of a term. Only ge­net­ics, smart train­ing and good nu­tri­tion can spark a tran­si­tion like that. And it will take a lot longer than one term.

That won’t stop the mar­keters from giv­ing the im­pres­sion their prod­uct can add bulk and mus­cle mass in the space of weeks. That won’t stop the mar­ket­ing blurbs from al­most ter­ri­fy­ing young play­ers into us­ing their prod­ucts for fear of be­ing left be­hind.

“The peo­ple who pro­duce pro­tein pow­der, they don’t put it out as dried milk – which is what it es­sen­tially is,” says chief ex­ec­u­tive of Drug Free Sport, Graeme Steel. “They call it things such as ‘ul­tra pow­der’ or ‘mega whey pow­der’ and pro­mote that it con­tains added in­gre­di­ents as a point of dif­fer­ence.

“But there are not many prod­ucts out there that make much dif­fer­ence.”

Still, the pic­ture painted is so al­lur­ing and ap­par­ently de­void of risk, young play­ers are go­ing to be tempted.

First XV has an alarm­ing num­ber of pre­con­di­tions that could fos­ter a wide­spread cul­ture of drug tak­ing. There are dis­par­i­ties in phys­i­cal mat­u­ra­tion be­tween the boys and in a sport where size mat­ters, those who don’t have it, will des­per­ately want it.

The pro­file of First XV is grow­ing – rapidly – and with play­ers such as Rieko Ioane and Te­vita Li pick­ing up Su­per Rugby con­tracts while still at school, pro­fes­sional ca­reers can ap­pear to be in reach for many of the boys.

Such claims can ap­pear like need­less scare­mon­ger­ing and of­ten lead to those who make them be­ing ridiculed or shot down as wildly fan­ci­ful. But not this time.

There is no sub­sti­tute for hard work and healthy liv­ing. Al­ways seek ex­pert ad­vice about any sup­ple­ments or prod­ucts you are tempted to take.’ VIC­TOR VITO

Those who say there’s no chance of drug tak­ing be­com­ing sys­temic in New Zealand need to look at what’s hap­pened in South Africa. Drug tak­ing is most def­i­nitely a prob­lem in their school rugby pro­grammes. And if it’s a prob­lem there, why not here?

Be­cause New Zealand is above that sort of thing? Be­cause New Zealan­ders have a deeper re­spect for fair play and ethics? Be­cause New Zealan­ders are made of some kind of tougher moral fab­ric?

If the match-fix­ing cricket scan­dal last year taught any­one any­thing, it was surely that New Zealan­ders are just as sus­cep­ti­ble to cor­rup­tion as ev­ery­one else. So there is no moral code that will keep drug tak­ing out of schools – only re­lent­less ed­u­ca­tion on the sub­ject will do that.

Steel, says of First XV: “The pres­sure is on these young kids to per­form which they may be pre­pared for phys­i­cally and tech­ni­cally but not cul­tur­ally and psy­cho­log­i­cally.

“I think the schools them­selves need to have a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity around help­ing these kids holis­ti­cally.”

Steel’s con­cerns aren’t con­fined to dop­ing, but that is, po­ten­tially, one of the ar­eas to which un­der pre­pared and un­der re­sourced kids could turn. “I think the most im­por­tant thing is that kids un­der­stand that sup­ple­ments are not a be­nign thing you can take with­out con­cern.

“Play­ers need to seek ex­pert ad­vice about sup­ple­ments and that ex­pert ad­vice is not go­ing to come from the per­son who is sell­ing the prod­ucts.”

Steel is a lit­tle wary of how Drug Free Sport is cur­rently viewed by schools across New Zealand. The agency is con­duct­ing re­search into sup­ple­ment use within schools: not for sin­is­ter means, how­ever.

The in­ten­tion of col­lect­ing data is not to out schools for bad prac­tice or any fail­ing to in­form and sup­port kids in their rugby and sport­ing pro­grammes, but to draw a de­tailed pic­ture so fu­ture ed­u­ca­tion and ad­vice can be ef­fec­tively shaped.

The school­boy rugby land­scape has changed dra­mat­i­cally in the last few years. Su­per Rugby teams have started to re­cruit di­rectly from schools; there is live TV cov­er­age and schools have in­vested heav­ily in coach­ing staff and re­sources.

Rugby is not nec­es­sar­ily just a game. Now, it is a gen­uine ca­reer op­tion and from be­ing an es­cape from the cur­ricu­lum, it is now viewed as part of it.

First XV is all-con­sum­ing. Few kids play more than one sport be­cause to make the top team in rugby, the train­ing ex­pec­ta­tion is so high there is no room for any­thing else.

The boys aren’t paid, but they are pro­fes­sional in ev­ery other way and some schools may have been slow to re­act to this changed re­al­ity. They have, in some cases, been slow to ac­cept they have been com­plicit in build­ing this high pres­sure, win­ning at all costs en­vi­ron­ment.

Schools use rugby as a re­cruit­ment tool – a means to show­case the val­ues they be­lieve they fos­ter in their pupils and the pres­sure can be in­tense for the young men in­volved.

Steel be­lieves that there are some schools that are on top of this is­sue and are pro­vid­ing pupils with strong and valu­able ad­vice. There are oth­ers who aren’t.

Drug Free Sport’s longer term goal is to drive pro­grammes that en­sure all schools are able to ed­u­cate and sup­port their pupils ap­pro­pri­ately.

Ed­u­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing is par­tic­u­larly needed in the area of pre-work out stim­u­lants. Th­ese are the prod­ucts that most con­cern Steel be­cause they would ap­pear to be the most pop­u­lar within this age-group.

Drug Free Sport can only do so much to ad­vise and ed­u­cate young ath­letes and their coaches. There is a limit to its in­flu­ence and the point Steel is most anx­ious to get across is that ul­ti­mately, re­spon­si­bil­ity on sup­ple­ment use lies with the in­di­vid­ual.

Ig­no­rance is no ex­cuse in the eyes of the law. If any­one is un­cer­tain about a prod­uct – the best ad­vise is don’t take it. Fail­ing a drugs test is a se­ri­ous and po­ten­tially ca­reer-end­ing busi­ness.

“A six-month ban is not the worst thing,” says Steel. “The process and the pub­lic­ity around it – that’s the worst thing and what it puts the ath­lete and their fam­ily through.”

healthy diet There's no sub­si­tute for a healthy bal­anced diet.

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