Quest Lecture: Scandal or scam? The science behind performance enhancers in sport

Elite athletes spend years fine-tuning their bodies and minds for optimum performance. In addition to rigorous training, most athletes make use of countless other strategies to gain a competitive advantage. Some of these performance enhancers - including high tech equipment, clothing, and many nutritional supplements – are legal, socially acceptable and worth billions of dollars per year to the fitness industry. Other products and practices are banned, but continue to be used by athletes who are willing to risk everything for an edge over their competition. Chris Froome – arguably the best cyclist in the world – is an ambassador for a permitted performance enhancer called “The Turbine”. However, he now faces disgrace after drug tests indicate he mis-used a prohibited performance enhancer called salbutamol (an asthma medication).

Froome’s story begs a number of questions: How do these and other performance enhancers act on the body? Which ones actually work to enhance performance? Why are some used openly while others are banned from use? And how do anti-doping agencies attempt to keep sport clean, safe and fair? I’ll answer these questions by drawing from my expertise as an exercise physiologist, my experiences in national and international doping control, and some recent research by Quest students.

Date: Wednesday, March 14

Time: 7 p.m.

Location: Whistler Public Library

About the speaker

Meaghan MacNutt is an exercise physiologist who is fascinated by the remarkable ways that humans and other animals can acclimatize to extreme environments. During her BSc (biology, Acadia University), Meaghan used scuba to study sea turtle biology in Barbados. In her MSc (zoology, University of British Columbia), she examined the effects of warming river temperatures on swimming performance and energy use in migrating Pacific salmon. Since then, Meaghan has primarily studied human physiology, working with individuals across the spectrum from clinical populations to elite endurance athletes. Her PhD (human kinetics, UBC) explored the effects of repeated exposure to high altitude and included a challenging four-month research expedition to the
Nepalese Himalayas.

Meaghan came to Quest first as a teaching fellow, then as a faculty tutor, in the life sciences; she teaches Cornerstone, as well as courses in anatomy and physiology, and genetics and society. She loves teaching about human biology and empowering students with the tools needed to critically evaluate claims and controversies in the popular media about health, fitness and biotechnology.

Meaghan is an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for self-propelled exploration of the world. In addition to her bicycles and a long list of food items, some of Meaghan’s favourite things include jigsaw puzzles, kitchen appliances, and enthusiastic sing-alongs.

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