Athletes, pro, con or otherwise, are finicky about their bodies. That does not necessarily mean they're good to their bodies. Just finicky.
Many will tell you it's their body, so it's down the hatch with gobs of vitamins, vitamin supplements, wheat germ, steak, fresh fruit and who knows what kind of drugs. And if that isn't enough, how about a faith-healer, a cortisone shot?
Since Greco-Roman days, athletes have been willing to experiment with all kinds of things in the quest to improve and endure.
"Ever since then, someone has been coming up with a pill or something. The athletes who have been winners are the ones who have more talent and are better trained," said Dr. G.R. Greenwell, chairman of the Amateur Athletic Union's sports medicine committee.
Trying to convince some athletes - regardless of athletic class or age - of that has not always been an easy or succeesful job for phsicians and trainers because of the psychological mystique of sports. The athlete may think some pill or vitamin or diet provided the "extra edge" to win.
Four-time Olympic Hammer thrower Harold Connally told a Senate committee in 1973 that "by 1968, many athletes . . . were using anabolic steriods and stimulants." Previously, it had been pretty much confined to weightlifters, he said.
Describing amphetamines and pain-killers he saw athletes using at the 1968 Games, Connally said, "It was not unusual . . . to see athletes with their own medicine kits, practically doctors bags, in which they would have syringes and all their various drugs . . .
"I knew any number of athletes on the 1968 Olympic team who had so much scar tissue and so many puncture holes in their backsides that it was difficult to find a fresh spot to give them a new shot.
"I relate these incidents to emphasize my contention that the over-whelming majority of the international track and field athletes I have known would take anything and do anything short of killing themselves to improve their athletic performance."
Speaking of his own former and limited used of amphetamines and steroids, Connally said that "wheh the time came that I felt I was going to relinquish that position . . . of being the best in the world to someone who is using something that I had access to and that I could use, too, I used it."
Dr. Allan Ryan, a general surgeon in Minneapolis who is editor-in-chief of the magazine, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, says that if there is an addiction for today's athletes, it is vitamins.
"They're convinced vitamins give them more energy so they think the more vitamins they take, the more energy they'll have," he said.
But Ryan says excessive use of vitamins and high-protein supplements are a waste of money because the body converts them to fat or ammonia which it secretes.
Nutrition has become an important factor for the serious athlete, whose diet, therefore, is always on his or her mind.
"We're constantly fighting myths," said Dr. Fred Allman Jr., an Atlanta orthopedist who operates a sports medicine clinic. "A steak dinner may give the athlete a psychological lift, but the pregame meal should be primarily carbohydrates. It should be geared to the individual athelete, and what food idiosyncracies they have."
For years, rumors have drifted out of the Soviet Union and East European satellites, particularly East Germany, of drug experiments with athletes.
The unusual strength and endurance shown by women from some Iron Curtain countries led to the Olympic sex tests for women, some of whom had the strength of men. The more conventional wisdom was that anabolic steroids had played a major part in their training.
There are also rumors about blood-doping - having blood drawn a month before competition and stored ina refrigerator until a few days before the event when it is replaced to supplement their hemoglobin levels.
"It seems to be widespread in Europe," said Gary Jenks, executive director of the American College of Sports Medicine. "But our research has shown the nature of its short-term effect is not worth of the inherent risk of the whole process . . . hepatitis."
East Germany's sports institute at Leipzig is world famous and reflects the country's obsession with sports - for both health and political reasons.
"In East Germany, anything that involves activity is considered sports," said Dr. Greenwell of the AAU, who talked with an East German physician who taught at Leipzig and fled to the West.
"The major reason for their program is to keep people fit and healthy. The competitive program is a side benefit. It's the 'poor man's space program.' They embarked on this fitness/performance program at the same time Russia and the United States embarked on their space programs.
"The East Germans couldn't afford a space program but could afford the fitness/performance program. It was a much better investment because their general population is receiving better benefits than we are in our 'rich man's space program.'"