The Pursuit of Clean Competition: Performance Enhancing Drugs in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

In the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), athletes, competitors, and hobbyists alike strive for excellence in technique, strength, and endurance, on their quest for the coveted black belt. They shed blood, sweat, and sometimes tears over countless hours spent on the mats, rigorously conditioning their bodies and drilling techniques day-in and day-out. However, the topic of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) has garnered polarizing attention in recent years, raising concerns about fair play and the integrity of the sport. Prominent athletes such as Mikey Musumeci and the Ruotolo brothers have spoken out against the use of PEDs in BJJ, publicly condemning those who partake; while others like Gordon Ryan and Roberto “Cyborg” de Abreu have either defended their use, or tested positive for actively using them in competition. In this blog post, we will explore the effects of PEDs on competitions and competitors' bodies, before sharing our perspective on whether they should or should not be allowed in BJJ, and sports overall.

The Temptation of PEDs

Competitors in various sports, including BJJ and MMA, may be tempted to turn to PEDs to gain a competitive edge. These substances can enhance strength, speed, endurance, and recovery, potentially leading to improved performance on the mats. Sounds pretty great, right? I mean, who wouldn't want to give themselves every advantage they possibly could? Before you race off to the nearest alleyway or dingy locker room to buy some fresh-out-the-backpack gear, hear me out - using PEDs comes with some serious consequences that can stick around with you for life.


Health Risks of Performance Enhancing Drugs

PEDs, often synthetic versions of hormones naturally produced in the body, can have both immediate and long-term consequences on one’s overall well-being. Let’s take a look at some of the health risks associated with PED use:

Cardiovascular Problems - PEDs can have detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system. Some substances, such as anabolic steroids, can lead to an increase in blood pressure, which puts added strain on the heart. This can potentially result in conditions like hypertension, increased risk of heart attacks, and other cardiovascular complications. The misuse of PEDs can disrupt the delicate balance of the body's cardiovascular system, compromising an athlete's long-term heart health.

Liver Damage - Certain PEDs, particularly those taken orally, pass through the liver for metabolism. This can place significant stress on the liver, potentially leading to liver damage or dysfunction. In severe cases, this can result in conditions such as jaundice, liver tumors, or even liver failure. The liver plays a crucial role in filtering toxins from the body, and the use of PEDs can hinder its ability to perform this vital function.

Kidney Dysfunction - PEDs can also impact kidney function. Many of these substances can cause the kidneys to work harder to filter out the increased levels of toxins in the body. Prolonged use of PEDs may lead to kidney damage, impaired kidney function, or even kidney failure. Kidney problems not only affect an athlete's overall health but can also impact their performance and ability to compete at their best.

Hormonal Imbalances - PEDs often manipulate hormone levels in the body, disrupting the natural balance. Anabolic steroids, for example, can increase testosterone levels, which can have several consequences. In males, this can lead to testicular atrophy, reduced sperm production, and breast development (gynecomastia). In females, it can cause menstrual irregularities, deepening of the voice, and excessive hair growth (hirsutism). Hormonal imbalances can have far-reaching effects on the body's systems and can lead to a range of health issues.

Psychological Impact - The use of PEDs can also have psychological effects on individuals. Some users may experience mood swings, increased aggression (commonly referred to as "roid rage"), and dependency on these substances. The alterations in hormone levels and the pressure to maintain physical enhancements can take a toll on an athlete's mental well-being, affecting their overall quality of life.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and please, don’t just take it from us: You can find more research here.

Reputation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Sanctioned Competitions

As we all know (or will soon learn, if you’re new), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is widely regarded as a discipline that emphasizes technique, skill, and sportsmanship. It has gained immense popularity for its focus on technique, leverage, and skill, allowing smaller individuals to overcome larger opponents through tactful maneuvers. However, the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) within the BJJ community tarnishes this reputation, for both the sport and its competitors. Let's delve into the impact of PEDs on the reputation of BJJ and sanctioned competitions:

Fairness and Integrity - One of the fundamental principles of any sport is fair competition. Athletes are expected to compete on a level playing field - or at least consent to a seemingly unbalanced one, in the case of open weight class and absolute brackets - showcasing their natural abilities and finely-honed skills. But when PEDs enter the equation, it creates an unfair artificial advantage to which the user’s opponent cannot consent to, drastically undermining the integrity of the sport. In other words, it erodes the trust and respect that competitors, fans, and the wider community have built for and love about the martial art.

Distrust and Skepticism - The presence of PEDs in BJJ has raised doubts and skepticism about the legitimacy of competitions and athletes’ achievements. As recently as the 2022 IBJJF World Championship, Mica Galvao went on a remarkable winning streak and defeated Tye Ruotolo for the world title - but it was only after the competition that his PED panel revealed he tested positive for performance enhancing substances, including steroids. Consequently, Galvao was stripped of the title and served a one year ban from competing within the organization, but the damage Galvao dealt far exceeded the punishment. Had he not been on PEDs and steroids, any one of his matches could have yielded different results; in which case every following match would have been affected with different matchups, victors, and resulting world champion. 

“Role Model” Status - As with every martial art, BJJ black belts and competitors serve as de facto role models for aspiring athletes and members of the community - that is, whether they choose to be or not. They inspire others through their dedication, discipline, and technical proficiency, and it is their responsibility to display these qualities, and more, alongside the core values of the martial art. When caught using PEDs, however, it sends a damaging message to their followers and the larger community: It conveys the idea that achieving success requires shortcuts and cheating, rather than hard work, integrity, self-discipline and respect. This toxic behavior tarnishes the reputation of BJJ, as both a martial art and sport that fosters character development, and upholds ethical standards.

Preserving the Spirit of BJJ - The true essence of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu lies in the pursuit of personal growth, resilience, and the development of a strong mind-body connection. Joe Rogan, comic and BJJ black belt, once said about jiu jitsu, “It’s made me understand myself, my weaknesses, my strengths, the sh*t I need to work on. Jiu-jitsu has been one of the most valuable tools I’ve ever had in my life.” Jiu jitsu is a martial art that encourages individuals to overcome challenges through discipline and determination. By rejecting the use of PEDs, BJJ practitioners uphold the sport's values and maintain the integrity of their journey. They inspire others with their commitment to natural progression and genuine skill development.

What We Believe

In the realm of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the pursuit of excellence should be accompanied by a commitment to clean and fair competition. Performance Enhancing Drugs may offer temporary advantages, but their use comes at a high cost to athletes' health and reputation, as well as those of our grappling community and competition organizations. 

At Rashguard Soap, we believe in upholding the spirit of BJJ, and supporting clean and fair competition. We believe performance enhancing drugs do not have a place in our community, and we strongly advocate against their use*. Our soap products reflect our beliefs, each designed to nourish and protect the skin of athletes without resorting to artificial enhancements. By choosing Rashguard Soap, individuals can showcase their commitment to the values and reputation of BJJ, by promoting a community that encourages fair play, respect, and the pursuit of excellence through genuine effort. 

We understand the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy training environment, which is why our soap is specifically designed to address the unique needs of grapplers. Our formulas contain skin-loving ingredients such as tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and hemp oil, known for their antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which naturally supercharge the recovery process in between training sessions. By using Rashguard Soap, you can feel confident in your training, knowing that you are taking the best care of your body’s biggest organ without compromising the core values of jiu jitsu.

Let's work together to preserve the integrity and reputation of BJJ, ensuring that the sport continues to inspire and uplift people - on and off the mat. OSS!

(*Disclaimer: This blog post does not constitute medical advice. It is important to consult with healthcare professionals regarding the use of any substances or training methods.)

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