Peptides are cheap, easy-to-get performance-enhancing drugs that the Australian Crime Commission says are widely used in professional sport there. They're hard to detect, but it's likely they're being used in NZ too. In a month-long project, reporter Steve Deane took peptides to measure their effect on his athletic performance.
The chemist at Auckland Uni confirms my GHRP-6 peptide is what it is purported to be. The shipment comes with a mass spectrometry report and purity certificate. The documentation is accurate - the substance is 98 per cent pure.
It's time for my first injection. Oh dear. I get the maths horribly wrong and end up giving myself 10 times the recommended dosage. I'm supposed to reconstitute my GHRP-6 with 2.5ml of water. Instead I use just 0.25ml. So when I administer what should be a 100mcg dose it's actually 1000mcg.
The effect is more interesting than alarming. I break out into a sweat and feel a little odd. It could just be anxiety, as I'm new to this injecting game. One of the predicted side-effects of GHRP-6 is extreme hunger, and I'm soon ravenous. I could happily eat one of my children, but I settle for two protein shakes and bed.
I've slept okay, despite the nagging doubt I've cocked something up. The tiny amount of liquid in my vial tips me off. I redo the measurements and realise my mistake. Bugger. According to a bodybuilding forum, large doses of peptides have no greater effect than the correct dosage, so no harm, no foul. I hope.
I add the correct amount of sterile water to the vial and tee up a syringe to take to work. I inject at my desk. Nobody notices. It's a simple process. I wipe the area on my stomach with an alcohol swab, pinch a bit of fat and slide in the needle. It takes a couple of seconds. This time there is no adverse effect.
At the gym, I get stronger as my workout goes on. In the pool, the nagging pain in my arm that has plagued me since a failed attempt at ocean swimming three years ago has mysteriously dimmed. This is strange. GHRP-6 is supposed to aid tissue repair, but surely it's far too early to be having this kind of effect? Having two fully functioning arms boosts my swimming dramatically. I feel - there's no other way of putting this - bloody fantastic. An image of Jeff Goldblum in the 1986 remake of The Fly enters my head. He accidentally crosses his DNA with a fly's. He marvels at his new-found superhuman strength, but eventually turns into a hideous human-sized fly thing. Hmmm.
For weights sessions, injections are immediately post-workout. So I take a loaded syringe to the gym and inject in a toilet. By the time I've showered and left I'm ravenous. I eat a large protein bar in about 20 seconds. This would usually take about 20 minutes. The bar deals with the hunger but I'm still hit with a significant loss of energy. I feel strangely flat for about two hours before bouncing back.
Home looking after a sick child. Late afternoon I hit my local gym for a solid workout, followed by an injection. I'm again down on energy until dinner. As sleep is the time the body recovers most, I'm also injecting pre-bedtime, when the peptide should be most effective. I'm sleeping like a baby.
Easter Friday. A day off the drugs and a break from training.
Easter Saturday so I'm working out from home. I inject and set off on a 40-minute mountain bike-cross country run-mountain bike circuit. I'm nervous about the hilly run, which for me is normally a cross between a stagger and shuffle, even without the ride thrown in. I set off cautiously but immediately this feels very different. My legs are incredibly strong, with zero fatigue in the muscles. At the end of the run I'm still feeling great and I fly home on the bike. It's my first run since starting training and it's an out-of-body experience. I've turned into runner Wilson Kipketer's fat, white brother. I suggest to my wife the improvement is probably down to having vastly stronger legs thanks to the weights regime. "Or it's the peptide," she replies. So that's how it's going to be. The drugs will get the credit for any improvements or achievements. How do athletes who train furiously their whole lives deal with this reality when they cross the line and choose to cheat?
A blowout. I attempt the same circuit as yesterday and it's pure torture. My energy levels are at an all-time low and I stagger around the course in 43 minutes - two minutes slower than yesterday. I've fudged the nutrition and I pay the price. Instead of the hated protein porridge, I've had poached eggs on toast for breakfast and skipped the tuna morning tea altogether. I've literally got nothing in the tank. The peptides might help with recovery and repair, but they sure don't power the engine.
A much-needed day off.
Back on the weights. I've missed them. It's becoming addictive. I'm pushing myself to new levels, upping the weights and the number of reps almost daily. I recover remarkably quickly. I seem to dip post-workout but by the next day there is no pain or fatigue and I am ready to go full-on all over again. I can see how this drug would provide a real advantage to any power athlete.
Testing day. Time to find out if the peptide is having much of an effect. I weigh in at 99.3kg, so I've lost another 1.4kg - pretty good considering the two days off over Easter. My skinfolds are down, but this time I've lost fat and muscle.
Just like last week I know how the beep test is going to go right from the start. Only this time I nail it. I've got my nutrition right and have loads of energy. I do a 9/1 and do it easy. This is a huge leap. I've gone from a rating of average to very good in a week. My reward is a brutal "pre-exhaustion" leg weights session - 30 squats at my baseline weight to make sure my quads are on fire before loading up the weights set-by-set to really destroy the muscles. I do the same thing on the leg press, then warm down with a 250m swim.
My day has also included a high tempo 35-minute bike ride in the morning. I'm totally shattered as I inject in the gym toilets. I take a third dose at night, my first three-dose day. How I feel when I wake up tomorrow will test my growing belief that GHRP-6 is an extremely powerful recovery aid.
I wake up feeling great. No pain. No fatigue. So I hit the weights hard again. More pre-exhaustion sets. I set a new PB for squats, putting 50kg on the bar and doing 10 reps no problems at all. This is a modest achievement by most standards, but for a tubby weakling who three weeks ago struggled with just the 10kg bar, it's quite some improvement. I'm a bit weak and listless for the rest of the day but by night time I've recovered.
Doubling up on the pre-exhaustion routine hasn't done me any harm at all. Not physically, anyway. I wake pain and fatigue-free - but in a seriously bad mood. So far there have been no psychological side-effects. I've spoken to friends and athletes who have taken anabolics that have brought on intense anger and increased sexual appetite to go with a huge boost in energy and power. I've experienced none of these symptoms on peptides - until now. I flew into a rage during a late night DIY plumbing fiasco and this morning I'm in a filthy mood. Stupidly, I call the tax department to sort out a trivial matter. The verbal hoop jumping infuriates me so I cut the call short by giving the unhelpful IRD helper a gobful. I'm not exactly known for my even temperament, so it's hard to categorically blame the drug.
At my desk I notice some bruising near the injecting site on my abdomen. It's about the size of two old 50c coins side by side. I recall an article about the severe bruising suffered by a Cronulla Sharks league player prompting an investigation into the actions of the medical staff at the club. Interesting.
I'm still seething when I get to gym. Tomorrow's match day for my soccer team so I plan to take it easy - a 40-minute cycle, 20-minute run and short swim should do it. The workout is too easy and doesn't shift the deep-seated feeling of frustration, so I crank up the treadmill. I should be shattered by the end of the run, but I'm not. I feel great. My wife laughs hysterically at the roid rage theory. Apparently I'm often very grumpy and I've been no different lately.
The beep test
The multi-stage fitness (beep) test is used by sports coaches and trainers to estimate an athlete's VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake). Created by Luc Leger, University of Montreal, it involves running continuously between two points that are 20m apart. These runs are synchronised with a pre-recorded audio tape, CD or laptop software, which plays beeps at set intervals. As the test proceeds, the interval between each successive beep reduces, forcing the athlete to increase their speed over the course of the test, until it is impossible to keep in sync with the recording.
The peptide project
This project was my idea and undertaken by me voluntarily. I researched and believe I fully understood the potential risks before beginning and assumed any such risks willingly. I believe I took all steps reasonably necessary to safeguard my own health and wellbeing. For example, the substance I took, GHRP-6, was examined by a chemist at Auckland University, who confirmed its chemical makeup and purity. The needles and injecting water I used were sourced via a prescription from my GP. I consulted a nurse about correct injecting technique. APN New Zealand and the editors of the Herald insisted I did not do anything that would break any laws during this investigation. I checked with the Ministry of Health and Medsafe and consulted a lawyer before importing GHRP-6 from the United States, buying it online. To the best of my knowledge and belief, all steps undertaken in this investigation were legally permissible.
Tomorrow: Steve Deane puts his new regime to the test on the soccer field