What is ‘Natural’? Part I: Chemical Enhancement and Cheaters




1. existing in or formed by nature (opposed to artificial ): a natural bridge.
2.based on the state of things in nature; constituted by nature: Growth is a natural process.
This post will likely draw some heat and to others be a breath of fresh air. All I ask is that you read it with an open mind. Philosophers use the method of conceptual analysis to look at the way words are used in different contexts. By analyzing how a word is used in various ways, some insight might be gained into our own linguistic practices. Take for example the word ‘bank’. If someone says “I went to the bank today” that context likely dictates they went to a financial institution. If someone says “The bank of the river is covered in trash” they are not talking about a financial institution, they are talking about a location next to water. The same word, two different meanings, two different contexts.
I want to start with two ideas that are true.
  1. Drug tested athletics doesn’t equate with drug free athletics.
  2. Those engaged in meaningful pursuits in life desire to be better.

I think the disdain for those who use chemical enhancement by the general public and overall fitness community comes from the idea that clean athletes are better than dirty athletes. Clean athletes are those who pass drug tests; dirty athletes fail tests. The underlying community support is for the ‘natural’ athlete. I purposely started this post with a definition of ‘natural’ just so we are all clear on it. It pertains to the state of nature and our existence in that. Keeping with that theme, to be ‘natural’ you must eat naturally and drink naturally, that is, nothing processed, as that is NATURE and your place in it. No one does that who claims to be ‘natural’ so let’s be clear, they aren’t natural. If you eat processed foods and take supplements, you aren’t natural in this sense. So it is probably fair to say that NO ONE is natural in this sense, clean or dirty.

I think an honest person will agree with that part of the analysis, but they will say “Scott, that’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about chemical enhancement, in particular hormonal enhancement.” ‘Natural’ by definition then would be those who don’t use hormonal enhancement.  But there is a problem with this: aren’t the very hormones they are using ‘natural’ hormones? Yes, many of them are, especially testosterone and growth hormone. The issue, then, must be one of levels in the blood and body. Higher levels are unnatural ones; lower levels are natural ones. Fair enough, higher levels are different than lower levels. However, in the ‘natural’ realm, some have higher levels and some have lower levels of hormones. Some men have natural test readings over 1000 and some have readings under 100. Obviously, this ‘natural’ level could impact someone’s recovery, strength, and progress, for positive or negative. Set that aside for a minute.

In our natural state, we are uneducated. We learn from experience, and if we take the completely natural line, it would only be from personal experience. All else would some form of education and knowledge transmission. However, with our educational system, we learn about things far beyond our personal experiences. In fact, we think it is mandatory to be educated in the right sorts of ways, which is why we have public school systems in the USA. But what about the student who doesn’t quite get it? Do we leave him or her behind? No, in fact, we spend an enormous amount of money and time on special education to bring up the lowest in society to a basic functional level. We think they deserve at least a fair shot at playing in society and life.

If we truly want a fair playing field in athletics, then why don’t we bring everyone up to the same hormonal level? Why is it that those with a naturally higher level are allowed to benefit from it when it is something he or she DID NOT earn? Why doesn’t society view them as the true cheaters? Think about that for a minute. They scream the loudest about keeping things “natural”, yet they do so without compromised hormone levels. They want to keep the status quo to keep their advantage. Imagine if someone did that with special education, no we cannot fund them or bring them up to a basic level because they don’t have it in them to do it and progress. Wouldn’t that be insane?

Yes, I am aware of some disanalogies between the two the examples. Nevertheless, just consider it. We openly help some, yet we deny others in what appear to be similar circumstances.

The second claim is something, I think, that everyone shares; we have a desire to be better. We don’t fault people for studying more to get better grades. We don’t fault people for working extra hours to make more money. We don’t fault people for taking supplements, as long as they are legal–that is another topic to be discussed. We encourage people to get degrees and further education. Why? To get the most out of life. In short, to be a winner.

Is it really surprising to anyone then when an athlete of any kind turns to something that will help him or her win? Yes, there are rules and where an organization forbids something, it shouldn’t be used. But make no mistake the WADA lists let you take a lot of things that aren’t ‘natural’ in first sense discussed. The WADA lists are very clear and if you abide by them, you will test negative. That doesn’t mean you are natural; it means you passed the test and didn’t use substances they ban. The WADA lists themselves support the very idea that some things are okay to take to make you perform better! Did you ever think about that? No, at the heart of it, the lists play into the very attitude they should be denying, especially if ‘natural’ is the key.

What made me write this post was some frustration with what I saw on Facebook about a guy “Kali Muscle” who recently won the LA Bodybuilding championships.  “Kali” claims to be natural. He’s not by what is presented above, no one is. That’s on him and decreases his credibility. He’s also not competing in a drug tested event as far as I can tell, so he isn’t breaking any rules. What I found disturbing was the number of people who attributed all of his success to chemical enhancement, basically shit talking him because he uses hormones.

He uses hormones to compete at the same level with others. If he didn’t he wouldn’t be able to compete at a show like the LA. Why would someone then compete without doing what it necessary? Would he be a more virtuous person if he were “natural” and smaller but a loser? Would they even know who he is then? If a job requires a degree and you don’t have one, you can’t compete, can you? Well, what would you do? Get a degree or do something else. The point is that they disdain what he does to win, yet they do the same thing in their everyday lives. Everyone wants to be better, Kali Muscle is no exception.

I may be leaving the impression that I am for chemical enhancement in athletics. To be clear, I am not for anything that violates rules and codes of ethics. If you compete in organization X and X tells you not to take Y, and you take Y, you’ve cheated and should be punished.

What I am for is an honest discussion of ideas and policies that are used without much forethought and insight. I am also a libertarian and where someone’s freedom and choices are his or her business, I think we should let them be. In the case of Kali Muscle, it is really no one’s business but his if he is natural or not. He should have never even brought it up. But since he did, it is an issue. I think that chemical enhancement, your relationship between yourself and your doctor, the medications you take, the therapy you receive, and others are all private and your business alone.

I find a lot of what people say comical when they judge physiques as chemically enhanced, “That guy is definitely on…” and related comments. In my twenty five years of experience, some of the biggest users were people you would have never guessed were chemically enhanced. I have also known a handful of natural bodybuilders who didn’t use hormones who had impressive physiques and people attributed their success to hormones.  Why is there is need to attribute hormonal use to athletes by the public? Do athletes comment on your Valium usage? Do athletes comment on your Zoloft or Wellbutrin dependency? How would you like it if someone said “She is only successful because of her meds”? It is your business, not theirs and the reverse should be recognized as well.

If you think I am full of shit, fine. Redirect your attention; look at the Reef Girl…natural at its best. 🙂


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