Last weeks edition of Gaelic Life identified the “creeping culture” of performance enhancing drug use in the GAA.  Author Ciaran Woods describes how the organisation, with its amateur ethos, regarded itself and its members as not susceptible to the temptations of the abuse of such substances.  Indeed Irish Sports Council statistics appear to substantiate this viewpoint, with zero positive drugs tests out of 93 performed in and out-of-competition among inter-county GAA players in 2011.  However, the article claims, an increased gym culture combined with an openness to experiment with supplements and substances are contributing to the availability of these substances.  The report unearthed the ease of access to, the red blood cell booster, EPO and, muscle building, anabolic steroids as well as other stimulants.

There’s no suggestion, nor does the article attempt to imply, that drug use is rampant in the GAA.  Irish sports council statistics simply don’t back up this assertion.  However there is always call for vigilance.

In clinic there certainly appears to be a growing desire among patients for information on supplements that can improve their recovery from both injuries and training more generally.  Various athletes, including GAA players, describe making their own protein bars, snacks and electrolyte shakes to help recovery after exercise.  This appears particularly to be the case in younger athletes, perhaps more open to experimentation.  Supplementation continues to be actively discouraged by the Irish Sports Council as the ingredients cannot be vouched for and may result in positive drugs test findings.  For similar reasons, we have to ask where the athletes are getting their recipes for the protein bars, shakes and snacks that they now appear to be making?  And whether these are fully safe?  In a general sense the fact GAA players are researching recipes and making these does represent a shift in culture from one where taking anything at all was simply not entertained.

Years ago, if it was suggested that an athlete might need to take some anti-inflammatories to aid the recovery of an injury the standard response was “I don’t like taking tablets.”  This is increasingly being replaced with athletes who question actively “Is there anything I can take to speed this up?”  This in itself is a worrying shift in attitudes among our young sports people.  Perhaps it is a “creeping culture” of acceptance of substances in sport and needs to be watched closely.


Performance Enhancing Drugs in the GAA.  Ciaran Woods.  Gaelic Life.  Issue 316.  February 28 – March 6 2013.

Annual Report 2011.  Anti-Doping Unit of Irish Sports Council.