Sildenafil is one of the best-known drugs on the market, although people do not usually like to bring up its purpose--fixing erectile dysfunction. Its popularity is not entirely due to this use, however. Bodybuilders and other athletes take it as a performance-enhancing substance. This is legal in the world of sports--at least as of 2010--but sildenafil’s status could change. That would land this drug on the banned list for bodybuilding, making its status the same as anabolic steroids.
Sildenafil is categorized as a vasodilator and originally was meant to be an aid for high blood pressure. However, it proved to be effective for erectile dysfunction, and it is currently marketed for this purpose. It works by relaxing blood vessels in the penis, which improves blood flow. This property makes it attractive to bodybuilders as well.
Bodybuilders take sildenafil, or “vitamin V” as it is often called, along with anabolic steroids prior to a workout. The theory is that the drug’s ability to dilate a person’s blood vessels will help deliver these steroids to muscles, according to a June 2008 "New York Daily News" article. Bodybuilders who use amino acids, legal supplements and vitamins may operate under the same theory regarding sildenafil. This drug also counteracts the impotence that is sometimes caused by testosterone injections meant to increase muscle mass.
The molecule nitric oxide is a key component of sildenafil. Many bodybuilding supplements are built around this same molecule and are marketed for use as pre-workout vasodilators. In general, a vasodilator opens, or dilates, your blood vessels. Such a substance works directly on muscles in your artery walls, preventing them from tightening and narrowing the walls. The result--blood is able to flow more easily through your arteries. Also, your blood pressure is reduced because your heart does not have to pump as hard.
Sildenafil is so widely-used by bodybuilders and athletes that anti-doping officials are looking into its use. Some sports experts say that sildenafil is even more popular than the well-known supplement creatine, reports the "New York Daily News." Sildenafil may someday be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which creates the official world anti-doping code that bodybuilding and other athletic organizations around the world utilize. As of 2010, the agency was studying the performance-enhancing effects of the drug. The agency’s concern is that the drug may give some athletes an unfair advantage, such as cyclists, especially when competitions are held at high altitudes or in areas with high pollution, such as Beijing. The drug could be added to the banned list before the Olympic Games in 2012, according to BBC News.
The anabolic steroids that some bodybuilders use in conjunction with sildenafil already are banned from use in bodybuilding competitions, although many of the other supplements bodybuilders use are not. However, drug testing at events is random and bodybuilders often take substances such as diuretics that can help mask results of illegal drug use, according to David Robson’s Bodybuilding.com article, “Drugs in Bodybuilding.” That means, even if sildenafil lands on the banned list, it is likely that many bodybuilders will continue to use it in their quest for bigger muscles.
- New York Daily News: Why Viagra is a great workout partner for athletes; Teri Thompson, Christian Red, Michael O'Keeffe and Nathaniel Vinton ; June 10, 2008
- Bodybuilding.com: Drug Testing
- MayoClinic.com: Vasodilators
- BBC News: WADA to Consider Banning Viagra
- New York Daily News: Source: Roger Clemens, Host of Athletes Pop Viagra to Help Onfield Performance; Teri Thompson, Christian Red, Michael O'Keeffe and Nathaniel Vinton; June 10, 2008