Why can white women run and jump better than white men? (why do drugs help you run faster?)

Posted on August 24, 2016

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In White men caN jump? Kind of. But they still can’t run. Sort of. it was covered whites do progressively worse in endurance events compared to blacks. A potential reason for this being a difference in ability to get rid of heat.

This brings up the question, if steroids make people stronger, and runners get faster from steroids, then why does that increase their speed? If heat dissipation is the bottleneck, steroids wouldn’t help, would they? They don’t change your skin color. They don’t (seemingly) have a direct influence on heat dissipation. In fact, don’t they make you bigger / thicker? That would increase your volume to surface area ratio, making it…harder to get rid of heat?

First, that post above -world record performance for males- assumes everyone is on steroids. The playing field is, perhaps ironically, even. Everyone is at their physiological limit. Everything’s been taken to its max. Red blood cell count, relative strength, VO2 max, etc. In an everyday person a lack of strength could easily be limiting their performance. In the group above, less likely. Where something else, a “true physiological bottleneck” if you will -something which can’t be overcome by drugs (or can it? is a “heat drug” the next frontier in performance?)- is the limiting factor. And then, what is that difference between whites and blacks.

Second, while steroids can positively impact muscle size, you still need calories to get bigger. Lance Armstrong was not a heavy guy, yet took steroids.

Next, thinking back to this,

  • Shot put
  • High jump
  • 40 yard dash
  • Long jump
  • Triple jump
  • 60 meters
  • 100 meters
  • 200 meters
  • 400 meters
  • 800 meters
  • 1500 meters
  • 5000 meters
  • 10,000 meters
  • Half marathon
  • Marathon

(I moved 40 yard dash up the list after thinking about it some more. When including the jump, a long jumper and triple jumper move their body further than a 40 yard dasher.)

A standout anthropometric in that progression is a decrease in body size. It’s not perfectly event by event, but the trendline is obvious. The further you travel, the less you want to weigh. One reason for this is again, heat dissipation. You’re not changing your surface area as you get smaller in weight, but you change your volume, which changes the ratio.

Say you’re a 180 lb sprinter. You don’t necessarily want to gain weight, even if it’s only muscle, because too much size and you’re going to slow down regardless. What steroids / drugs give is an obvious opportunity to stay the same size, but have more muscle.

“Couldn’t body recomposition through diet and training take care of this? After all, many people can be a naturally ripped 180 or 190 lbs, and sprinters aren’t usually bigger than this.”

  1. Not everyone can be that ~180 lbs and ripped without the hormonal boost.
  2. One difference with steroids is the ability to increase -maybe not the most specific term but we’ll use it anyways- muscle density. (For some more info see this or this.)
Credit: http://breakingmuscle.com/health-medicine/once-you-ve-used-steroids-is-it-possible-to-ever-compete-clean-again

Credit: Breaking Muscle

That is, heightening how much muscle you have / how receptive your muscle is, at a given weight, to a degree unlikely achieved through diet / training. Therefore, your surface area can remain similar as well as your volume, and you have more muscle. Once this it taken to its limit -there’s only so much muscle you can have at a given weight- then heat dissipation becomes the limiting factor.

-> This is not well studied, as drug use in non-bodybuilders / powerlifters seems to barely have ever been looked at. (What athlete is going to volunteer for that study? Volunteering is admitting use.) It’s been a theory of mine for a long time now -even amongst all the lean guys, I always swore when patting certain football teammates on the back or shoulder some guys felt “harder”- and there appears to be at least something to it, though it’s more nuanced than more muscle in the same space. (Appears more muscle nuclei is a factor.)

Furthermore, there are endless reasons why drugs can help performance. Drugs by themselves can cause hypertrophy, without training. Say you’re an athlete who needs some more muscle, but intense weight lifting is going to take away from your event training. (Only so much energy to go around.) You can take drugs to get some extra muscle while not even lifting. Therefore, there’s nothing taken away from your event training.

Anecdotally, many say recovery is improved. If you can train year round harder without getting injured, that’s another leg up on the competition.

Etc.

If relative strength were the issue, sprinters could just progressively add weight and stay shredded, but bodybuilders aren’t winning any running contests, nor are all the 250 pound shredded dudes in the NFL. In fact, it’s really rare to see anybody doing well in runs over 100 meters who are over 200 pounds. At some point for each event, more muscle is a hindrance.

Onto the women

This gives credence to why you don’t see this pattern with females as much. Here was our list from the males previously,

  • Randy Barnes has the shot put record.
  • Patrik Sjoberg 1.2% off the black high jump record
  • Aleksandr Menkov is 4.4% from the black long jump record
  • Jonathan Edwards has the triple jump record
  • 40 yard dash- Ryan Swope is 2.3% slower than the black record
  • 60- Morne Nagel 1.4% slower than the black record
  • 100- Christophe Lemaitre 3.4% slower than the black record
  • 200- Pietro Mennea 2.7% slower than black record.
  • 400- Jeremy Wariner 1% slower than black record.
  • 800- Seb Coe 0.8% slower than black record.
  • 1500- Nick Willis 1.7% slower than black record.
  • 3000- Mark Carroll 2.2% slower than black record.
  • 5000- Dieter Baumann 2.2% slower than black record.
  • 10,000- Galen Rupp 3% than black record.
  • Half marathon- Zane Robertson 2.3% slower than black record.
  • Marathon- Ryan Hall is 2.9% slower than the black marathon record

Here we go for women,

  • White woman has shot put record
  • Whtie woman has high jump record
  • White woman has long jump record
  • White woman has triple jump record
  • White woman has 60 meter record
  • Privalova 2.6% from black 100 meter record
  • Schippers 1.3% from black 200 meter record
  • White woman has 400 meters record
  • White woman has 800 meters record
  • Kazankina 1% from black 1500 meters record
  • Chinese woman has 3000 meter record
  • Shobukhova 1.5% from black 5000 meters record
  • Junxia (Chinese) 0.8% from black 10,000 meters record
  • Radcliffe 2.5% from black half marathon record
  • White woman has marathon record

There is nowhere near the same level of discrepancy between whites and blacks. Not only that, if you look at the all time lists, as I joked in the other post, for men looking for non-blacks was like looking for Where’s Waldo? For women, non-blacks are all over most of these events.

As for the reasoning for this-

We know strength / difference in chemical endowment is a predominant factor for the discrepancy between men and women’s performance. Even in a marathon, men do better than women. The difference between the men and women’s 100 meter world record is 8.7%. Even at the other extreme, where strength is way less relevant, the difference in the marathon is 9.2%. Even in the Tour De France, Lance Armstrong was taking steroids / drugs for performance, and weight training. Strength / muscle / testosterone helps.

My guess is there is much more variability in how far women will go with drug use, particularly steroids, because of masculinizing effects. With men, you get more jacked and make more money. Evololutionary psychology says that’s hard to resist. For women, how you look is (and how deep your voice is), whether it be evolution or cultural (this seems to have grown with time), so critical, it’s hard to give that up to run faster. Where the playing field isn’t as even, certainly not compared to 30 years ago where so many of the women’s records were set, therefore strength / muscle / testosterone is much more the bottleneck. They aren’t taking enough steroids to get to a point where heat dissipation would be the limiting factor. Hence, there’s more variability in skin color. A white woman can make up for a less aerodynamic structure in the 400 meters through drug use. A white male can’t, because they’re all taking the same stuff.

That said, in events where strength is less of a factor and heat dissipation more, i.e. endurance events, blacks are slowly coming into dominance for women too. Just in the 2016 Rio games they overtook four out of the top five 10,000 meter times.

My assumption is we’ll continue to see this progress, as the Kenyans and Ethiopians have more and more of their women running. However, the lesser endurance events will be tougher to get into the all time marks, because they progressively rely on strength. Where perhaps not as many women nowadays are willing to take the risk of changing how they look that much. Women now also have the benefit of hindsight, seeing how it can much it can change their appearance. Those from 30 years ago may not have known the consequences as much.

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Posted in: Sports