Charles Poliquin: No Holds Barred Interview
By William Llewellyn
Publication Date: 2005
(Reprinted with permission)
In Part II of our hard-hitting interview with Charles Poliquin, Charles delves into the taboo issue of drug use in competitive sports. Charles also gives us a little more detail about what it is he does with his elite clients. Our interview took place shortly before the 2004 Summer Olympics.
WL: What do you say to the person who says that you can do a lot of things to build muscle and improve performance, but nothing is ever going to bring it to the level that steroids do? You must take anabolics to be a world-class athlete. What do you say to that person?
CP: I think that’s BS because I coach a lot of people who don’t use anabolics. The only place it’s going to make a world of difference is in bodybuilding. Even in track, a guy I coach, Dwight Phillips is clean. Because of a variety of issues, I ran a hormone profile on him. I don’t run a standard IOC drug test because any guy with any smarts can cheat that test. So I have doctors run tests on LH, FSH to see if anything is depressed.
WL: I always wondered why they didn’t look at that.
CP: Yeah, because that’s actually what weightlifting does. The cleanest sport out there is weightlifting because weightlifting chose years ago to do hormone profiling and not compound testing. The reason they did that is to clean the sport, and it’s obviously working because their weight performances are not what they used to be.
The trend in other sports is to get something that is not on the list. But that is not an Eastern list. It is a Western list. That’s why there has never been a positive Eastern on record. Look it up. Why? Because actually at the ‘92 Olympics I had a friendly discussion with an Olympian and he basically said, ‘We were always 12 steroids ahead of the list’. So you know they would take a steroid that they are testing, say oxandrolone, and add a chlorine ion to modify it so the test couldn’t pick it up. Compound testing doesn’t work.
Coach Poliquin was an accomplished martial artist who was as strong as he looked. (All photos by Miloš Šarčev)
WL: So this was a somewhat recent conversation? Can you tell me more about what he used to do?
CP: The Wall had fallen by then and the athlete was competing for unified Germany. He said when he was an East German, he took anabolics for 20 years. He said in the original days, he used Deca Durabolin, maybe 12 weeks out, but would switch to different compounds for testing. He would use Turinabol and he knew how many days to go off, and then he would take non-steroidal anabolic compounds to prolong the affects of the cycle. They basically used injectables and then switched to orals and then they would get to a closer and closer period with the orals.
They felt Turinabol was the drug of choice because it maintained gains when they went off; there wasn’t such a drop-in performance. Both males and females were on it. The difference between men and women back then was basically the time they would spend on Dianabol. They were on to other stuff before the Wall fell too. Basically, the drug program was run by the state security, which is equivalent to the U.S. Secret Service. It’s maybe more equivalent to the KGB or CIA.
WL: The Germans definitely had the most in-depth doping system, judging by a lot of the documents released the past 10-15 years. What about China? How do you think they played into the Eastern doping system?
CP: The drug program basically set out to make the Eastern sports system the one to beat. There was also cooperation with China. In the 80’s, the Germans were crappy at diving, and the swimmers in China were terrible, so they swapped coaches. So they sent Eastern swimming coaches to China. And the Chinese sent diving coaches to East Germany. So they started to show the Chinese the East German training techniques, and two weeks later the swimmers were all sick. So they asked if there was a chance it was because testosterone levels were low. And they were like “um..yyyeah”. It took the guy about 10 minutes to realize the Chinese doctor had no clue about anabolics. So OK, they knew the deal.
They said they would bring in these two guys from East Germany, and now suddenly the Chinese start to dominate in swimming. And then they got smarter with testing, and they popped them for DHT. But anyway, so the East German doctor and the pharmacist show up, and they gave them the anabolics to support the East German training system. But that’s where the argument that anabolics are a requirement is bull because there were countries that could actually beat the East Germans with anti-doping control. Right now, Canada is doing very well in swimming, to spite no doping. The difference is they just didn’t follow the East German training methodology. They said, well, we can’t do as much, so we’ll just adjust the training.
So I don’t really agree with that statement. I think it was truer in 1996, and then after that there is more and more to help you outside of steroids. Look, where there is money and profit, there are more drugs. So like in weightlifting, it is pretty much gone. But track, swimming, cycling, tennis — probably the worst offender for steroids is tennis, (which is) not well known by the general public.
WL: Yes, you wouldn’t think, but I have seen it myself.
CP: Do they use big dosages? No. Do they use stuff like Anadrol? No. But they use small doses of designer stuff, just enough so the guy can recover and play and make money every weekend. That is probably where designer steroids first started; in tennis.
WL: So what do you think going into the Olympics this summer? Who do you think is going in using? Do you think there is a lot with organized doping and designer compounds?
CP: Not as an organized country anymore. It is an individual thing. Correction, I think there is one country doing it as an organized system and if I said it on the record, I’d get sued.
WL: Without mentioning any names, what technologies do yousee right now?
CP: Self testing. They will test themselves to see how many days you need to stop before a test to come back clean. They’ll find, say go 28 days on this compound, 14 days on another. With orals now, the test can pretty much pick anything within 28 days. Four years ago, some guys were doing 8-10 days and they would use cream form. Like one medalist I know used an oxandrolone cream and he tested clear in eight days.
WL: That’s really interesting. I would have thought that the transdermal would have had a small delayed action effect. I would have thought orals would have been a little bit better.
CP: So would I. For some reason, they want the cream. But you got to realize, this guy had bodyfat of less than 4 percent. And also, there is a trend after they go off steroids to use detox protocols.
WL: Can you explain what you mean by a detox protocol?
CP: They use a program to get rid of the metabolites. So like calcium-d-glucurate. They’ll use what they basically call “pushers”, which are large injections of detoxing compounds, and they use mainly botanical liver detoxifiers that don’t mess up the androgen sites like milk thistle, which will actually decrease steroid absorption.
WL: I also know that milk thistle has an anti-inflammatory effect inhibiting the conversion of arachidonic acid to active prostiglandins. This also would be a negative for muscle growth.
CP: Yeah, milk thistle is not popular. Guys definitely stick with other botanicals. They also use botanicals to increase free testosterone during the detox or clean-up phase.
WL: There’s also a test that they have to identify if the testosterone in your body is natural or synthetic.
CP: They’ve been able to do that since 1994.
WL: Yeah, I know they developed it, but I haven’t heard they’ve implemented it yet.
CP: I think they will implement it this year. But they’ve had the technology forever. Now they’re saying they can test for GH, but I’m not sure what’s going on with that.
WL: I’ve been wondering that myself. I know they’ve spent a lot of money working on that. They keep saying they have something.
CP: The Australians have been pushing for it. And they’ve had the technology for a while.
WL: I spoke with a reporter not long ago who assured me this year we were going to see this test used. So what do you think? Do you think a lot of people will be taking the chance? I know I wouldn’t risk it knowing the test might happen this year.
CP: If they actually do test for GH, they could theoretically catch 80 percent of the track and field world. Especially in the field events and the shorts, anything under 200 meters, they will catch a boatload of people.
WL: I know you don’t want that printed.
CP: That you can because it’s way more use (pauses) than people realize. There’s a lot of people being treated for dwarfism in track and field.
WL: So you drug test people when they come to work with you? You won’t work with an athlete if they’re using gear?
CP: I’ve got too much money in there (referring to his state-of-the-art training facility). So what I do is run a saliva test, which is as good as blood work. They do it four times a day for 24 hours. This way I can test testosterone, DHEA, and I look at the ratio between all the hormones. And the lab that I use, there is an HPLC here, there is an RIA in Georgetown, and they do an RIA at Georgetown so every sample is tested twice with two different methods. And they test 16 hormones, four times a day. And we look at the ratio, so I can tell who is using.
WL: What’s your reasoning for doing this? Is it that you don’t want to work with people using so that you can use your technologies? Or is it a legal concern?
CP: I think it can be done without steroids. And the other thing too is a scandal would ruin my business. I have to do the testing here to protect myself. Plus, if there is a problem with the hormones, I can correct those through natural means. So if a guy has too much cortisol for his training, we can bring it down. If it’s too low, we can give him a liquor shoot to raise it so that he has more energy. It is not uncommon to see people with very depressed DHEA levels. That’s mainly from over-training. And if there is one thing I do a lot, it’s botanicals to raise testosterone.
WL: So what about some other professional sports. What about football and hockey?
CP: The NFL has very rigid doping controls. In the NHL, they don’t give a crap. In the NHL, you could put a jar of Dianabol in the locker room, and nobody would be interested. It’s not part of the culture. You’d think that it was a sport that could probably use it because they don’t test for it, but they don’t care.
WL: That’s interesting to hear, especially with the aggressive nature of hockey.
CP: I think in the NHL, if you ran doping control unannounced, you’d maybe catch four athletes. Alcohol and golf are more interesting to them. It might be somewhat of the “forbidden fruit” theory. If you ban it, people will be more interested. In hockey, they can do whatever they want, and they don’t give a crap.
WL: So the athlete that comes to you and says, ‘I’ve got a chance to do the Olympics or something big and I’m considering steroids, but I really don’t want to go that route. What can you do for me?’
CP:First, I’d take you in and do your hormone profile and food sensitivity to see if everything is normal. If they’re not perfectly normal, then we work on fixing it, say increasing free testosterone with botanicals. We’ll look at your nutrition, and you’d be surprised as to how many clients I work with that don’t understand a lot about nutrition. I have this one client. Her breakfast consists of one egg, and then she goes and trains. Obviously, genetics is a big part. You’d be surprised as to how common cheese puffs are among athletes.
I work with this one woman who is in the 4-person relay for sprinting. She basically had the 7-Eleven Diet: microwave hotdogs, cheese puffs, anything you can buy at 7-Eleven, she ate. I fixed her diet and instantly, she started making progress. I have a rule with my female athletes. They have to have 50g of protein by lunch every day. It’s not enormous, but boom! It makes a difference! (pauses) And we’ve noticed no decline in performance when cheese puffs are dropped from the diet. In the U.S., there are so many great athletes. One of the reasons why we tend to do so well is the magnitude of the base pool of great athletes.
WL: So you think overall, we’re not as disciplined as we could be?
CP: Nowhere near the potential. Nowhere near. I remember when I coached the Olympic boxing team and won gold, we used to look at athletes on the American-side, and we used to laugh, ‘Imagine if we had those guys to work with’. I remember Herschel Walker in the ’92 Olympics, this guy only ate French fries. We all stayed at the Club Med, and that’s all he ate for 14 days. And the guy has an incredible physique!
I had another athlete that does biathlon, which is basically Canadian drive-by shooting. It’s a cross between cross-country skiing and target shooting. This woman ate a very strict diet, but on the two days she won the Olympic gold, her pre-race meals were double-cheese- burgers, French fries, and a Fresca. And I asked her, ‘I’ve known you for years, and you’re like a granola head. How can you eat that crap before you go and compete?’ She said that ‘it’s the food I grew up on as a kid, and it makes me feel mentally secure to eat that before a race’. And I remember the Italian girl who was her biggest competitor in the biathlon, and she walked by her while she was eating her cheeseburger and we almost said it at the same time, ‘What is she doing eating that crap?’ I know a number of athletes that do that.
WL: So when you work with somebody, how much time do you spend with them?
CP: They typically come every 25 days for three days at a time during their off-season.
WL: How much time do they spend at your facility during the day when you’re there?
CP: Two hours a day. One hour each for two visits. And the rest of the time, they see the doctors for IV’s or acupunctures, or whatever they’re doing.
WL: Charles, what do you have at your facility in terms of services and equipment? I understand it is one of the best conditioning facilities in the country.
CP: Yeah, we’ve got a fully-equipped weight room. We also have two doctors, and we run every test you can think of. We do genomic profiles; we run all the hormone tests. We run urinalysis tests, these energy metabolism tests, and then with all the information we have, we develop your training. For example, I have this athlete; he had brain fog when he tried to play in the Stanley Cup. It turns out he had one of the highest doses of antibiotics, which destroyed his good bacteria, and by destroying the bacteria, it destroyed the neurotransmitters, which effected brain function. We treated him to support his neurotransmitters, and replace the good bacteria. We do a lot of diverse things here.
WL: So too much antibiotic can actually affect brain functioning?
CP: Yes, 66 percent of the neurotransmitters are made in the gut lining, and 95 percent of the serotonin comes from the gut. That’s where you get sayings like, ‘I’ve got a gut feeling that this is bad’. The gut is your second brain. Some people get depression because they have a gut pathogen. Or let’s say Candida, which is this type of yeast. They have mood swings and don’t understand why. You kill the Candida, and you don’t have mood swings anymore. Your neurotransmitters are made in the intestines. And 66 percent of the immune system is in the intestine. If you have a client that typically has a lot of cortisol, you’ll find that it compromises the immune system.
WL: How do you feel about glutamine?
CP: I’ve used a lot of it. I use it with fat guys as a substitute to replace glycogens after a workout. I use about 60g post-workout.
WL: How do you feel about glutamine and general intestinal health? Do you think it’s overrated?
CP: No. When a guy can’t gain weight, a quick cure is 80g of glutamine per day for a few days. It helps them repair the gut lining so they can absorb food better. I actually like glutamine. I consider fat as anyone with more than 10-percent body fat. Until they get to 10 percent, I only use whey protein, glycine and glutamine post workout. If they get over 10 percent, we start using glutamine.
WL: Will you do no carbs during the whole two-hour window post workout when you are using glutamine?
CP: Correct. No carbs if you are fat.
WL: Charles, I know we are running way over your allotted time, so I’ll end the interview here. I want to thank you for your time! We’ve got some great stuff here, and I had a great time talking with you.
CP: Thank you Bill! Anytime.