What is Clenbuterol?
Recently, Mexican superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez failed a drugs test for what turned out to be clenbuterol. It is not the first time a Mexican fighter has been caught with this drug in their system, in the past the great Erik Morales also failed a drug test for clenbuterol.
His promotion team Golden Boy have been quick to defend their star boxer, indeed Canelo is now the new golden boy of boxing and is arguably its biggest draw, so the last thing they want is for his multi million dollar rematch against Gennady Golovkin to fall through.
The excuses have already been put forth, clenbuterol contamination in livestock feed is apparently a big problem in Mexico which is why a number of their athletes have been found with amounts of clenbuterol in their system. Outside of boxers such as Canelo, Morales and Fernando Vargas, numerous footballers have been found with trace amounts in their system – in 2011 more than 100 players at the FIFA under 17 World Cup which was held in Mexico tested positive for clenbuterol. The NFL over in the USA has in the past warned its players about consuming meat from Mexico and China(another country who use drugs on livestock).
So what is this drug and what does it do? Clenbuterol, or ‘Clen’ as it is commonly known is a powerful bronchodilator that is used to treat breathing disorders, notably asthma. So you can already see here, if it is used to help you breathe easier, there is going to be a benefit for anyone looking to increase their stamina. With Canelo, critics have often pointed to his lack of stamina as a cause of concern, noticing he often takes a round or two off, lays on the ropes to recover and fights in short bursts – a drug like clenbuterol would certainly aid in these aspects for Canelo as it would help with improved breathing. In a sport like boxing, where fitness is key and can make all of the difference in a hard fought bout, clen could provide you with the edge over your opponent in the latter rounds.
It is also a thermogenic, this is where it is most commonly abused. Clen is a very popular fat burning drug for bodybuilders and athletes, especially close to competition time to help you prepare. It allows you to burn fat at an elevated rate by increasing your bodies metabolic rate. You still have to diet and perform cardio, but that slight increase in metabolic rate allows you to lose that extra weight just a little quicker. Most importantly, it does this whilst sparing muscle, that is why bodybuilders love the drug, you will not lose that hard earned muscle when taking clen, it is predominantly fat which will be melting off. This raises a question about Canelo who is known for fighting at catch weights and then ballooning up in weight after the weigh in, if you have still got that hard earned muscle when making weight, when you decide to rehydrate, your muscles will draw in all that glucose and you will literally blow up in weight, it is not uncommon to add 10+ lbs in one day and much more. Clen has been said to add muscle but I think the effects on muscle building are pretty much negligible but Canelo has been able to go up and down in weight for fights and not show an negative side effects, boxers such as Kell Brook went up to 160lbs then back down to 147lbs and struggled so much he had to move up to 154lbs, yet Canelo can fight the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr, Gennady Golovkin and Liam Smith all at different weights and show no ill effects on performance or physique or stamina.
It is not just athletes and bodybuilders who have been taking clenbuterol. Clen has been referred to as Hollywoods dirty little diet secret as rumours spread that many actors and actresses were said to be using clen in an effort to get into shape for movie roles, adding to this celebrities and pop stars were also said to be taking clen, amongst the names alluded to was Britney Spears.
Whether Canelo, or ‘Clenelo’ as he is now being referred to, really took clen for its performancing enhancing abilities or whether it was a simple oversight, we will never quite know but the question remains, if it is well known that clenbuterol is used in mexican livestock, what was boxings biggest draw doing tempting fate by consuming the meat? Why did Golden Boy, his promoter release the statement rather than the testing agency or the boxing council such as the WBC? Rumours are that Canelo failed the drug tests mid to late February, was there a possible collusion between the promoter and the testing company? Canelo also signed up to the WBC style year round drug testing, it may be a coincidence but now he has signed up to this, immediately he fails a drug test? It is well known that there is a method to taking performance enhancing drugs, the most common way to use them is to cycle them, mainly because athletes are not being tested year round and only during camp, so you load up on drugs before camp and by the time testing rolls round, the levels have diminished enough for you to get away with any drug test, except in the case of year round testing – did lower levels simply imply there were still amounts remaining from the previous cycling of the drugs?
There is little doubt the fight will go ahead, there is simply too much money at stake but it seems such a shame that Canelo, a supremely gifted and talented fighter, who is boxings biggest draw and one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world has been embroiled in this drugs controversy. It raises the ugly question again of drugs in sport and only gives further weight to the accusation that PED’s in sport is rife, especially at the top end of the game where there are millions at stake.
Part of me wants this to blow over and that Canelo can come out of this without any scars and not to have his career tainted by this accusation hanging over his head both during and after his career, but the other part does make me wonder whether something more sinister has been at play here and whether clen was being used for longer and in his victories over the past few years.