Performance Enhancing Drugs: Definition & Types

Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

Have you ever wondered what makes a drug a performance enhancing drug? In this lesson, you will learn what a performance enhancing drug is, and the different classes of those drugs.

What is a Performance Enhancing Drug?

It used to be that only fans of muscle-focused sports like weight lifting were aware of athletes using performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs. Today, PED scandals have rocked nearly every sport, from cycling to running to baseball.

The desire to win and to be the best athlete possible has led to a profusion of PED use, commonly referred to as doping, across the sports world.

A performance enhancing drug is any drug that has the potential to change the human body and its functions in such a way to improve athletic performance. Ideally, the PED would increase the body function in such a way as to give the taker of the drug a marked advantage over their non-doping competition.

While the rewards of winning may be great, PED use actually comes with significant health risks, including death in some cases. PEDs can be classified into groups based on what type of chemical they are and the effect the drug has on the human body.

The sport of cycling has been the subject to many performance enhancing drug scandals in recent years.

Hormonal Drugs

Any drug that is designed to add additional hormones to the human body, either natural or synthetic, is a hormonal drug. Anabolic steroids like testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and erythropoietin are all examples of well-known hormonal PEDs.

These drugs provide the body with extra amounts of the hormones needed to build and maintain muscle. They can also increase some cardiovascular and carbohydrate processing functions, which help the body process oxygen and food more efficiently.


Many people consume a stimulant, in the form of caffeine, on a daily basis. But the kind of stimulants most frequently used as PEDs are much stronger than what coffee can do.

Stimulants like Ritalin, that is used to treat attention deficit disorder, can help an athlete focus more clearly. Others, like those used to treat sleeping disorders, can be used to help keep an athlete's energy levels higher for longer.

The caffeine in coffee is classified as a stimulant.


Most of the narcotics taken by athletes for performance enhancing purposes are not generally of the illegal variety. Instead, they may opt to utilize prescription narcotics to relieve pain from chronic injuries and end up addicted.

Others may use them to help increase their tolerance for pain, thus allowing themselves to train or compete longer without succumbing to pain as quickly as usual.

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