A-Rod, Ripped Fuel, and Low Self-Esteem

The ex-Mariner’s dabbling with PED’s gateway drug

February 18, 2009

So Alex Rodriguez still says he didn’t juice when he was with the M’s, but he did admit at yesterday’s mea culpa press conference that he used Ripped Fuel when he played for the Mariners in the late ‘90s. Great, we don’t feel cheated anymore. But what the hell is Ripped Fuel?

Every confidence-deprived high school kid who tried to compensate for a genetic deficiency by hitting the gym –- including us, back when we had a little less confidence than we do today –- remembers being seduced by the powders and pills that promised big pecs and 24-inch biceps with minimal effort. Turns out A-Rod was just as insecure and naïve as we were, but just for different reasons. Ripped Fuel was one of those pot-luck power potions, but all it really offered –- aside from deceptive packaging that showed some veiny, overly bronzed dude with arms the size of Honey Baked hams –- was basically a mixture of ephedra and caffeine, a short-term buzz, and the potential for heart palpitations. "It was a stimulant," says Minh-Hai Tran, a local nutritionist and co-founder of NutritionWorks. "Maybe you’d have a little more energy, but weren’t going to get any stronger."

But back in the late-’90s heyday of hopped-up power hitters, confidence deprived competitive players like A-Rod were willing to take anything they could to keep pace with the guy who was hitting more bombs and making more money than them. "They looked at other people and what they were doing," says David Rae, the founder of Capitol Hill’s Urban Kinetics personal training studio. "Some of these people think, ‘Oh my god, he’s doing these drugs, so I have to do these drugs to stay on top of my game.’" See? We shouldn’t be so hard on poor, A-Rod. He just had performance anxiety.

Ephedra was eventually banned in the U.S. in 2004, after the FDA received more than 800 reports of serious toxicity linked to its use, and Major League Baseball banned Ripped Fuel in 2005, long after Rodriguez says he stopped taking it and moved on to the, uh, more effective stuff. "A lot of supplements out there base their formulations on extremely early research – maybe even on rat studies," Tran says. "They’ll have an article that talks about how its benefits have been proven, and there will be a study, but who’s going to read the study to see that it was just tested on rats?" Right, because the results of a rat study wouldn’t be applicable to a guy like A-Rod.

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