While the spotlight no longer looms over the former Tower of Power band member, nor does his name fill the pages of books like Game of Shadows, Victor Conte is still alive and well. And he's still in the sports nutrition business.
For readers marginally familiar with his name, this may raise some flags. 'Isn't Conte the former president of BALCO, which was implicated in the big baseball steroid scandal?' Well yea. But time's have changed, and according to Conte himself, he's no longer a part of the "slippery slope" enhancement of sports training.
A couple of days ago he spoke with Sherdog's Jack Encarnacao, and was incredibly candid. Their conversation started out innocuously enough: Conte is helping Kyle Kingsbury train for Stephan Bonnar at UFC 139 this weekend. And he had some interesting things to say about MMA training.
"I’ve introduced him to other types of performance enhancing methods, and training methods…one of the thigns I’ve learned in working with elite boxers and Kyle specifically as an MMA fighter is that there is a history of overtraining.
This will be the fifth fight I’ve helped Kyle prepare for, and the first fight he really had immune suppression and right before the fight he got sick with the flu. Over the course of the last couple of years I’ve been working with him, he’s beginning to understand that not everyday of training can be a green light day.
You have to get adequate recovery after you have these very intense training days. He’s also doing something called I-H-T, which is Intermittent Hypoxic Training, which is simulated high altitude training. We’re doing it differently. Traditionally it was in four stages. First it was live high, train high where they would live and train at high altitudes. Then the second generation was live high, train low where they would sleep at elevation and drive down three thousand meter runners in the late 80’s who had significant improvement at 3000 meters would train at a lower level. And then of course you have these hypoxic tents that cyclists and other athletes sleep in and my opinion, specifically regarding MMA fighters and boxers is that this a horrible idea."
Why should MMA fighters, and boxers avoid simulating different types of training, as cyclists do? According to Conte, this kitchen sink approach to training is unscientific. "I know that Tito Ortiz, Shane Mosley, and Oscar De La Hoya have trained at Big Bear. The reason I think this is bad is because you don’t get a deep and restful sleep.
Your heart rate will be 10, 15, 20 beats a minute higher sleeping at elevation because of the low oxygen. This is when you really heal, regenerate, repair and grow which is when you sleep. This is when the anabolic hormones are produced about 90 minutes after you go to sleep in a single burst in about 70 percent of your daily output of growth hormones is produced I a single mass..the second four hours of sleep is when testosterone is produced. So I just think it’s a bad idea. It may be ok for endurance athletes and that’s the benefit that MMA athletes and boxers are trying to achieve, which is to enhance oxygen intake and utilization capacity. But at the same time you sacrifice size and speed and power by doing so."
Conte expands on the problem with overtraining, which is that training too hard can put stress on the immune system leading to reactions like creatine kinase (which can signal muscle damage), or lactic dehydrogenase (which attacks red blood cells and can signal heart damage).
But perhaps more interestingly for MMA fans, Conte discusses PED's, notably, the PED use Nate Marquardt and Chael Sonnen have familiarized the MMA world with: TRT. Are testosterone tests adequate given the current drugs being offered? Not really, and Victor elaborates on why it's useless to measure only testosterone ratios.
"Testosterone to epitestosterone used to be 6:1, and now they reduced it down to 4:1 but athletes can still use fast acting testosterone with creams, gels, and water based testosterone and you can do micro-dosing and keep it below the 4:1 ratio so it’s relatively easy for an MMA figher or any other athlete to circumvent the testing if all they’re doing is the T/E ratio test. Let me put this into perspective. There is a complete panel of steroids that they do that includes the T/E ratio test and back in the BALCO days I used to pay 80 dollars for this. I’m sure in volume organizations pay as little as 50 dollars for this.
But there’s another test called the C-I-R or carbon-isotope ratio test that can differentiate between natural testosterone that’s produced in the body and synthetic testosterone. And there are cases…Justin Gatlin who won the Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters in 2004 is a specific example. They got a tip that he was using testosterone, so they tested him at a meet. And even though his epitestosterone was higher than his testosterone level, and it came out that he had an injection two weeks previous to when the sample was collected, they still found that he was positive for testosterone based on this carbon isotope ratio test and they banned him. What I’m saying is that they need to incorporate this test which from my understanding is much more effective."
Conte offers his own recommendations about how to deal with the issue of PED use in MMA. While it's not the 'biological passport' that cycling uses, there are still ways to test beyond looking at urine, and they're not expensive.
"Establish a limit of hematocrit which is 50%. If it’s at that level you are suspended for health concerns, meaning your blood is too thick. Don Catlin finds it of great interest that a lot of these athletes come back with hematocrits at 49.5%. In the old days, during the BALCO period I used to pay 4 dollars and fifty cents, so it’s not an expensive test but would reduce the competitive edge".