Can beta blockers help shooting performance?

Some try to get away with sneaking in rogue cartridges at a local shoot to better their scores. But can drugs enhance your shooting performance? Ethan Lowry examines the evidence and warns of the dangers

Musicians take them to calm nerves, could they work for shooters too?

The recent Olympic Games was interesting to say the least. While no Russian shooters were banned from Rio 2016 following the state’s conduct in supplying PEDs to its athletes, the lack of training time, confusion over whether they would perform and multiple drug testing will have messed with the heads of shooters like Vasily Mosin, Alexey Alipov and Tatiana Barsuk. Little surprise, then, that no Russian shooter made any of the shotgun
semi-finals despite featuring in four out of the five shotgun-discipline top tens.

We are no strangers to this wonderful sporting event which, every four years, brings the entire world to a single city. And while there is often discussion of performance-enhancing drugs, with competitors being occasionally reprimanded, this year we unfortunately witnessed another ugly side to sport. We saw green swimming pools, sewage in the sporting grounds and incomplete stadiums that were only half full. But these were nothing in comparison to the large-scale doping scandal that dominated many headlines during the Olympic Games.

Sport is, of course, no stranger to doping; indeed, it has ruined the reputation of some hitherto widely respected individuals. Stars like Lance Armstrong and Tyson Gay, along with many other athletes, have knowingly used and abused performance-enhancing substances in order to achieve a competitive edge. The World Anti-Doping Agency attempts to maintain order and fairness in a combustible world where athletes will literally try anything to be crowned champion. With rigorous testing and examinations it is almost impossible to beat the system – unfortunately, athletes always seem to be one step ahead.

Vasily Mosin stood a real chance at gold at Rio, but was thrown off his game due to the
excessive Russian drug testing

You may wonder what this has to do with clay shooting, a sport that involves relatively little physical exertion compared to athletics, swimming or cycling. But clay shooting is exempt from WADA rules and sanctions. Performance-enhancing substances are common in all sports, and when it comes to shooting the most prevalent is the use of beta-blockers – often prescribed to individuals to control irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, anxiety or muscle spasms.

They encourage the heart to ignore the effects of adrenaline. When we are in a situation where nerves, stress, danger or competitiveness is at a high intensity we often see a rise in the adrenaline levels that cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and the size of air passages in the lungs – to name but a few of its effects. When shooting, we like to be as calm as possible, we want to minimise tremors, keep breathing slowly and in a controlled manner – all physical responses that are difficult to regulate if adrenaline levels are high. Beta-blockers can help with lowering these, but are not without side effects.

Many view WADA’s rules and restrictions as a lost cause in the prevention of cheating. But cheating is just one of many reasons why the organisation exists. The health of athletes should always be the number-one priority of any individual, organisation or country involved in a competition. Beta-blockers carry with them many side effects and when not consumed for their intended use can have serious health implications. Certain beta-blockers can be more dangerous than others when abused. Metoprolol, for example, can cause a shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, significant weight gain and dizziness. Another popular drug, atenolol, can adversely affect liver function, and cause dehydration and gastrointestinal discomfort.

These drugs are just a few of the many that are available to athletes. Not only are some competitors using such substances for inappropriate reasons, they are usually doing so without consulting the correct medical professionals – which, incidentally, does not justify their usage either.

Beta-blockers can regulate physical responses, but are not without significant side effects

My point here is that when calculating their dosage, many athletes are basing their numbers on information obtained from internet forums, friends who have used similar drugs before or simply by guessing. It should be noted, however, that not all users of beta-blockers are cheats. Most are genuine users who require them for diagnosed medical conditions.

With the side effects listed, many people may find it hard to understand why some individuals would risk their career, or even their life, in order to obtain an edge over their competitors. Not only do such actions tarnish the reputation of the individual concerned but also the sport as a whole.

Shooting sports in the UK are often on the receiving end of unnecessary comments regarding gun control or animal cruelty. As fans of the sport and its culture we should ensure that allegations of doping, cheating and unhealthy practices are not employed as yet another reason to drag such a wonderful activity through the mud.


-Reduce increased adrenaline
-Shortness of breath
-Momentarily maintain heart-rate

-Weight gain
-Irregular heartbeat
-Gastrointestinal discomfort
-Liver damage

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Clay Shooting magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store

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