Despite Y gene, athlete was a woman

FITNESS CLINIC

July 28, 1992|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer United Feature Syndicate

In 1985, Maria Patino of Spain was not allowed to compete in women's events at the World University Games. She flunked a test that showed she had the genes of a man -- even though she had every physical feature of a woman, and none of a man. Such an injustice will not be repeated at this year's summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

The International Olympic Committee's medical commission recently decided the best way to tell if a woman is, in fact, a woman is to check her genitalia to see if she is physically built like a woman. Genetic testing is far less reliable.

Men inherit an X gene from one parent and a Y gene from the other. Women inherit X genes from each parent. So, as a general rule, most people with XY genes look like men and those with XX genes look like women.

Occasionally, the genes become scrambled. Sometimes, a woman may possess XY, the genetic makeup of a man. But her muscles and sex organs are unable to respond to the male hormones she produces, such as testosterone. (Testosterone causes muscles and bones to become larger and stronger. That's why men will always be able to grow larger and stronger muscles.) Because her body cannot respond to testosterone, she looks like a woman and has no physical advantages over other women in athletic competition.

That's the case with Maria Patino. She is 100 percent woman, even though she has a male XY chromosome structure.

But, any woman who takes testosterone in the form of anabolic steroids -- banned, performance-enhancing drugs -- will be larger, stronger and faster than women who do not. East German women dominated international athletic competition for many years because they took anabolic steroids.

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Q: A lot of my bodybuilding friends eat high-protein foods and take special protein supplements. Do those things help?

A: No. Champion bodybuilders are born, not made.

The protein in supplements can't possibly make you any stronger than the protein in foods can. Protein supplements are made from food, and extracting protein does not enhance its qualities. As long as you're getting as much food as you want, protein supplements aren't going to make you stronger. The only time protein supplements can help is if you are otherwise undernourished. That's not likely to happen to a hard-training bodybuilder, though!

Your genetic makeup determines whether or not you have the potential to become a great bodybuilder. The best in the sport have the largest muscles. The potential for having large muscles comes from having the greatest ratio of the length of a muscle to its tendons. (Muscles attach to bones by way of tendons.)

Look at the calf muscles in the backs of your lower legs. Most people have a calf muscle that extends less than halfway down the lower leg. From there, the tendon extends to the heel.

If your calf muscle extends to your ankle, you may have the potential to be a top-notch bodybuilder. However, if your calf muscle stops halfway down the back of your lower leg, you'll never be a champion bodybuilder, no matter how hard you train.

You can still work out to enlarge your muscles by exercising them against progressively greater resistance. You do not need to spend many hours lifting weights. Your muscles will grow larger because they are being worked against increasing

resistance, not because you spend a lot of hours in the gym.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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