What are Anabolic Steroids?
Anabolic steroids are a synthetic substance that mimics the male hormone testosterone. Regarding fitness, the misconception is that they will help you bulk-up instantly but the truth is that you will not build muscle unless you put in the work. Having more testosterone enables you to simply build more muscle but taking steroids without a proper training regime won’t be optimal.
Anabolic steroids were originally designed to treat certain medical conditions, these were not however created to help people become athletic competitors. We will briefly discuss some medical conditions that may be treated with the use of steroid later in this article. However, our focus is to provide information on how anabolic steroids can affect your fitness journey.
The types of steroids:
The steroids above are commonly used by bodybuilders, however, don’t confuse anabolic steroids with Corticosteroids which don’t have the same effects, and are normally prescribed to reduce swelling and inflammation.
Are anabolic steroids illegal?
Anabolic steroids can be obtained legally through a prescription but can also be obtained illegally through the internet. Illegality occurs if a person decides to sell steroids to anyone, but they are legal if purchased for personal use. This means individuals selling steroids will be committing a criminal offense but not the person buying them (NHS.co.uk, 2018). If a person is caught selling steroids illegally they can face an unlimited fine or a prison sentence up to 14 years (NHS.com, 2018).
Anabolic steroids or any medication purchased over the internet can be dangerous unless you purchase them from a reputable source. The danger stems from the fact that you don’t know if these drugs and/or medications have been mixed using any other harmful ingredients. It is better to be safe than sorry.
As far as potential health hazards go, anabolic steroids are safe to take as long as they are taken as prescribed medically. However, if you are using steroids for the muscle enhancing benefits, it can sometimes be difficult to remain within the relatively safe recommended dosages. Think about it, when you start seeing results, you may want to see greater results… so you’ll take a higher dosage to speed up the process, and before you know you’re addicted. This is what normally happens to bodybuilders and athletes before they start to abuse steroids or any type of performance enhancers.
How do Anabolic steroids work?
As we mentioned before, anabolic steroids are not magic pills, there is a strong misconception on how these actually work.
Normally a body has limits on how much muscle it can grow or how strong it can become. This limit is controlled by a level of hormones, especially by testosterone, and the natural frame and makeup of your individual body and genetics. However, don’t think of this limit as a hurdle or a barrier to your fitness progress because it is there to protect your heart, joints, tendons and ligaments. Essentially, the more muscle you have past a certain point, the more strain you place upon your body which could result in an increased risk of injury.
Have you ever paid attention or followed a bodybuilder who took steroids? You will find that they face a slightly higher risk of injury than a person who grows their muscle naturally. Torn muscle is extremely common simply because, the muscle can only take so much load before it becomes too strenuous, and in extremely cases steroid users can be training 7x or more at a gym per week.
Just to summarise, steroids provide the ability for your body to go past a body’s growth and strength limits by providing a substance that mimics testosterone. Therefore, for optimal usage it is best to take steroids once you feel like you have reached your peak performance and built yourself a solid athletic foundation, as that’s when your body needs the help to push beyond its limits. Progressive overloading is also vital in order to make most of the steroids.
Why people take steroids?
The reasoning behind why people take steroids can go beyond just muscle growth, as a lot of the time the reasons are person dependent. The most common reasons are:
- Improved athletic performance
- Minimise stress
- Build muscle
- Decrease fat
- Deal with various medical conditions
Some people with body dysmorphic disorder also take anabolic steroids. This condition is a mental disorder where a person struggles to come to terms with their body flaws or focuses on them too much. Taking steroids may help to overcome or eliminate these flaws. However, in some cases steroids can cause adverse effects. For instance, if a person without this condition starts taking steroids they may develop dysmorphic disorder because the bigger they get, the smaller they may feel. So, the stronger and bigger they’ll want to get. It’s all about perception.
How are anabolic steroids taken?
Steroids are normally injected into the muscle or taken orally. However, there are some strategic ways of taking steroids:
- Cycle – Taking steroids for a period of time and stopping to rest before you restart the cycle again.
- Stacking – Increase dosage or take more than 1 type. When a person takes steroids, they may take other drugs to counteract the side effects. These may include estrogens and growth hormones, or blood pressure tablets. Therefore, you might end up taking more than just one substance.
- Pyramiding – Both cycling and stacking. This strategy requires a person to start at the lowest dosage and increase the dosage to a maximum amount for a period of time, and then take a rest before starting another cycle.
- Plateauing – This is when a person alternates between different steroids or substitutes with a different steroid every so often to avoid developing a tolerance. (NIH.GIV,2018)
At this point we would like to point out that if you are considering taking steroids, it is EXTREMELY difficult to take them sensibly… especially when you start seeing results. The more results you see the higher dosage you’ll want to take to see even greater results.
There is no optimum dosage to take steroids, you need to follow a doctor’s prescription. Abusers normally take as much as 10-50% more than the prescribed dosage (Sepehri et al, 2009)
Anabolic steroids and medical use
Anabolic steroids are not just used to improve athletic endurance or increase muscle growth. Originally they were designed to aid in treating certain medical conditions. The following conditions are just a few examples that steroids may help with.
To help people gain weight after severe illness, anorexia, injury or infection
There was a study done by Ferreira et al (1998) who looked into the effects of steroid on muscle growth in patients who suffered from COPD and malnourishment. The study lasted for 27 weeks and they were given steroids daily. In addition, they were placed under a training regime. The results demonstrated that supplementation with steroids increased muscle mass, and participants significantly increased body weight. Please bear in mind that these worked thanks to the exercise regime, they wouldn’t have worked as well if the patients were taking steroids only.
Another study done by Johnson and O’Shea (1969) looked into the effects of anabolic steroids on muscle strength. The participants were given Danazol twice daily and performed weight training for 6 weeks. The study reported significant increases in bodyweight, with an average weight increase being 2.4kg.
To reduce the symptoms of anaemia
There was a study done by Chuhjo et al (2007) that looked into the effects of anabolic steroids on anaemia. There were 16 participants (12 males and 4 females) who consumed 300mg of danazol daily for 12 weeks. The study reported a significant improvement to 3 out of 4 women, but only 2 out of 12 men experienced improvements. More studies need to be done, but this might indicate that men and women respond differently to application of steroids and anaemia treatment.
Furthermore, a 2007 study done by Simoda et al looked into the effects of anabolic steroids on 39 patients with anaemia. This study supports the previous mentioned research by also reporting positive effects of steroids on symptoms of anaemia. However, until we see a trend of scientific research consistently showing that these can be used to treat anaemia, it is best you consult a doctor or your GP.
To treat cancer cachexia
Watching people or hearing about a relative going through cancer can be difficult. If you do have anyone in your family under these conditions, stay strong for them. They’ll need you!
When a person goes through cancer treatment like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, their body will begin to waste away. This process is medically known as Cachexia. The anabolic steroids have shown to delay or minimise cachexia in cancer-diagnosed and AIDS/HIV patients.
There was a study done by Basin and Jasuja (2007) that looked into the effects of anabolic steroids on cancer-related cachexia. The study found that the steroids limited and delayed the effects of cachexia by strengthening muscle and bones.
A different study done by Madeddu and Mantovani (2009) looked into the effects of anabolic steroids in combination with other substances which are currently being investigated and developed to provide a superior solution to cancer cachexia. So far, the results are very promising, but still under investigation.
To treat hereditary angioedema
Hereditary Angiodema is a condition that causes swelling of the face, arms, legs, throat, windpipe, bowels, or sexual organs (IBM Micromedex, 2019).
There was a study done by Cicardi et al (1991) which analysed the effects of anabolic steroids with people who experienced these symptoms once or more per month. The study demonstrated that supplementing with steroids can help reduce the symptoms of this condition. For instance, the participants consumed 2mg/day of stanozolol and 200mg/day danazol and managed to completely stop the symptoms. People that experience conditions like these should not however consume dosages that was used in these trials. It’s important to get the right dosage prescribed by a doctor as conditions will vary case to case.
Fitness Benefits of Anabolic Steroids
Greater muscle growth
Muscle growth begins when they contract, the contraction forces the muscle fibers to increase in size, and become thicker and stronger. Intake of anabolic steroids induces muscle growth by increasing the size of these muscle fibers as well as creating new muscle fibers so your muscle can grow beyond its natural potential (Kadi et al,1999)
In addition to the studies we mentioned above, in the ‘To help people gain weight after severe illness, anorexia, injury or infection’ section, we’ve found another study that shows the effects of anabolic steroids on muscle growth.
The study was done by Kuippers et al (1991) and found that bodybuilders who consumed steroids experienced a significant increase to lean body mass (lean muscles) compared to the placebo group.
Therefore, with all the research at hand, it seems to point in the same positive direction. Although, more research is required, anabolic steroids may help increase muscle mass.
Increased recovery time
When you lift weights or perform any sort of strenuous activity, you will find your muscles sore the following day. Normally the pain peaks at 24 hours and reduces after 72 hours. The soreness suggests that the muscles have been torn and require rest in order to recover and strengthen themselves. Research indicates that steroids actually reduce the time you need for recovery so you can train the same muscle group more often.
There was a study done by Demling (2005) that looked into the healing properties of anabolic steroids. The study demonstrated a significant improvement to healing abilities of wounded rats. The rats were physically injured and the steroids reduced the time it took for them to recover. This is similar in principle when you suffer from a muscle injury or pains because muscles are torn during a strenuous exercise.
This study was also interesting in respect of the wounds. The rats had open wounds and the steroids sped up the healing process. Maybe steroids can also help a person to recover from major accident or major wounds, like a stab wound. However, this is my personal speculation and there’s certainly more research required on this.
Another study done by Hyyppa (2001) found that anabolic steroids improve and enhance the recovery time after a strenuous workout. More studies are required, but with steroids supporting and protecting a body from cachexia in cancer patients, in theory, muscle recovery should be a piece of cake.
Improves endurance performance
This refers to increasing exercise capacity and tolerance so your muscles can work for longer intervals under high intensity. Useful for sports like Marathons, Triathlons, cycling and rowing competitions.
Endurance and strength are tested differently. However the rule of thumb is that strength refers to the heaviest weight you can lift and endurance, how many reps you can do or for how long you can perform a strenuous workout for.
Strength is normally tested by 1RM. It is a method of measuring your overall strength and requires you to lift the heaviest weight you can for 1 REP. A 2001 study done by Tamaki et al found that using steroids can increase your ability to perform more than your natural 1REP Max. It was found that steroids enabled participants lift their 1REP max for 10 reps, which is considered to be really difficult to natural body builders. Therefore, this study suggests that steroids increase your exercise capacity and tolerance. However, more studies should be done using a bigger pool of participants.
Side effects and dangers of steroids
|Physical Side Effects||Physiological Side Effects|
|Reduced Sperm Quality||Aggressive behaviours|
|Erectile Dysfunction||Manic Behavior|
|Baldness||Hallucinations and delusions|
|Increased risk of prostate cancer||Teenagers|
|Severe Acne||Stunted growth|
|Stomach pain||Premature ageing of bones|
|Increased Levels of Testosterone|
|Facial and body hair growth|
|Loss of breasts|
|Swelling of clitoris|
|A Deepened voice|
|Increased sex drive|
|Risk of heart attack and stroke|
|Risk of liver and kidney failure|
|High Blood pressure and cholesterol|
Information obtained from NHS.co.uk
If you take steroids and later decide to stop using them, you may experience the following:
- Depression and apathy
- Feelings of anxiety
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Decreased sex drive
- Muscle and Joint pain
What do bodybuilders and athletes say?
Rich Piana who freely spoke about taking steroids since he was a teenager said;
“Don’t sit and think that everything is great, if you have the choice of staying natural, stay natural”
Example of famous bodybuilders and athletes who died at an early age due to heart attacks and heart disorders created by steroids include Rich Piana, Dallar McCarver, Andreas Munzer and so many more…
From Us To You, Feel free to share 🙂
In conclusion, being biased is not in our nature so despite feeling the need to yell for you to stay away from steroids if you are just looking to build muscle, we will take a look at some facts. Since you are now at the conclusion I assume you’ve read this article in its entirety, and by now you should understand how steroids work, how to take them and the effects you are opting in for when you decide to take them. So, unless you have a medical condition that can be treated with steroids, is it worth it?
Steroids are more than creatine or BCAAs that you can take to help you grow muscle, these are heavy chemicals that mimic testosterone to help you make the most of your training sessions. Are bigger muscle more desirable than the fear of all these side effects and dangers? You can make a conclusion for yourself here, we can’t decide for you. However, if you’ve enjoyed this post then make sure to sign up to our newsletter to download 20 nutrition and exercise tips as well as 6 fat loss recipes. Sign up below!
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