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It’s truly no secret that steroids are a big divisive issue in the bodybuilding world, with a lot of people thinking that taking anabolic steroids is an easy ticket to gaining mass, power, and vascularity.
It’s true that a lot of bodybuilders utilize steroids in order to increase their size or harden their muscles. But if it’s such an easy ticket to success, why isn’t it recommended by all gyms? Are there any side effects to taking anabolic steroids?
We’ll talk about all this and more in this article, but first, we need to understand the role of testosterone in your body.
The Testosterone Hormone
Testosterone is a major hormone in males. That’s not to say that women don’t produce testosterone, but the difference is so great that testosterone values in men are usually 40 times higher than in women.
Since the Greek and Roman days, physicians have been trying to extract testosterone from animals in order to help their warriors, as they understood that the testosterone hormone has a direct effect on masculine attributes.
Aggressiveness, deep voices, rage, and the tendency some men have to get into fights can be mainly attributed to testosterone. However, we need to understand that there are two important components when it comes to testosterone and bodybuilding: there is the anabolic component, and the androgenic component.
The Anabolic Component of Testosterone
You can probably guess what the anabolic component does: it promotes muscle growth and helps us get bigger. That’s one of the reasons women don’t gain as much muscle mass as men–it’s because men’s muscles have more testosterone.
This is also the same reason why someone who is 65 will not gain as much muscle as someone who is 25! Studies have found that short-term elevations in testosterone make us more powerful.
If you know that you’re going to be doing explosive exercises, or preparing for a heavy day in the weight room, your testosterone levels might increase before that and make you feel more powerful. This is why some days lifting certain weights might feel like you’re lifting a penny. That’s what we call a high rate of force development, and it’s related to the neural effects of testosterone.
The Androgenic Component of Testosterone
The second component of testosterone is the androgenic characteristic, which is less known than the anabolic one. Androgenic components are the leaning out characteristics, they make you hard, vascular, and dry.
However, the androgenic components have a lot of negative effects, such as male pattern baldness. That’s one of the reasons you see someone who’s been taking testosterone for a long time go bald, and it’s related to problems such as an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.
Typically, when people take measures such as injections to prevent male pattern baldness, they’re trying to block the androgenic component of testosterone.
Testosterone and Growth
So why is the testosterone hormone by itself important for muscle growth? Well, not only does it increase protein synthesis, it also seems to increase what’s typically called Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), which is extremely important for muscle growth.
You’ve probably heard of IGF-1 from taking a look at what the growth hormone does to your body. While growth hormone works by increasing IGF-1 in your blood, testosterone can work by increasing IGF-1 in the muscle.
Studies (however limited they may be) typically show that when taking testosterone, there is a dose-dependent increase in muscle growth. However, it also depends on your training. If you do the bare minimum in your workouts, even taking testosterone you won’t get as many gains as you could have if you had pushed harder.
When comparing how much muscle you can gain naturally against how much you can gain with testosterone, we found that you can gain more muscle naturally if you put in the work than the individual taking testosterone yet not pushing in the gym.
Types of Anabolic Steroids
We’ve already established that the testosterone hormone is anabolic. Scientists typically extract testosterone in a laboratory and enhance certain components in the hormone. Some enhance the anabolic effects while minimizing the androgenic effects, and vice versa.
Steroids can be taken orally via tablets or injected into your bloodstream directly.
Some steroid agents focus on the anabolic components, while others are optimized for their androgenic components so you get more of the hardness and vascular effects.
Side Effects and Issues to Be Aware Of
By design, a lot of oral testosterone derivatives are mass builders. However, oral steroids are actually some of the most toxic and dangerous forms of anabolic steroids that you can consume. This is because they are filtered through your liver.
Since anything you consume orally has to pass through your liver, oral steroids can give you serious liver problems. Bodybuilders who consume steroids orally need to do blood work constantly and look at their health on a daily basis. They also tend to take supplements that support liver function, such as milk thistle.
The liver has a role in everything that goes on in your body. It’s important for immune functions and to filter toxic substances, so if you take oral steroids for a long period of time, you run the risk of downgrading your liver, which runs counter to the original goal of taking steroids.
Injectable steroids try to bypass this issue by injecting the steroid directly to your blood. This class of steroids is broken down further into fast-acting injectables and long-acting injectables. To make an injectable long acting, manufacturers add an ester that makes it possible for the steroid to stay in your blood for weeks.
Of course, you’re likely going to see growth when you take either kind of injectable. You’ll get bigger, and you’ll be stronger and more aggressive. However, it’s important to understand the side effects of taking steroids.
The first thing that’s going to happen is that your own natural production of testosterone will go down. Besides lowering your normal testosterone, if you take steroids for prolonged periods of time, you may suffer from an enlarged prostate and be in danger of prostate cancer.
In addition to that, you can get cardiac hypertrophy, which can lead to future negative cardiac events. That’s why bodybuilders can never stay on steroids their whole lives. It’s not an issue of the steroids themselves, it’s the result of abusing steroids, and abusing any drug can lead to negative side effects.
One way bodybuilders have found to alleviate the side effects of steroids is through cycling–they go on short cycles of steroids and then come off it. This is because they have realized that the longer you are on steroids, the more suppressed and shut down you’ll be.
Setting Expectations for Taking Steroids
If your goal is simply to look good, just put on size to be massive, or maybe even look better to the opposite sex, it’s probably not in your best interest to take testosterone. That’s because it’s going to suppress you and shut you down.
Also, when you come off testosterone, your natural testosterone levels will plummet and you’ll have to undergo what we call “post-cycle therapy,” which blocks the conversion of testosterone in your body into estrogen.
Research shows that some people who have taken steroids are still not back to baseline levels even 1-2 years later, and some have to go on testosterone replacement therapy the rest of their lives.
So you should ask yourself, is this something you’re prepared to do? If you’re not competing and you just want to do anabolic steroids in order to look massive, you need to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
It’s also the case that when you come off of steroids, there’s a chance you may lose a lot of muscle. Other side effects include the possibility of testosterone being converted into estrogen, so your body will retain water and you might actually develop breast tissue, only reversible by surgery or high doses of anti-estrogen.
Professional Bodybuilders and Steroids
All that’s not to say that anabolic steroids won’t make you grow, but we’re requesting that you do your homework and research everything you need to know before starting steroids. It’s not an easy ticket to make gains–you still need to train to your limits and surpass them in the gym, otherwise you’ll never grow.
Professional bodybuilders will typically take agents that are more anabolic at the beginning of a bulk cycle. However, once they’re at the final stages of their bulk phase, these very anabolic agents tend to convert over to estrogen, in addition to holding water and fat.
So as they near their contest, they’ll drop the more anabolic steroids and move to more androgenic compounds that will help them shed their water and get their muscles harder and more vascular before the contest.
You need to understand that if you come off testosterone, you’re guaranteed to be shut down and even lose muscles if you’re not working to your limits every day. Testosterone is not a free ticket. You see those pro bodybuilders who are huge on stage? Testosterone or steroids are not what got them to that level.
What got them onstage was having great work ethic, an amazing diet, amazing sleep, and phenomenal genetics. Anabolic steroids was only an aid to that type of regimen. If you don’t have that regimen first, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
We hope this article helped you understand the truth about anabolic steroids. We’re looking forward to seeing you in the next article!