For decades, testosterone derivatives, commonly called Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) have been integral part of bodybuilding and many other sports. This article attempts to answer the most important questions on AAS:
-how prevalent steroids really are?
-how dangerous are AAS?
-where can I get in bodybuilding if I wish to stay “clean”?
How many bodybuilders are using steroids?
The simple answer would be many and nearly all if you are talking about the pros.
Still, this doesn’t mean you can’t make very impressive muscle gains if you steer clear of steroids. It just means those not using them can hardly compete with those who do.
Having said that it would be also very unfair to see bodybuilding as drug-dependent sport. You need to realize that top athletes in many sports routinely use doping. Those who get caught are publicly shamed but they are in fact just the tip of an iceberg.
Why is that? You can do a lot to be good in a sport. You can train properly. You can eat properly and you can use valuable supplementation. You can also use doping.
But if you really want to be the best of the best, you can hardly afford to give up on one of those things. The competition is just too tough.
But why so many recreational bodybuilders decide for the profound change in their lifestyles and start using AAS? I say change in the lifestyle because steroids very significantly affect your mood, your sexual life and your stamina. Everything goes in cycles: high stamina / low stamina, high libido / no libido at all, excitement / depression.
Well, for many people this is just a shortcut. For others (usually proud “hardcore bodybuilders”) anabolic steroids simply became a lifestyle. And for many others AAS are what they feel is the only way out of long-term stagnation in their training results.
Anabolic steroids are illegal. Are they really so dangerous?
First, AAS are not illegal everywhere. The very controversial legislation listing steroids among narcotics started in 1990 when the Controlled Substances Act has been enacted in USA. Other western countries followed suit but the fact is that back in 1990 both DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) protested the move, arguing that testosterone doesn’t fulfill the criteria of addictive drugs.
The dangers of anabolic steroids very much depend on the type of AAS used and the administered amounts.
You just can’t compare a bodybuilder using Oxandrolone (a very mild substance) for 1 month with another one using large amounts of Oxymetholone (extremely liver-toxic AAS) or Nandrolone (causing total testosterone inhibition) for prolonged periods of time.
Lack of available clinical trials only makes the situation worse. Studying anabolic steroids became almost taboo in the scientific community and much information on AAS comes from the experience of long-time users.
We will discuss the possible health complications caused by various anabolic steroids in another article. Here, let us state that the main reason steroids are not safe today is that most of them are produced by illegal “underground laboratories” – or UGL’s in common slang.
UGL’s obviously do not follow the strict hygienic norms, use steroid powders of Chinese origin (which they don’t and can’t control for quality) and often cheat on their clients.
So where can I get without steroids?
You can really get pretty far. I mean you can improve very, very significantly and achieve admirable physique with proper training, supplementation and diet.
Of course, if you are naturally slim you will not pack as much muscle mass as a naturally muscular person. But this is true whether you are using AAS or not.
Your gains will be slower than if you would use doping but the muscle mass will be of good quality – many AAS cause (along with protein synthesis) water retention which can also increase the muscle volume. Such steroids give their users distinctive “puff” look and usually also change their facial features.
My rough estimate is that without steroids you can achieve 2/3 of strength and muscle mass you would gain with AAS.
That may look like a big difference but you must understand that to realize the whole potential of AAS you would have to combine many of them and make very painful changes in your life. Using a mild anabolic steroid for a short time will definitely not bring such dramatic results.