Many people who participate in bodybuilding take steroids to achieve rapid, maximum muscle growth. How do I know this? I was a bodybuilding enthusiast for just shy of a decade, and I saw this reality firsthand when I reached competition level. Having followed my own low-budget, 100%-natural training regime, it took some time to reach the competition stage. Standing beside perfectly muscular and super-lean physiques of champion bodybuilders can be overwhelming. This can result in an easy dismissal of all the hard work you may have put into your physique, whether months or years of training. For this reason, I advise people who plan to compete in physique competitions to proceed with caution and great awareness. Many competitors have no qualms about using numerous and varied means to obtain a winning physique. And, no, a natural bodybuilding competition does not entirely mean “natural.” There are ways to cover up illegal substance use, such as taking steroids only in the off-season, so it’s out of the system by competition season (on-season). Some competitors exploit this simple trick regularly.
What I learned as a bodybuilding competitor
I learned before I even got on stage at the 2009 Texas Roundup that “the winners juice (take steroids),” and most of my competitors would be users. That information came from a coach I hired to consult me, who was a former pro-bodybuilder. The first thing he asked me at our first pre-competition meet was, “Are you gonna do this naturally or not?” I proudly said, “naturally,” dismissing the idea of any other option. He smiled and kindly enlightened me by divulging that many of my peers would not be natural, specifically, the champions. He additionally called a famous fitness competitor (whom I won’t name) a “walking pharmacy” because, on top of her steroid use, she, like many others in the “fitness” world, took a catalog of other pharmaceuticals to obtain her famous physique. She and competitors like her are not concerned with true fitness and certainly not health — they are all about aesthetics.
The early twenty-something-year-olds I competed with in 2009 who took steroids are now in their mid-to-late thirties, coping with the unseemly, long-term side effects of a choice they made ten years ago: pronounced, masculine jawlines; tight, aged-looking skin; excessive facial and overall body hair; etc. (keep reading).
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Why people choose steroids
There are natural alternatives to substance use, like training hard, proper nutrition, and working within your natural-born limits and exploiting your gifts. Choosing this route leads to greater health and enhanced athleticism, rather than ingesting or injecting substances that carry great potential for many negative side effects, short term and long term. However, bodybuilding, which I’m focusing on because of my years of experience in the activity, is a subculture. And as with many subcultures, practices exist that leave many outsiders scratching their heads. Similar to the tattoo subculture, in which people go to the extreme of inking their whole bodies and faces, many people in competitive bodybuilding take things to the extreme via steroids and other pharmaceuticals. Even amateurs and non-bodybuilders know that steroid use comes with negative side effects, but to someone hoping to become a pro bodybuilder or the next Instagram model, only one benefit matters: muscle growth — and, maybe — increased strength and performance.
Resisting temptation and/or outside pressures
There are many reasons you should resist the temptation to take steroids; one of the most obvious is for your health. If you’re more concerned about long-term good health and fitness than whatever short-term attention you hope to garner from having the appearance of good health and fitness, stay away from steroids. If not, in the long run, those lazy people who only hit the gym annually and sit on their butts all day may outlive you — the supposed “fitness freak.” That’s a twist, right? Below lists how this could happen, along with other undesirable side effects of steroid use.
The below quote is from Nick Miller of Nick Strength and Power, from his 2017 video “The downfall of Denise Rutkowski,” in which he also talks about the reality of drug addiction in bodybuilding.
“. . . Unfortunately [Denise] obviously had a very bad downward spiral over the past couple of years and just kind of ended up like this, so it’s sad to see stories like this, but this is the reality of bodybuilding. Man, you go from being at the top of the mountain: second-place finish at the Olympia, to just being a drug addict . . . . I think this video needed to be made because drug addiction and bodybuilding seem to go hand-in-hand for a lot of people with that type of personality.” – Nick Miller of Nick’s Strength & Power
See the video later in this post.
Undesirable Steroid Side Effects for WOMEN: Steroids effectively put women through male puberty
- Genital changes: enlarged or lengthened clitoris
- Sexual hormonal changes: confused and erratic menstrual cycles and temporary loss of fertility
- Increased bone density creating a masculine appearance: caused by an overabundance of male hormones; ladies, you won’t be fooling anyone if your face has become masculinized and you swear you haven’t juiced
- Coarse skin: caused by an overabundance of male hormones; this decreases the natural fat in the face that creates a youthful look and instead creates a more aged, hard appearance; if preventing facial aging is a concern, stay away from steroids
- Excess facial and body hair: caused by an overabundance of male hormones
- Deepened voice: caused by elevated amounts of testosterone, as experienced by pubescent males
- Balding: baldness in female steroid users is caused by the body’s confused over-production of DHT, a hair inhibitor enzyme, which generally affects both sexes similarly
The story of a 1990s Female Bodybuilding Beauty, Denise Rutkowski:
Undesirable Side Effects for MEN:
The male body attempts to regulate excess testosterone from steroids by converting some to estrogen conversion & other bodily processes that create unseemly side effects.
- Balding: caused by over-production of DHT, a hair inhibitor enzyme
- Enlarged prostate
- Gynecomastia (“man boobs”): caused by the conversion of additional testosterone to estrogen
- Shrunken testicles: with an outside source of testosterone introduced into the body, the testes slow testosterone production and shrink
Undesirable Steroid Side Effects for Both Genders:
- High blood pressure
- Possible liver damage/liver malfunction
- Increased cancer risk
- High or increased aggression (“roid rage”)
- High cholesterol: “steroids change the levels of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in the blood. Steroids, particularly oral steroids, increase the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL – bad cholesterol) and decrease the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL – good cholesterol). This increases the risk of atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty substances are deposited inside arteries and disrupt blood flow. If blood is prevented from reaching the heart, the result can be a heart attack. If blood is prevented from reaching the brain, the result can be a stroke” (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
Also watch: “Why Do Bodybuilders Die Young”
Undesirable Long-term Side Effects:
- Long-term/future difficulties w/ body fat regulation (ironic for a “fitness freak,” huh?): many former steroid users report problems managing weight gain or losing excess flab and soft tissue that occurs when the muscles are no longer being fed high doses of testosterone; this is in addition to atrophied muscle mass
- Possible ligament and/or joint injury: caused by overexertion of muscles due to increased energy granted by steroids on unprepared muscles
- Possible stunted growth: studies have shown that adolescents who abuse steroids are at risk of having a short stature for life
- Possible liver failure: peliosis Hepatitis, a condition in which blood-filled cysts replace liver and spleen tissue, has been reported in patients receiving long-term anabolic steroid treatments (steroidabuse.com)
- Possible neurological issues: studies have confirmed steroid abuse has a long-term effect on neurological pathways of the brain (US Nat. Library of Medicine Nat. Inst. of Health)
- Possible HIV contraction: caused by intravenous needle sharing, combined with a heightened sex drive and libido function can be a very dangerous combination
So, what should you choose? The natural way or the short-lived, quick way?
As with any sport, genetically gifted people are more likely to be champions. In bodybuilding, for example, one can train hard and diet just right, but it might take you years to reach the level of the competitors who win frequently. Be mindful that you also may not know how the winners got to where they are. For example, as a personal trainer, I trained myself for the competition I participated in, my first and only contest. I wrote my nutrition plan, trained six days per week, leaned out, and met with an adviser leading up to the show. I was proud of my progress. As a competitor in the Figure category, I placed decently for a first-timer, but the woman who took home first place (in just about every category) had an extraordinary, superhero-like build. Getting a body like hers would take anyone years of work. But regardless of any work I could put in, I would not be able to attain her exact shape. That’s where genetics comes in. Aside from her aesthetic genetic advantages, she also had a team consisting of a nutritionist, a personal trainer, a personal tan tech, and who knows what else. Other competitors used med spas to aid in fat loss, and others, of course, used steroids. This goes back to not knowing how each competitor attains his/her results. Many competitors walk away from competitions feeling inadequate, deflated, and dispirited. Some eventually turn to that magic “juice,” aka, steroids or other pharmaceutical concoctions.
Steroid use is incompatible with long-term health. Ultimately, people who choose steroids are not concerned with health; they’re concerned with image. A person concerned about their health would not look at the above list of well-known, easily researchable side effects, and still take steroids. Anything worth having, in this case, good health and fitness, usually takes time and hard work to achieve. If you resist the juice, you can enjoy lifelong health while those who give in eventually lose their health, fitness, strength, and all the “gains” steroids offer. Those who resist can ultimately beat the champions who didn’t resist by surpassing them in areas that count: measurable good health, fitness, and longevity.
How to Get Maximum Results Naturally
Along with an individualized and progressive training plan, put an emphasis on pre-, intra-, and post-workout nutrition, and think of food as fuel. If you take proper control of how you nourish your body, you can reach your fitness goals faster. I think the doctors who wrote Nutrient Timing say it best:
“[W]e have seen sports nutrition dominated by the use of illegal drugs and supplements. However, the many studies we have cited show that Nutrient Timing gives us a tool which will enable athletes to safely achieve gains in strength, power, and performance with the most basic of all tools — the food they eat” – Nutrient Timing
Read more on Nutrient Timing here: https://brokesinglemomfitness.com/the-nutrient-timing-system-book-review/
Sources "Anabolic steroids and craniofacial growth in the rat." R. L. Barrett, E. F. Farris. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8297054?dopt=Abstract "ANABOLIC STEROIDS: Side Effects." Harm Kuipers, M.D., Ph.D. https://www.sportsci.org/encyc/anabstereff/anabstereff.html “Drug Induced Gynecomastia,” Dr. Miguel Delgado.https://www.gynecomastia.org/gynecomastia-101/grades-of-gynecomsatia/steroid-induced-gynecomastia "Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Abuse (long term and short term)." Association Against Steroid Abuse. https://www.steroidabuse.com/side-effects-of-steroids.html “Steroids: Anabolic.Androgenic,” anonymous, Focus Adolescent Services, 2005. “What Causes Prostate Cancer?,” anonymous, eHealthMD, October 2004. Article initially published on March 27, 2016 - Updated and republished on May 16, 2018
As an athlete for over 21 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT – Lifelong Applied Fitness