Earlier this week, a steroid using pal told me, “If anything, you have to train harder on steroids to stop it turning to fat.”
I often hear this phrase bandied about the fitness industry.
It’s one of those sayings which has become ingrained into fitness language, like “engage your core” or “put that cookie down”.
So today I want to talk steroids.
Russ said the S word.
The word we are all supposed to pretend doesn’t exist.
The vast majority of the bodies you are looking at in fitness magazines are pumped full of vitamin S, so it doesn’t make sense to pretend it’s not happening. While I’m on a rant, they also have a fairly big intake of vitamin P (photoshop).
Ah! the P word!
So, do you really have to train harder when you are using steroids or risk your muscle turning to fat? Today I’d like to discuss it on the blog.
There are two issues at hand here, and to fully answer today’s topic I want to take on both of them, so let’s get stuck in.
The Muscle/Fat Theory
First of all, muscle can’t turn to fat.
They are two separate entities, and one cannot become the other no matter how many times we say it on a daily basis.
If you stop training and/or looking after your diet you can expect to see a rise in body fat.
That should be no surprise.
And if you stop training in the gym, you will notice muscular atrophy (shrinkage).
While the two are associated with not hitting the gym, the two processes are entirely unconnected – you are simply losing muscle, and gaining fat.
Do You Need To Train Harder On Steroids?
Now for the second “thing”.
I’ve trained thousands of clients over the years. Plenty of them were using anabolic steroids.
And one thing I will say, is that this theory of needing to train harder when taking steroids is not strictly true.
It’s more like you can train harder.
You see, the main advantage of using a steroid is the increase in muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth). Greater muscle protein synthesis means greater gains in size and strength, as well as optimized recovery speed between sessions.
That second point is key.
With greater levels of testosterone soaring through our veins, we are able to crush workouts and recover at a much better pace than we would normally expect to do so.
This can lead to an increase in workout volume and training frequency.
It would be foolish to believe that increasing your body’s capacity for muscle growth and recovery speed puts you at a disadvantage, where you must train harder than your average gym-goer on a daily basis to prevent results from going backwards.
It’s just not fucking true.
In fact, one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 1996 compared the effects of steroids on muscle building results in four groups of participants:
- Group 1 used no anabolic steroids and did not exercise
- Group 2 used anabolic steroids and did not exercise
- Group 3 used no anabolic steroids but participated in regular weight training
- Group 4 used anabolic steroids and participated in regular weight training
The study, which lasted 10 weeks, found some pretty startling results. (1)
To be expected, the group who trained regularly and used steroids experienced (by far) the greatest results in terms of lean muscle growth.
However, looking deeper into the study revealed that group 2 (who used steroids but did not exercise) actually outperformed group 3.
The group of subjects who were using drugs yet doing no exercise built an average of 7lbs muscle, while the group of subjects who were training naturally on a regular basis only noticed an average gain of 4lbs.
The fourth group, who trained with weights and used steroids recorded an average muscle gain of 13lbs, which is over 3x that of the natural weight trainees, but I feel the paragraph above does a better job in putting things into perspective.
Taking steroids yet doing no exercise actually yielded superior results versus hitting the gym 3x per week naturally.
Further research clearly demonstrated that anabolic steroids increased muscle fiber growth. (2)
I don’t buy into the idea that steroids are the answer to all of your problems.
They come with their own side effects and drawbacks, and I know plenty of men who are paying the price for silly abuse of steroids in their younger years.
But building muscle is certainly easier with the use of drugs.
One further issue this throws up, however, is that an awful lot of steroid users (I’d like to point out here that I know some very knowledgeable guys who use drugs) have found gains easier to come by the point where they don’t even learn the basics of training.
Because, yes, as the research above demonstrates, with regular usage of steroids you can paper over the cracks of even a poor workout program.
This is why it’s commonplace to see super-ripped fitness models recommending you do 100 sets of biceps curls, or hitting every single muscle from every possible angle.
For the average trainee this advice is absolute nonsense.
But I also don’t buy into the idea that one can look at the physique of, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger and scoff, “Well I could look like that too if I took steroids”.
We all have that one friend, and they are just trying to make themselves feel better.
There’s no denying the effects of anabolic steroids on muscle growth and recovery, but you still need to watch your diet and train hard if you really want to maximize your results with them, certainly if you hope to achieve the same level as Arnold or other top bodybuilders.
As for needing to train even harder than someone who is natural, though?
Not a fucking chance.
From experience, the main reason this is said is to preserve ego. Lots of steroid users like to put across the belief that their secret workout routine is the real key to their results, not artificial enhancement.
So the way I like to put it, is that you do not need to train harder when you use steroids. You simply can train harder.
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- Bhasin, S., et al. The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men. N Engl J Med. 1996 Jul 4;335(1):1-7.
- Sinha-Hikim, I., et al. Testosterone-induced increase in muscle size in healthy young men is associated with muscle fiber hypertrophy. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Jul;283(1):E154-64.