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Anabolic Steroids and Muscle Growth

Ok, let me start this with a disclaimer: I am not a steroid guy. I know enough to be a little bit dangerous and can throw around big words like leutinizing hormone and steroidogenesis but that’s about it. I’ve read most of the major books (and I have both Duchaine’s Ultimate Steroid Handbook and USHII so nyahh) because it interests me on some level but that’s it. I’m not a steroid expert, I don’t claim to be; despite endless people telling me to write about this there are guys out there who have forgotten more than I will ever know about the topic and I leave the topic to them. So why am I writing about steroids?

I got out of college in 1993, where in addition to my studies (UCLA, kinesiology), I had made it part of my obsession to read all of the muscle magazines every month. What if one of them held the true true secret, I couldn’t afford not to read them. It was all the same stuff, Muscular Development, Ironman, M&F, Flex and the always hilarious Muscle Mag International which would publish the stupidest stuff you can imagine.

Muscle Media 2000

But in 1993, things changed, that’s when Muscle Media 2000 started. Bill Phillips, who had originally published an anabolic steroid newsletter saw the money in the industry and launched the magazine. I read it for years and while it was mostly a supplement catalog (ah, Phosphagain, HMB that feels like deca, CLA), there were also some gems in it. Dan Duchaine for one. Even when he was wrong he was still brilliant. His writings and Bodyopus diet would set me on the path of whatever my current job description is exactly.

In any case, in my dotage, I started wanting to back to my youth (trust me, you will all get there about your late 30’s and early 40’s when you try to find the books, magazines, music and movies of your youth) and someone on my Facebook group happened to have some back issues that he was nice enough to send me (for some cash). And as I was reading through them, I was reminded of something that happened about three weeks ago because in a 1996 research review they looked in detail at a study I had talked about.

Someone Was Offended

On a podcast or another (Kinobody I think), I had made a comment about the fact that studies showed clearly, that anabolic steroids build muscle and strength without even training (I made a similar comment in the Webinars I did for the UK Epic Fitness Summit mentioning that these are studies people kind of don’t want to believe).  And someone took issue with it.

He came onto the my Facebook group and proceeded to show me everything that is wrong with reading comprehension in 2015.  My statement, exactly was “Steroids build muscle without training.” Nothing more, nothing less. But he appears to have heard “Steroids make you a competitive bodybuilder” or “Steroids build more and more muscle forever.”

No amount of explanation would make it clear to him that what I had said and what he had heard weren’t the same thing.  His arguments revolved around people who use steroids and still don’t look good and basically all he proved was his own illiteracy and inability to understand basic concepts and words no matter how many times they were explained to him.

Mainly he seemed to be downright offended at the suggestion that it was the drugs and not his impressive work ethic responsible for his gains and physique. Of course I had never suggested anything of the sort and said only what I said which was this “Steroids build muscle without training.” Nothing more and nothing less and I had given him the appropriate links on Medline. Didn’t matter. He was determined to argue with what he had heard until I got fed up and just got rid of him. I can only stand so much stupid.

But this is one of those dirty little things, one I’ve talked about with a good buddy of mine: guys go on drugs and then want to really downplay the effects of them. They only help a little, it’s still the training these folks will argue. Nevermind that their lifts jump and they pack on slabs of muscle when they go on. Those same lifts crater off the drugs despite the same hard training.  But they only help a little.  Sure.

Make no mistake, I’m sure that they are training hard as hell, nothing I said discounts that. But to ignore the very real effects and pretend the drugs only help a little bit is absurd (you can find pictures of pro bodybuilders who went off drugs and went from 280 lb monsters to guys that barely look like they lift).

So Just How Much Do They Help?

And that’s all just one gigantic leadin to the point of this article, to look at some of the studies on this topic to see what the real-world effects of anabolics are on size and strength, even without training. Most of this work comes from a group led by a Bhasin and I’ll provide link out to the Medline links for people who want to delve. Most of the papers are free full text if you want to really get up your own butt or check my math.

The first paper his group did came out in 1996 and is really the key one, it had the impressive title of “The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men.” and was the paper reviewed in the MM2k that made me want to write this piece.

In the study he took 40 men and assigned them to one of four groups: placebo with no exercise, testosterone with no exercise, exercise only, testosterone with exercise. They were at least given a standardized diet although they weren’t in a metabolic ward so there is some potential self-reporting issues.

The training was a little weird, they did squat and bench only three times per week for 4 sets of 6 with varying intensity week to week and weights were increased at week 5. It wasn’t the greatest training program but it turns out to kind of not matter. Muscle size was measured by MRI and strength was tested directly for 1 repetition maximum. This went on for 10 weeks. Here are the results.

Group LBM Squat Bench Press
Placebo No change No change No change
Exercise Only +4.4 lbs +21% +11%
Testosterone +6.6 lbs +19% +10%
Testosterone+Exercise +13 lbs +38% +22%


No shock, the placebo group had no change in anything. Training alone got the guys four and a half pounds LBM in 10 weeks. But steroids alone worked better: 6.6 pounds LBM in the same 10 weeks. With just one shot in the butt every week. Clearly training and exercise was synergistic and the third group gained close to what you’d predict from adding steroids and training alone together. But steroids alone built more muscle than training alone and just as much strength.

And the amazing thing is that, despite the title of the paper, only 600mg/week of testosterone was given. Certainly this is supraphysiological relatively but it’s also a baby dose in a time when the occasional steroid expert had recommended a gram per day. And even that small dose put more muscle on without training than training alone did. Not only do anabolics build muscle without training, they build more muscle than training (and they make training work that much better).

It also looks like the effects may continue in the longer term with no change in dose. In a second study, the same group compared 25, 50, 125, 300, or 600 mg of testosterone enanthate per week for 20 weeks. Only the 125mg and up doses generated an effect but the gains in LBM were 7.5 lbs, 11.4 lbs and 17.4 lbs of LBM for the higher doses respectively.

So 20 weeks of 600 mg/week of testosterone without training still generated more LBM gain than 10 weeks of steroids and training above: 17.5 lbs LBM vs. 13 lbs.   Mind you, this was in young males aged 18-35 (it wasn’t old farts or anything) who were explicitly told NOT to train.

So a mere 600 mg/week of testosterone will build over 17 lbs of muscle in 20 weeks without training. The highest group also showed a 75% gain in leg press strength. Without training. Just let that sink in. For many males this is a year’s worth of gains if they are lucky. In 20 weeks. Without training. Just drugs. Awesome.

And before you start screaming water weight, read on. A followup analysis of the second study showed clearly that the increasing doses of anabolics were associated with muscle fiber growth in both Type I and Type II fibers and increased myonuclear number. This is real growth and strength from fairly moderate doses of steroids without any training.  And that’s in healthy individuals. The same group showed that anabolics alone activate satellite cells, a crucial step in growth. All drugs, no training.

Finally, in men with low testosterone, a baby dose of 100 mg/week of testosterone ethanate increased muscle mass by 11 lbs in 10 weeks. With no training, no fat gain and a measured increase in both triceps and quadriceps size. 100 mg/week. That’s nothing, just bringing testosterone up from below normal to the normal range. I’d have loved to see what 600 mg/week did for these guys.

And finally, in another analysis, the same group made a prediction that basically shows that more testosterone means more growth; as the does goes up, so do the gains. Gilbert Forbes has done similar work although he was looking at the total steroid dose and it’s relation to LBM gains and his results are right in line with this work. When you look at the total dose of anabolics taken over the duration of a cycle, more steroids means more growth up to about 10,000mg total which gave 20kg (45 lbs) of muscle gained.  That’s a career’s worth.

Gilbert Forbes Steroids vs. LBM Gain

The First Take Home

His illiteracy notwithstanding, the guy who came onto my FB group to complain really didn’t have a leg to stand on. I had stated that steroids will build muscle without training and all the science backs that statement. They build strength, muscle without any training whatsoever. Even when diet wasn’t optimized or possibly controlled they still do this.  And they do it well.  This isn’t debatable.

Will steroids keep building muscle forever so you gain and gain? Probably not although the one longer study is suggestive. At some point you’d have to take more to keep growing. Duchaine once wrote that all of the complex stacking and cycling was irrelevant: just take more and don’t worry about it. I think he was right. Just go fool around with weights a little bit and keep upping the doseage.

Does any of this mean just taking drugs will make someone a stage ready bodybuilder? Of course not and I never said that they would even if that’s what the guy heard. Our hypothetical guy at least need some fat burners to get lean. Throw in some clen, thyroid and GH (or go nuts with DNP) and you can get ripped without having to even diet too hard. That won’t make up for poor muscle bellies, symmetry and all of that but you get my point. A guy with 600 mg/week of anabolics and some basic fat burners will outgain and out lean a guy busting his ass in the weight room and watching his diet.

Does this mean that it will make them a great athlete without training?  Of course not.  But steroids allow people to train more, at a higher intensity, more frequently and grow, gain strength and recover significantly than if they are not being taken.  This is also non-debatable and clearly the idea that they only “help a little” is nonsense.

Issurin wrote in one of his books that steroids will make an athlete adapt positive to any kind of training and that you could only learn about training by looking at non-drug using athletes. He’s probably right.  They sure as hell make you bigger and stronger without training so you have to figure that anything done beyond that will improve almost no matter what.

The Second Take Home

To deny that steroids build muscle, strength, etc. without training is simply not supported by the science. They work. Well. And the 600 mg/week used in these studies is still a moderate dose by today’s standards. Guys are using multiple times that with multiple drugs and if you want to know why naturals are stuck in the 180s if they are lucky and the top pros are up at 280 and ripped, well…now you know.   More is better, that’s what more means.

Does this mean that guys who are using don’t train hard or work hard? Absolutely not and that’s usually where people get into trouble with this. They equate the statement of “Drugs work without training” as “You guys don’t train hard.” Those aren’t synonymous statements.

Drugs just enhance the training process, clearly by a lot more than most people want to admit or recognize. It can at least double the gains in muscle that training produces and longer periods of just drugs still beat both in terms of LBM and strength gains.

Though the impact of drugs does explain why so much bs training and diet sure seems to work just fine for guys using and why guys juicing usually aren’t great sources for advice: enough drugs can cover up for the worst training and diet practices (a fact bodybuilders found out the hard way when they tried testing and everybody had forgotten how to get into shape).

Let the flaming begin.


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