Honest Advice About Steroids

To Use or Not to Use?

Thinking about using? Our experts have some heartfelt advice for you that you won’t hear anywhere else.

The Question

If someone is thinking about using steroids, what’s your advice for them?

Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO

You should probably skip 'em. But get on TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) when you can.

The only folks who “succeed” with steroids are usually older, wiser, more intelligent men with families, real jobs, real responsibilities, and a long background of lifting naturally and learning everything they can about training and diet. These guys tend not to get too crazy with the drugs.

But for everyone else, I’ve observed two interesting things about regular-guy steroid users, meaning, guys who just wanna get huge and aren’t high level bodybuilders, powerlifters or athletes:

1. Steroids encourage and reward ignorance, especially in younger men.

In other words, everything comes a whole lot easier. Just about any kind of training will work, as will just about any kind of diet. The gains come so quickly and easily that the young steroid user never actually has to learn much. Everything works while he’s “on.” This essentially makes him dumb. There are exceptions of course, but not many. Which leads to the second point.

2. The guy who begins using steroids early in his lifting life usually has a very short lifting life.

No, he doesn’t die. But he does quit, often never returning to the gym. How does that happen? Well, for various reasons – legal, financial, spousal, health-related reasons, job-related reasons, etc. – he doesn’t use steroids regularly. His gains fade and suddenly “lifting doesn’t work,” or at least it doesn’t seem to compared to juiced training.

Think about it. You’re not going to keep those gains. Christian Thibaudeau once brilliantly called the steroid-derived body a “rented physique.” So now you’re working your ass off and losing most of the drug-built muscle. That’s psychologically painful. “What’s the point?” the guy says, and he eventually quits.

I’ve known a dozen guys who loved to train, then only loved to train when they were on something, then when they couldn’t be on something they just didn’t go to the gym. Again, “what’s the point?” they think.

Now, they could still build plenty of muscle and reap all the amazing benefits of the iron, but remember, they’re “steroid dumb” now. They never really learned how to keep natural progress coming. Their toolboxes contain an old, bent wrench and nothing else.

Also, a guy will likely never get back to where he was when he was using. That’s a lot to deal with. And once his identity becomes “the big guy,” can he handle becoming the “merely medium” guy? Often not.

So my general advice is to skip the 'roids. Get your testosterone levels tested as you age and the moment you’re eligible for doctor-prescribed TRT, get on it. Be happy with a nice, healthy “high but normal” T level.

You’ll feel better, perform better, and get better results in the gym than you would without TRT. Given all the drawbacks of long-term steroid usage, all the stigma and all the asterisks, that should be good enough for the psychologically well-adjusted man.

TC Luoma – T Nation Editor

Go for it.

I’d tell him to go ahead, assuming he’s at least 25 years old and doing it for bodybuilding purposes, and not so he can be physically capable of exacting revenge from the guy who snapped his tushie with a wet towel in 7th grade, or something equally stupid.

I’d tell him that if he has the self control to do it safely and smartly, a steroid cycle would finally let him know how the assorted high-level bodybuilders, preternaturally gifted athletes, and action movie stars (who manage to transform their formerly non-descript physiques into superhero bodies in just a few short months) are able to look or perform so phenomenally well.

He’ll marvel at just how fast the muscle piles up and the fat melts off, pretty much regardless of how sophisticated his training program is or how good (or bad) his diet is.

I’d tell him that he’d likely retain some of the gained muscle, half if he’s lucky, but more importantly, he’d gain some understanding and peace of mind. It’s possible that he’ll no longer feel genetically screwed or think he’s doing something wrong if he didn’t bulk up in a short amount of time, or his body fat didn’t easily shrink to low single-digits, or if he failed to hit his bench press goals in 3 weeks, because he’ll finally understand where that kind of progress often comes from.

And more than that, he can stop ascribing some special knowledge to the monsters who profess to be weightlifting Jedi masters simply because they had a kamikaze, take-a-deep-breath-and-jump attitude to steroids and were willing to take amounts that cause even steroid-savvy people to go slack jawed in amazement. The fact is, most of them don’t know any more about training than he does.

On the technical side, I’d advise him to stay away from orals and use injectables, preferably just some ester of testosterone, and use the lowest amount that works – probably at least 400 mg. a week, but not more than 700 because that’s all you need for a first-time cycle.

I’d recommend he stay on it for 12 weeks and then stop cold turkey for a couple of weeks before taking tamoxifen for two to four weeks.

Lastly, I’d advise him to be especially mindful on any a-holey tendencies he might have. There’s of course no such thing as 'roid rage, especially at the low dosages I recommended, but the extra testosterone might bring those tendencies to the surface faster and he’ll find himself getting all red and veiny-necked because the coffee shop was out of Truvia and he had to use goddam Splenda instead. Assholes.

Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach

It depends.

Dave Tate once said, “gear is your ace card.” In other words, it’s the last card you have left to play in regards to improving performance. And for a lot of guys, especially the ones that get on too early, it becomes a cycle of upping the dose, because they didn’t take enough years out to learn how to train and eat properly first.

Each time they come to a road block they go back to “what should I take?” rather than “what should I fix in my training, nutrition, recovery, or technique?”

Your foundation for muscle growth and strength should be acquired before a needle ever finds its way into your ass. And way too many guys these days get on way too young, so they have no clue how to eat or train properly. They have no idea how their body recovers naturally, they don’t take time out to develop good technique, and they don’t experiment with years of growth and seasons of leaning out. They never learn their bodies.

All of the lessons you learn during your natural years serve you once you’re enhanced. Guys should be putting in at least 7 years of hard training and learning how to eat for performance or physique improvement before they ever consider doing a cycle. And guys in their teens have NO business doing anabolics. Period.

If you’re hitting the sauce hard just to be the “big guy in the gym” or among your circle of friends, then most likely there are some deep-seeded issues in your personal life that you need to rectify first, and I mean that in all sincerity.

Sending yourself to an early grave or wrecking your endocrine system just so your gym buddies think you’re swole speaks volumes about your lack of self worth.

And not to sound preachy, most males go through this. We all want affirmation and respect from our peers. But no one is going to respect you while you’re getting kidney dialysis because your dose was “always fill the syringe and take a handful.” And no one is kicking ass from the grave.

Gear is your last card to play, if you need to play it at all. And it’s the one you should put the most amount of thought into before you play it.

Dan John – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

I wouldn’t recommend it.

Obviously, I have moral, legal, and ethical concerns about using PEDs. I have seen too many friends and former competitors pay a high price for the injuries, but let’s ignore the obvious.

Here’s my biggest issue: once you take them, you’re basically “done.” In other words, outside of that marvelous flight of linear improvement one makes when first lifting weights, nothing gives a greater boost to performance than steroids.

Now what? Honestly, most good insights in training work once. Plyometrics, if you read the original studies, demanded a double bodyweight squat before venturing into the boxes and bounds. From there, plyos work wonders… once. Isometrics are another amazing bolt of lightning to fix specific issues in training… and they work once.

I’ve had two friends who were absolute responders to anabolics. Their improvements weren’t just “a little.” In both cases, each was a good discus thrower, sub 55 meter throwers, who became world class practically in one season (well over 65 meters).

But there’s another side to it – those who don’t respond all that much. Another buddy of mine once asked if I was juicing. I said “no” and he told me that he had been “on” for two seasons. He wasn’t very good, and God only knows how bad he would be clean.

Dick Notmeyer warned me about this when steroids were legal: once you start, nothing else is going to help almost ever again. To keep those PED gains, you will need to always be on them.

Don’t forget that. Once you start, you need to stay on them, stack more, and add more to keep those gains. I have yet to meet an athlete who can deal with diminishing performance.

And then that’s it. You can jump two years of normal progression in less than two months in some cases, but you won’t have those two years of experience and insight.

Do what you want. I don’t care, but I have always agreed with Dick Notmeyer on this bit of advice: max out every ounce of traditional training you can and find out how far you can go. It’ll stick with you.

Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

Don’t do it and compete in a natural competition.

I have nothing against steroids per se (well, except the legality thing) as long as it’s done “within the rules” and while taking precautions to reduce health risks (yes, they exist).

Those who compete in “natural” physique competitions while using steroids (or growth hormone, thyroid, clenbuterol, SARMs, and other banned substances) are unethical. Men and women have the option to compete in non-tested competitions where pretty much everything goes! So if you have to compete enhanced to hold your own against those competing naturally, then you’re a loser.

And don’t give me the “yeah but lots of people use steroids in the Olympics and they’re banned” excuse. True. But that’s probably not much better. There is no Natural Olympics or Non-Tested Olympics.

So everybody who wants to compete ought to compete at the same place. In physique sports you have the choice! Want to use drugs? Fine! But go compete with those who also use drugs.

“But I only want to use a little, and those in the non-tested competitions are on everything but the kitchen sink!”

If this is your rationalization, then realize that there isn’t a “natural competition,” “just a little drugs competition” and “juiced to the gills competition.” There are only tested and non-tested shows. Pick the one you fit into; these are your only choices.

Now, regarding the health risks. The worst thing to do is bury your head in the sand. Anytime you mess with your natural physiology things can go wrong. Sometimes they’re short term, sometimes not. In some cases side effects will only show up decades later. You won’t know till then. Heart, kidney, and liver issues could take years to build up and there are very few warning signs.

So if you decide to go the enhanced route, be aware of the risks and act accordingly:

Get your blood work done before and after a cycle.

Do your research. And know what your numbers mean. If you don’t have the discipline to take this step then you probably shouldn’t even be considering PEDs.

Eat healthfully.

Why? Because the health risks from using steroids are magnified by an unhealthy diet. Yes, drugs (to some extent) allow you to eat a shitty diet and get away with it body-comp wise. But when you’re on, do everything possible to get in the best health possible to minimize the repercussions.

Keep a watchful eye on your blood pressure.

A lot of the problems associated with steroids are actually indirect and are caused by a chronically elevated blood pressure. Keeping it at close to 110/80 will go a long way in preventing the most serious health risks.

Be smart with doses.

Few people have what it takes to be a pro. If you use low doses you’ll know right away if you’ve got it or not. If you need one gram of steroids to barely look better than the average gym rat, I’ve got news for you: you will never be a pro. And probably not even a national level competitor. Taking bigger and bigger doses will likely only give you more side effects while making you look only marginally better. Weigh the pros and cons and be objective with yourself.

Never think you’re invincible. Be more paranoid than not, and you’ll be able to reduce the potential risks.

Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder

Evaluate your motives.

This is a loaded question with tons of implications and things to consider including the person’s age, maturity level, years training, health profile (blood screen), family history, relationship status, etc. However, my primary advice to someone thinking about using steroids is to evaluate his or her motives. What’s the deepest desire of their heart and how will steroid use help or hinder their personal progress?

A proclivity towards abuse is common, so sometimes the motive to use is a blind spot, which, well, means you’re blind to it! Therefore, I’d also advise a person to seek counsel from someone older and more mature in age, and more experienced with training who’s used steroids themselves.

You can advise and deal with the periphery pitfalls of steroid use, but ultimately the heart’s motivation drives behavior for good or bad. If the heart is properly aligned with a wise approach there’s less chance to go off the rails seeking quick, short-sighted and short-lived goals which lead to long-term regrets.

Chris Colucci - T Nation Forum Director

Steroids are a lot like tattoos.

There’s no going back after the first needle-poke, so think about it a ton before jumping in, especially since most people who do it once usually go back for another. It’s one of the ultimate no-backsies, so when you first get the idea to go ahead, you need to sleep on it, do your research, and give it a lot of serious thought.

You can only do one “first cycle” and any kind of AAS use comes with a slew of potentially serious side effects. Just like you shouldn’t get worked on by the first tattoo artist you find in your town, you shouldn’t dive into your first cycle without being able to anticipate exactly what’s going to happen over the next 6, 8 or 12 weeks.

It’s also a permanent life-changer. A cover-up may change your high school sweetheart’s name into an awesome dragon, but then you’ve still got an awesome dragon on your chest. There’s PCT and proper after-cycle maintenance, but then you’ve still dabbled with “the dark side” and aren’t a natural lifter anymore.

That might not be a big deal to you, for now, but most experienced AAS-users suggest getting the most out of your natural progress before flipping the switch for better long-term progress.

Lastly, you know how once in a while you’ll see a guy and just think to yourself, “He looks like the kind of guy that’s got a ton of ink, probably mostly jailhouse stuff.” Sometimes it turns out you’re right and the guy has full sleeves with no bare skin from chest to ankles, front and back. But sometimes it turns out that the guy has zero tattoos and you’re left confused because you could’ve sworn he was one of those people.

It’s basically the same thing with steroids. Some guys who “totally look like they’re juicing” are totally juicing, but some guys are just freaks that got crazy-big and stupid-strong through consistent hard work and awesome genetics. When you do find guys in that last group, instead of throwing accusations and doubt, just ask them for training and diet advice.

John Romano – Competition Coach, Former Muscle Mag Editor

Know the drawbacks.

This is a great question that, unfortunately, cannot be answered in just a couple hundred words. There are important issues that focus on educating one’s self prior to embarking on such a course of action, particularly the downsides of using steroids – the side effects, the proliferation of fake gear, getting off of them, getting blood work done, etc. And, the fact that buying, selling and transporting them is (in America) still a felony, not to mention banned by all sports federations. All very important salient issues that require a lot of space to do justice.

However, my advice to those thinking of using gear comes from my work, not with competitive athletes who want to increase their performance, or men who want to cheat father time or win a bodybuilding show, but regular Joes who just want to look good this summer with their shirt off at the pool or the beach. It’s the expectation on what using gear will do for you.

Far too many times I come across people who expect steroids to provide them with this incredible ripped muscular body, just by cracking open a bottle. The reality is this: if you plot on a pie chart all that goes into producing a ripped muscular physique, steroids are only going to amount to a sliver of the pie, exacting 10-15 percent of it.

Another 80-87.5 percent is going to be diet; genetics and training intensity (in that order) over time; with the remaining 2.5 percent being things like lifestyle, activity level, etc.

Steroids are not, I repeat NOT the end all to a great physique. They are a small component of the total process. If you’re not willing to accept that reality, then stop thinking about using steroids right now.

Dani Shugart – T Nation Editor


First, I’d never recommend taking something illegal. But if all banned substances were currently legal, and if a woman asked me about drug use in general (clen, tren, anavar, winstrol, and all the other stuff), I’d tell her, "
Your hopes and dreams are dumb."

No, just kidding. I wouldn’t say that out loud. I’d tell her to figure out what she expects to get back in return if she does use them. I’d say, “Ask yourself if the best case scenario is even that good. Then think of the worst case scenario. Is it worth that risk?”

The best case scenario: enjoyment of getting jacked and strong, winning a competition, gaining fans, having nice pictures taken, and being somewhat known within your industry. That all sounds nice, but is it worth the long-term risks?

Because the worst case scenario looks pretty grim for females. You may not even win, your thyroid may stop doing its job properly, your metabolism may slow down, your self esteem may go in the crapper as a result, and your facial structure may get permanently weird (depending on what you take).

And if you’re at the point of using these substances, is your entire life wrapped up in your physique? If you’re paying for a little pharmacy in your medicine cabinet, are you going to be able to invest time and money into other important things in your life?

Because it’s possible to have a killer body without resorting to these substances. So if you feel the need to go that route, my assumption is that you’re doing it to gain an advantage as a competitor. And if you gain that advantage, will it be worth it in the big picture? Probably not.

The sad thing is, even if you win your competition, the general public still won’t know who the heck you are. This is what you have to remember about a fringe sport. Few people remember the names of even the pro bikini and figure competitors, except other bikini and figure competitors. Nobody on the street is going to tell you they were blown away by your quarter turns to the left.

But Serena Williams or Martina Navratilova? Even autocorrect knows their names. The world has watched them grunt, sprint, and serve on the tennis courts. And while they’ve likely never used PEDs, even if they did, the return on investment was high. They made a living off their sport. Bikini, figure, and physique competitions won’t ever get you the same success. The return on investment is crap. Why invest?

And maybe you shouldn’t be competing if you’re not already a genetic anomaly who looks like she may be on something (even when she’s not). There are women out there with bodies like that. Bodybuilding, as a competitive endeavor, was created for these people – the ones who look jacked when they’re not on steroids, and freakishly huge when they are.

If that’s not you, then there are lots of things to train for: pleasure, mastery, symmetry, strength, and all-around awesomeness, but let THEM have the plastic, spray painted trophies, if that’s really what they’re after.

It just seems like there are a lot of grown women who get high on attention. So they take banned substances in order to get on stage and gain temporary glory on Facebook. I can’t think of too many things sillier than that.