There is a lot of debate surrounding the use of steroids for muscle building. Some people claim that they are safe and incredibly effective, while others argue that they are dangerous and can have negative long-term effects on your health.
So, which is it? Are steroids safe or dangerous?
The latest steroid statistics have it that the global anabolic steroid market is estimated to reach around 8.5 billion dollars by 2027 and 10 billion by the end of the decade. And of gym-goers, around 6% of men and 2% of women have used steroids.
The above anabolic steroids stats say a lot!
The answer to the question isn’t a definite “safe” or “dangerous” because steroid safety could depend on several factors, including which kind (or brand) you pick, the dosage you use, and your current health or medical condition.
For example, it’s been shown to benefit and even extend the lives of those suffering from muscle loss due to illnesses like cancer, kidney and liver disease, AIDS, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Yet it is very important to also consider the potential side effects before choosing this option for muscle building for sick people and athletes alike. After all, steroid use is illegal in most parts of the world!
Surprisingly, a study showed that the medical risks of steroid use might have been ‘exaggerated’ to possibly dissuade athletes’ use.
What are the benefits and dangers of steroids? Are there even safe options to try? Continue reading to find out.
Numerous studies have established that steroids can be useful, especially in the medical setting.
The medical community no longer denies that steroids could help improve muscle mass, particularly in patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), receiving dialysis, recovering from a myocardial infarction, or suffering from muscle wasting due to AIDS.
These studies have led to the legal (and effective!) use of steroids for clinical purposes. Some researchers suggest that if steroids can be safely and legitimately used in the medical setting, then it might be possible for athletes and bodybuilders to also safely use them.
Let’s dive into some of the possible benefits of steroid use for muscle building in bodybuilders and athletes below.
There are two main ways anabolic steroids can help with bulking up: by increasing the production of muscle proteins, and by decreasing the amount of fat in the body.
Steroids can increase the production of muscle proteins in two ways.
First, they can directly stimulate the muscle cells to produce more proteins. Second, they can increase the levels of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, which then stimulate the muscle cells to produce more proteins.
Steroids can also help with bulking up by decreasing the amount of fat in the body. This is because steroid hormones can interfere with the processes that regulate how much fat is stored in each cell.
Lets take for example – Anavar steroid: Anavar is one of the most popular steroids for cutting and bulking. It is known as a mild steroid because it has very few side effects. Anavar can help you bulk up by increasing your strength and muscle mass. It can also help you cut down on body fat.
Studies also show that steroids can help in muscle building through these ergogenic effects:
- Increase muscle strength and power
- Increase in muscle cross-sectional area
- Increase in lean body mass
- Decrease in body fat percent (through an increase in lipolysis or fat-burning)
There are a few ways that steroids can help with extended training. They can help to increase the overall anabolic state of the body, which will then allow for greater muscle growth and quicker recovery.
Additionally, steroids can help to improve endurance by reducing the amount of lactic acid that is produced during exercise.
Steroids can also help extend training sessions through the following effects:
- Increase in muscle endurance
- Increase in pain tolerance
- Increase in neural transmission (for better efficiency)
- Increase in bone mineral density
- help to reduce inflammation and associated pain after intense workouts.
Although these effects don’t directly build muscles, they can help extend your training sessions and even increase your training intensity. So, these effects can indirectly help in muscle building.
Steroids have also been proven to have the following positive effects:
- Reduced muscle damage
- Enhance recovery between workouts
- Enhance recovery from injury
- Increase in protein synthesis
- Increase in glycogen storage (for storing energy)
What’s great about steroids is that studies also show that they can help with workout and training recovery. That means that they can help ensure your muscles are protected. The fewer muscles are damaged, the less you lose even in intensive sessions.
Increased protein synthesis is one of the key benefits of taking anabolic steroids.
By increasing the amount of protein that your body produces, you’ll be able to build muscle mass more effectively. Additionally, the increase in protein synthesis will also help to repair and regenerate muscle tissue more quickly, meaning that you can recover from workouts more quickly.
One of the most important things to remember about increased protein synthesis is that it’s not just about building muscle mass; it’s also about repairing and regenerating muscle tissue. This means that if you’re injured or recovering from surgery, anabolic steroids can help you heal faster and get back to your normal routine sooner.
If you’re interested in taking anabolic steroids to improve your workout performance and recovery, be sure to talk to your doctor first. There are potential risks and side effects associated with steroid use as a bodybuilder or an athlete.
Despite the many positive effects of steroids, they also have a dark history of being linked to serious dangers and risks.
Although some studies suggest that these dangers might have been ‘exaggerated’, there’s also no denying that many of these effects are true.
After all, the US wouldn’t put a strict ban on steroids, with a penalty of at least $1,000 and a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison (5 years and $250,000 for trafficking/selling) just for mere hearsay.
You know, the legality of steroids in bodybuilding, sports, and fitness is a topic of much debate. While you can only use anabolic steroids under a prescription and under strict medical conditions (such as a muscle-wasting disease or low testosterone) – it is not recommended to be used during sports competitions.
But be sure you’re aware of the possible dangers of steroid use we discuss below.
Although steroids are linked to many different side effects, let’s tackle only the ones that directly or indirectly affect muscle building.
The injury risks associated with steroid use are often linked to over-training due to the body’s mistaken perception that you aren’t tired yet.
By tricking the body into having more energy and reducing pain perception, steroids can help you train much harder than your body is actually capable of; thus, it puts you at risk of actually hurting yourself if you don’t watch out.
Studies show that these injuries could lead to an intramuscular abscess (a painful collection of pus).
You also have an increased risk of tendon tears due to the tendons being unable to keep up with the sudden changes in muscle strength.
The tears can affect your muscles, with some even leading to a painful abscess as well.
Nerve damage can also happen with long-term use of steroids, particularly from using needles, which could even lead to sciatica (pain in the legs and back or buttocks).
The steroids used in bodybuilding and increasing athletic performance contain high levels of testosterone (or its synthetic equivalent).
But regular use, especially when abused or used in much larger quantities, could lead to hormone imbalance. Some male users experienced gynecomastia or swollen male breast tissues while using or after quitting steroids.
This condition can cause physical and emotional distress and can be difficult to treat.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the excess tissue. If it’s in the early stage, you can stop using steroids altogether and apply some remedies to treat gynecomastia at home and reduce its growth.
If you are a steroid user and you develop enlarged male breasts, it is important to seek medical help so that you can manage the condition and minimize its impact on your life.
Male gynecomastia is surprising, considering that steroid use could lead to a decreased breast size in women.
In fact, transitioning transgenders have long been known to use testosterone-based steroids or testosterone shots to gain more male qualities like a deeper voice, facial hair, and reduced breasts.
Side effects can vary from one person to another, but these are also well-known side effects of steroid use that could indirectly affect or inhibit muscle building:
Some people have noticed water retention or edema instead of building muscles. However, like many of the reasons for edema, the excess water weight isn’t likely to be permanent.
Many even shed these off easily by some extra hours at the gym or through training.
Because steroids can have a direct effect on muscles and hormones, it should be used by still-growing kids and teens.
Using steroids might lead to stunted growth, especially due to a higher risk of muscle injuries due to excessive, intense workouts.
Studies have also linked steroids to various psychological effects, including the following:
- Mood swings
- Mania (abnormally elevated and/or extreme changes in mood or emotions)
Surprisingly, these effects have been reported even in new users and those who didn’t abuse steroids.
Experiencing these psychological effects might affect your training, which could indirectly affect muscle building.
While steroids aren’t directly addictive, abuse happens because the users might love the effects that these substances are doing to their bodies and wish to achieve more.
Steroid abuse can lead to cancer, weaken the immune system, and cause internal bleeding, which may be fatal.
Although it isn’t fatal for all users, steroid abuse could easily lead to health, mental, and performance issues.
For some users, steroids can also lead to serious medical conditions. If these happen to you, not only can they affect your training but could also lead to possible muscle wasting, directly or indirectly:
- Liver disease
- Malfunction of the kidneys, heart, or liver
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Damage to the testicles or ovaries
- Involuntary and long-lasting erection
Stacking (using different drugs and pills together or in succession) is common among bodybuilders and other athletes. They experiment with these combinations in hopes of finding the best combinations for boosting performance and building their muscles.
Clinical trials using steroids and unsafe practices (like stacking) are limited. So, the dangers of mixing steroids with other steroids and drugs aren’t fully known.
However, these are some of the drugs that athletes might be using with steroids, even if the safety of these combinations remains unknown:
- Diuretics for fluid retention
- Amphetamines for increasing fat loss and counteract feelings of deep depression (but some can actually worsen depression)
- Beta-blockers for trembling
- Human growth hormones (e.g., hCG or human chorionic gonadotropin) for counteracting testicle shrinkage and stimulating the body’s natural testosterone production
Steroids work by imitating the natural effects of testosterone and possibly activating your body’s testosterone receptors. The stimulated receptors lead to a domino effect that triggers the body to increase muscle tissue production.
Although people who use steroids often experience a rapid increase in muscle strength, the steroids’ side effects on your body might also make them unsafe for muscle building – and some could even cause muscle damage.
No matter the bad publicity that steroids get, especially when it comes to media reports about athletes getting banned for using them, steroids remain popularly used.
WARNING: Remember that steroid use (or even possession) can land you in jail (with hefty fines!) in the US.
A number of athletes also had their stellar careers ruined due to allegations of steroid use. So, that’s also something you should watch out for if you’re planning on using steroids.
And though some studies claim that these allegations against steroids are mere ‘exaggerations,’ the authorities refuse to be swayed by these findings.
Plus, the higher doses often used by competitive athletes and bodybuilders are also linked to increased risks.
Even if lower, medically monitored steroid doses might be safer than these higher doses, there’s always a level of risk.
And while steroids might be safe for a certain population, such as men with low testosterone levels (and only when administered by a medical professional), we recommend consulting your doctor before using them.
Or you can also consider using legal steroids without side effects to get the same effects as the controlled steroids like Anavar, Dianabol, Winstrol, Anadrol, etc. but without the health implications and dangerous side effects.
Well, the jury is still out on whether steroids are safe or dangerous for muscle building, fitness, and athletic performance – but there is evidence that they can have harmful side effects. If you do decide to use steroids, be sure to do your research and take the necessary precautions to minimize any potential risks.
Joseph Tucker is a dietitian by profession and has years of experience in nutrition and fitness. He is passionate about helping others achieve their fitness and wellness goals, and he loves nothing more than spreading the gospel of health and nutrition all around the web. He’s also an expert contributor at MaxHealthLiving.com.