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Here’s Why You Should Never Dope in Weight Training

It sounds great, right? Massive muscle growth, less body fat, shorter recovery times. But there’s a catch. Anabolic steroids can really mess with your body. Here’s why you should never dope in weight training.

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Wow, what a chest! And the shoulders… The new colleague in the gym could easily rival Hulk. He trains like a superhero. How manages he accomplishes that? “Anabolic steroids are believed to be regularly used by between 400,000 and 700,000 people worldwide,” says Cologne Sport University Department of Molecular and Cellular Sports Medicine Professor Dr. Patrick Rene Diel. The expert has led numerous studies on the use and implications of steroids anabolic. If you think the number of doping users is enormous, you should first look at the results that can be achieved with artificial training boosters—namely the risks and side effects. You don’t need to ask your doctor or pharmacist, just read on.

What are anabolic steroids?

The biochemist says, “Anabolic steroids are all pharmacological substances that have a muscle-building effect.” In most cases, these steroids are anabolic ones. “These are testosterone, the hormone associated with male sex, modified synthetically.” says Diel. But there are also doping agents that are similar to adrenaline in terms of their properties. The expert explains, “We use these beta-2 agonists as asthma medication, and one side effect is that they increase protein biosynthesis.” Therefore, they accelerate muscle building.

The best-known substance is clenbuterol. The use of clenbuterol in calf fattening, as well as its discovery in professional athletes Katrin Krabbe in 1992 and Tour de France winner Alberto Contador in 2010, contributed to its negative reputation. “There are also a number of new pharmacological substances, all of which can also be described as anabolic steroids. In the world of doping, however, anabolic steroids are still the most commonly used,” the scientist points out. A study from the Center for Preventive Doping Research at the SpoHo Cologne supports Diel’s statement. According to the report, “appearance and performance-enhancing drugs” (APEDs) were utilized by 87% of people.

So, how do anabolic steroids work?

They work by simulating hormone actions. As the biologist explains, anabolic steroids switch on protein biosynthesis in the cells and tissues, which results in an anabolic (muscle-building) effect. This means that the doper gains massive muscle mass in a very short time, with 3 to 4 kilograms gained in 6 weeks being pretty common (for comparison, it usually takes a year of clean training to gain 1 to 1.5 kilograms). However, if the consumer trains hard enough at the same time, the mass only grows. No problem, because anabolic steroids also make you stronger-willed and more aggressive. This is great for using large-weight plates. Additionally, the trainee’s body fat percentage decreases and their muscles recover faster after a session than if they hadn’t used the substance. This is why they’re not only useful for weight training but also for endurance and team sports. To understand the effect, it’s important to know that testosterone, a natural sex hormone, has two properties: anabolic and androgenic. The androgenic property regulates sperm formation and beard growth, among other things.

Why are anabolic steroids so dangerous?

But anabolic steroids don’t only have positive effects! In fact, the negative effects outweigh the positive ones, so it’s best to avoid them. “In order for the muscle-building effect of anabolic steroids to take effect, very high doses of the substances are required; for giga biceps, the trainee has to take giga quantities,” says the expert. Remember, the biochemist advises that the dose a doper takes to build muscle is typically 100 to 500 times higher than the recommended dosage for pharmacologically applied therapy. For comparison, think of a headache tablet. The package insert suggests that you may take up to four tablets daily. Then, as a doper, you would take 400 to 2,000 tablets. Sure, you’d probably die right away, but with anabolic steroids, this isn’t the case.

Diel says there are three types of side effects: acute, medium-term, and long-term. Most people don’t even notice the acute effects because taking high doses of artificial testosterone stops the body from making its own testosterone. This also stops the production of sperm in the testicles, essentially eliminating the risk of unwanted paternity. It’s possible to reverse the inability to conceive after you stop taking anabolic steroids, but it doesn’t always work.

What are the long-term health effects?

Acne is something that most consumers can clearly feel and see. Having thick muscles like an ox, but a face that looks like a pubescent calf? Not so great. What about nose hair that grows all the way down to the ground, and head hair that falls out completely? Not ideal. High doses of anabolic steroids put extreme strain on the liver in the medium and long term because they also break down these hormones again, according to the expert. Drinking three bottles of gin a day would be just as bad for your liver in the long run. The effects on your heart are even more severe and potentially life-threatening. “This is also a muscle that reacts to anabolic steroids with hypertrophy and asymmetrically,” explains Diel. That’s why it’s dangerous. The best example is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has already had several heart valve operations. Weightlifting puts a lot of strain on the heart because of the high fluctuations in blood pressure. If anabolic steroids also cause enlargement, they can cause irreversible damage that remains uncured even after cessation. This can then put you out of action for good. Withdrawal symptoms such as depression, sleep disorders, sexual aversion, and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon.

Is it true that men can grow breasts through doping?

Yes, this is not just an old wives’ tale. To understand why, let me give you some information first: The female sex hormone oestradiol shares a close relationship with the male sex hormone testosterone. Men and women both produce these hormones, and their weight determines their sex. Although women also produce testosterone, they convert 80 percent of it into oestradiol. Men, on the other hand, only convert 20 percent. That adds up to a lot for a man who has 500 times more testosterone than normal in his blood. “A guy who takes testosterone in gel form sometimes has a higher estrogen level than a woman,” says the scientist. So it’s no wonder that some bodybuilders with an affinity for doping grow ample breasts. Because very few want this and because it also significantly increases the risk of breast cancer, dopers try to prevent the conversion of testosterone by taking certain drugs. These block the aromatase enzyme that’s responsible for the conversion. It’s pretty common in the scene to take more than one substance at a time. The type of training phase often determines what and how much. According to the expert, there’s a ton of literature on this, the so-called Black Books. They contain really sophisticated plans on what the consumer takes when, how to combine it, and how to keep the side effects under control. “We’ve already had study participants in whom we were able to detect nine different substances in their blood,” says Diel.

What form do anabolic steroids take?

You probably think of an injection. The idea is not wrong, but it’s incomplete. A doping expert stated, “You can inject some anabolic steroids, take some orally, but you can also absorb testosterone through the skin.” In other words, you can also dope yourself by applying so-called testogel to your skin. “The expert originally developed the gel for older men suffering from testosterone deficiency.” One of the many issues is that, if the product has not yet fully absorbed, the user can also use it to supply his partner with male sex hormones. All it takes is some clothing-free cuddling. Diel acknowledges the widespread use of this gel in the bodybuilding scene, but cautions that a young, healthy man with sufficient testosterone may experience numerous side effects. The gastrointestinal tract loses the effect of testosterone, which is why people tend to cream or inject it instead. Chemical modification has kept the effect of anabolic steroids in tablet form as high as possible, even after digestion.

When did the use of anabolic steroids become illegal?

Since the end of 2015, there’s been an anti-doping law that makes the use of anabolic steroids a criminal offense—if there’s no medical reason for their use. “It’s always been illegal to sell such substances, as they all fall under the Medicines Act,” says the biochemist. However, anyone who obtained and used a substance in any way didn’t commit a criminal offense in the past. The expert explains, “So, we didn’t prosecute athletes who used it in competition as criminals, but only sanctioned them according to the associations’ rules.” The challenge in detecting testogel lies in distinguishing artificial testosterone from the body’s natural testosterone, which is nearly indistinguishable. However, achieving this requires significant effort. The recreational sector is, therefore, a big gray area. Why should we regulate those who ingest chemical substances for their own enjoyment? Who should be responsible for that? However, if a doper is caught at a police checkpoint with a substance, criminal charges can be brought in certain circumstances.

Can you tell if someone is taking anabolic steroids?

Yes, and most dopers can be identified with a quick glance. There is a high degree of assurance that doping is involved when an individual has abnormally large biceps or, even more obviously, thighs. Results vary by 20–30 kg in terms of muscle mass, even when training is parallel. In order to be safe, it is best to calculate the FFMI. Your height, weight, and body fat percentage will be required for this task. “Incorrect fat-free mass to total weight ratios will cause male to have FFMI over 25, which is physiologically impossible,” says Diel.

How do amateur athletes get their hands on these products?

It’s easier than you’d think. “You do need a prescription, but these athletes can get one. And of course there are people who pass on the drugs without a prescription,” says the scene expert. Furthermore, you can order anabolic steroids online, just like you would a new pair of training pants. “The dealer will send them directly from China by airmail,” says Diel with an ironic undertone. Upon opening the package, a rare occurrence considering the volume of shipments, customs discovers substances labeled as natural products of traditional Chinese medicine. “Even if they are in fact high-grade anabolic steroids, a chemical analysis must first prove this,” says the professor.

What are the benefits of training cleanly?

The biggest benefit is that you stay healthy. You avoid the numerous side effects that occur when taking anabolic steroids. You can also be proud of your real achievements and compete fairly. If you ever want to take the stage, contests in the natural bodybuilding scene require that you haven’t taken anything for at least 7 years. Other organizations rely on lifelong cleanliness. They conduct tests using blood, hair, and urine analyses. Sometimes also with lie detectors.

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There’s one simple rule with anabolic steroids: don’t use them. The side effects of artificial testosterone and other substances like adrenaline replicas are much worse than any muscle gains. In addition to infertility, acne, and hair loss, there’s a lot of liver damage and serious heart problems that can even lead to death.

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