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Professional bodybuilders often talk freely about their nutritional, training and supplementation programs, aspects of bodybuilding that are of critical importance to their success onstage. One subject that is not often discussed is the role anabolic/androgenic steroids play in "assisting" gains in muscle size and conditioning at the pro level.
Many pro bodybuilders are reticent about their association with various steroids and other anabolic substances, although the fans and administrators know these enhancers are widely used to the point where there is now, and has been for quite some time, a reliance on these drugs among users who desire competitive equality.
Given the lack of discussion on AA steroids, one might be led to think they are not entirely necessary for competitive success, that they don't have any special growth enhancing properties.
Although it is true that a great physique can be developed without the use of AA steroids, as diet, training and recovery remain the essential components of any good bodybuilding program, AA steroids do facilitate gains in muscle through their ability to promote greater recovery and increased protein synthesis, and through their anti-catabolic properties.
AA steroids are synthetic (lab produced) forms of the male sex hormone testosterone. Anabolic refers to their tissue building properties (accelerated growth of muscle, bone and red blood cells, and enhanced neural conduction); while Androgenic describes the masculinizing effects they have on the body (enlargement of testes and penis, voice changes, hair growth on the face and increased aggressiveness).
They are used in medicine to treat conditions that occur when the body produces an abnormally low level of testosterone - delayed puberty and impotence being two such conditions. AA steroids exert their muscle-building effects by activating specific genes to produce proteins, through their stimulatory effects on special receptor molecules found in muscle cells.
They also increase protein synthesis by enhancing the activation rate of enzyme systems involved in protein metabolism, thereby inhibiting protein degradation and promoting protein synthesis. In addition to AA steroids anti-catabolic effects, users have reported, and researchers have speculated, that these substances profoundly increase feelings of well-being, euphoria, increased aggressiveness and tolerance to stress, thus allowing the user to train harder and sustain motivation levels for longer periods.
These increased psychosomatic effects are even thought to underpin the positive actions of AA steroids - more so than their physiological effects.
A seemingly never-ending source of controversy, the use of AA steroids remains a taboo subject in the sporting world. Given mixed reports regarding their effectiveness and safety (some users report various side effects ranging from acne through to anger problems), AA steroids remain on the margins of what is regarded as acceptable sporting practice.
Many feel AA steroids are required to be at ones best in the ultra-competitive world of professional sport, while others feel they are damaging substances used by cheats to gain an unfair advantage. Whatever the case, AA steroids have become an entrenched part of sport.
Professional bodybuilders, notorious for their use of AA steroids due to the overt results these drugs have on their physiques (compared to other steroid using sports where they are taken for performance gains, not pure muscle size), balance the dilemma associated with their choice to use with the consequences of not using: falling behind in the competitive placing's and sacrificing bodybuilding-related career opportunities due to a less "marketable" physique.
Although it is widely thought all pro bodybuilders use AA steroids to assist their careers, the athletes themselves generally do not talk about such matters. I recently spoke to one professional bodybuilder and he shared with me his AA steroid history, in addition to why he made the choice to use, on the proviso his name and identity are not revealed.
In the following interview, which is intended for educational and entertainment purposes only, our featured pro reveals all about his association with AA steroids and provides a rare glimpse into a side of bodybuilding seldom read about in the magazines.
Q I understand you are currently on an off-cycle. How long do you stay on a cycle? Do you increase the dosages or taper off?
Yes, I am now on an off-cycle. My last cycle was two months ago. I took 500mg of Sustanon a week and 30mg of Dianabol on training days. Before going on an off-cycle I increased my dosage before tapering off and cutting my intake completely.
Q Would this dosage be considered a large, small of moderate level for a pro bodybuilder? Have you ever been tempted to increase your intake of steroids?
500mg of Sustanon and 30mg of D'bol (Dianabol) would be considered a moderate dosage for me. As a professional bodybuilder my dosages are considered very low, compared to other pros. For instance, the most testosterone I have ever taken is 1,250mg a week and this is considered nothing since I am a pro. I am not tempted to take more than that because health is still my main priority.
Q What have you found to be the best on-cycle strategy, and why?
I would normally stay on a cycle for 12 weeks. I increase my dosage and taper off. The best thing is to increase the dosage slowly for the body to adapt, and taper off slowly to keep the gains obtained from the cycle. That is the strategy that works best for me.
Q When, and for how long do you have an off-cycle?
As mentioned, I am doing an off cycle now and it will last for 12 weeks.
Q Why do you do an off cycle? What are the benefits of an off cycle?
I do off cycle for health purposes, and to get bigger physically in the long run. Off cycles are needed for the body to reproduce its own testosterone - endogenous testosterone will be shut down during a steroid cycle when testosterone is taken - and to give the liver and other organs in my body a "break."
An off cycle is also important to prevent receptor saturation. This usually occurs if a cycle is taken for a long period of time. When the receptors are "free," they will respond better to steroids in a new cycle.
Q How does your training change between cycles?
When I am on a cycle, I am a lot stronger. Hence, I train as heavy as possible, but with good form. Also, I train six days a week because when I am on a cycle it is less likely I will overtrain. On an off cycle I will train lighter and do four days a week routine.
Q What steroid do you find best for gains in size and strength?
For me its Sustanon - best for size and strength gains because it is a testosterone (a combination of four different types of test from short acting to long acting) and I think together they work in a synergistic fashion.
When describing testosterone, short acting to long acting refers to the affect a particular drug has on the body: Short acting means the body reacts quickly and normally to the steroid - it also stays in the system for a short period of time. Long acting means it takes a longer time for the body to react and usually it stays in the system for a longer time.
Q What steroid do you use for cutting up? What kinds of results does this give you?
I use Winstrol V, Anavar and Halotestin for cutting up and they work wonders.
Anabol (Dianabol) Is Pink & Stanabol (Winstrol) Is Yellow.
Q Since you have been on steroids, what kind of gains have you made? Do you keep these gains when you go on an off-cycle?
Since I started my first cycle I have gained about 40lbs of pure muscle - all this in the space of nine years. In my first contest I weighed 180lbs and at my last pro show I came in at 220lbs. Beside that I have been a lot stronger too. I kept most of my gains (muscle and strength) when I was on an off cycle.
Q Have you experienced any side effects while on steroids? What have they been and how do you deal with these?
I do medical checkups every four to five months and so far my health is excellent. The only side effect I have when I am on the juice is acne on my face and shoulders. I usually take antibiotic such as Accutane to treat this problem.
Q Many users report depression when they go off steroids and their weight drops as a result. Do you get depressed on an off-cycle, when your weight drops?
I do not get depressed when my weight drops during an off cycle. Self-confidence is very important in this respect, as I believe that I will get even stronger and bigger when I begin my next cycle. It is only a temporary period and I am looking at the big picture. What happens in the long run is more important to me.
Q Do you get water retention problems from steroid use? How do you deal with these?
Excessive water retention is usually not a problem for me during a cycle in the off-season, because I eat pretty clean. Nolvadex should be taken when one is holding too much water during a cycle.
Q What are the main advantages of taking steroids? Why do users take the risk?
The main advantage of taking a steroid is it enhances one's performance significantly. The athlete gets significantly bigger - all muscle weight - and stronger. Steroids also improve endurance levels in those who use. The benefits of steroid use far exceed the risk involved if one takes it cautiously - has a good knowledge of steroids, or is guided by a professional such as a doctor.
Q For someone starting on steroids, what are some recommendations to ensure safety?
For someone starting on steroids, make sure he is taking the ones that are very mild on the body like Anavar and a little testosterone. Take the minimum dosages and the cycle should be as brief as possible - about 4-6 weeks - before following an off cycle. If injecting, make sure to get a doctor to do it - it can be done as a matter of course in some countries - to ensure cleanliness and safety.
Q Steroids have received their share of negative publicity as of late. Do you think this publicity is warranted? Morally speaking, what are your views steroids as performance enhancers?
In pro sport there is often a lot of money involved. A professional athlete makes his or her living from their sport, and professional sport, by its very nature, is extremely competitive. Therefore, these athletes will do anything possible to win and this likely means taking steroids.
Q What are your views on steroid use in bodybuilding? Would you like to see them banned, or are they needed to keep the sport alive?
In my opinion, steroids should not be banned in bodybuilding because if this happens the crowd will be lost - especially at the professional level. People pay to see huge, ripped bodybuilders competing.
Q What do you think about natural bodybuilding? Is this an oxymoron?
There is no natural bodybuilding really, as the natural federations have their share of steroid users. Some of these so-called natural bodybuilders are pretty big and shredded and there is no way they could have achieved these physiques naturally.
Q How long will you continue using steroids? When you stop, will you continue bodybuilding?
I will keep using steroids as long as I am competing, but I will use them intelligently. I will still pump iron for fitness purposes when I retire from bodybuilding, at which time I will stop taking steroids.
David Robson and Bodybuilding.com in no way condone or encourage the use of Anabolic/Androgenic steroids. This article is intended for educational and entertainment purposes only and should not be used as a reference guide. AA steroids are legally available only by prescription.
American Medical Association, Council on Scientific Affairs. Medical and non-medical uses of anabolic-androgenic steroids. J. Amer. Med. Assoc. 264: 2923-2927, 1990.
Rogozkin, V. Metabolism of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids. Leningrad: Nauka, 1988.
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