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If drugs were to disappear from the bodybuilding scene, in what state would this leave the sport? How would the inevitable "down-sizing" of competitors' affect the marketability of what is essentially a pursuit of extremes?
Competitors and the paying public alike have increasingly puzzled over this dilemma as the sport has evolved into a quest to out-size the next guy, an activity where winning at all costs has become the main aim. In fact, never in the history of sport in general and bodybuilding in particular has there been a more contentious issue: drug use among the elite.
In many respects the lay public and, more disturbingly, the media, even tend to associate bodybuilding, and bodybuilders with drug use, like the two are somehow inextricably connected. The truth is, there are two definite camps on the issue: one that considers a drug-free approach the best option for all concerned, and those who support the individual's right to use every advantage to win.
While some feel that a drug-free stance would sanitise the sport to where it is more publicly accepted, thus helping to remove the sideshow status it is often encumbered with, others feel any professional sport has its risks and that all advantages must be taken to win at the highest level. And although anabolic drugs such as anabolic/androgenic steroids, insulin and Human Growth Hormone do help the bodybuilder to achieve their full potential as athletes, reported drawbacks to the use of such substances are sometimes thought to offset their beneficial effects.
For example, possible side effects including liver, cardiovascular and reproductive damage are thought to occur in some users of AA steroids, although compared to other harmful activities such as smoking and drinking the risk is said to be minimal.
Many even use various anabolic drugs for many years without experiencing any discernable adverse effects. On the other hand, there have been cases where pro bodybuilders have died relatively young. In such instances, drugs are inevitably cited as being the primary cause of death.
The jury is still open on both cases. One thing is for certain though: whether anabolic drugs do pose a major concern or whether they are relatively harmless if used sensibly, their health and ethical implications will be discussed and debated for years to come.
With the bewildering possibility of designer muscle and unprecedented growth through advances in genetic engineering and therapies such as Myostatin inhibition (Myostatin: a protein that inhibits muscle growth), we have not heard the last of drug use in bodybuilding.
So long as there is fame and fortune to be gained through the iron, athletes will seek to exploit every advantage. However, there will also be those on the other side who choose to make the most of what they were born with, win or lose.
The following interview presents compelling arguments from both sides of the debate as two of bodybuilding's finest - one a competitive IFBB professional and one top natural champion, Anthony Catanzaro - go head to head on the topic of drug use in bodybuilding.
[ Q ] Okay pro, is there a place for anabolic drugs such as steroids, insulin and Human Growth Hormone in bodybuilding?
[ Pro ] Sure there is. If used intelligently, drugs are necessary to build a close-to-perfect-physique that is so much loved by the bodybuilding crowd.
[ Q ] What are your thoughts on this Tony? Are drugs needed for bodybuilding glory?
[ Tony ] Just like in any sport, the goal is to reach the top. Bodybuilding is a sport where to be the best you have to be bigger and better than the guy you are competing against.
Bodybuilders will put their lives on the line in order to win. Drugs have become a necessity in bodybuilding and in many other sports today because that is where the money is. If you are the best, you will be paid for it and that's what it's all about in some of the athletes' minds.
I remain a natural because I'm not looking at the financial gains from endorsements for products I do not, or will never use.
Just because every pro uses them to be the best, why should I use them to be the best? The truth is you don't need them to be the best, look at the larger picture. Don't focus on the lake when there is an ocean behind you.
I want to leave a legacy behind me for others to follow. My goal has always been to inspire and motivate others to live a happy healthy lifestyle. Drugs are never the answer. Like I always say,
you have to first be a champion on the inside."
[ Q ] Pro. Tony says he feels money is the driving force behind a professional's choice to use bodybuilding drugs and that he is able to inspire others as a natural athlete. As one of the world's top bodybuilders, an IFBB professional, what is your response to this Pro?
[ Pro ] Drugs are not only prevalent in bodybuilding, but in almost all other pro, as well as amateur sports. And who would not want to win, especially when it involves money, as is the case in pro sport. A professional will do anything to win, and that involves taking performance-enhancing drugs.
To me, the reason I take drugs is not because of financial gains, but to see how far drugs can benefit me physically. I can still inspire and motivate people because my body is not super-human-sized, like many other pros. I dare say people would want to look like me if they see my photos. I am taking drugs sensibly, I am healthy and do have a body that inspires others also.
[ Q ] Pro. Other than wanting to see how far their use will take you physically, are there any other reasons behind your decision to use anabolic drugs to assist your bodybuilding efforts?
[ Pro ] I mainly started (taking drugs) because I wanted to see how much my body could improve after I reached a plateau, and could not respond no matter what I did in terms of training, diet and recuperation. But I only started my first cycle after seven years of consistent training.
[ Q ] And Tony, why have you chosen to stay natural?
[ Tony ] That is an easy one. I want to live to see my 50th birthday, healthy with no liver problems or kidney disease. Plus whatever I do affects my family, friends, and whoever I'm close to. So if they know I'm taking drugs to be where I am then what will stop them from taking drugs as well. You become a product of your environment.
[ Q ] Pro. Do anabolic drugs give you greater confidence compared to when you are on an off-cycle? Do you feel strong and healthy when on?
[ Pro ] Yes, I feel very energetic, strong and I am healthy when I am on the stuff (I do a full medical check up every six months). When I am off, I am weaker and a little smaller. I do not have an ego problem when I am using, nor do I lose self-confidence when I am off the stuff. My mind is very strong.
[ Q ] Tony. Do you think Pro's comments would be representative of steroid using pros in general?
[ Tony ] That's the whole thing with this stuff. It is artificial, starting from what it is made of and what it does. I can't speak for Pro, but I will say that drug-using pros are, in general, not very healthy. To me, strength comes from within and I don't need any enhancement to be the best.
The bottom line is drugs are drugs, whether they are prescribed by a doctor or not, they are still drugs. Doctors are the biggest drug dealers around. Doctors do not really have the answers. They are very scientific and they don't believe in the supernatural or the power of mind by and large.
The doctors believe in brain washing patients to believe that they need to be on something in order to be healthy. But the truth of the matter is doctors are not in the business to cure you, they are in business to treat you. That is the difference. We all should be our own doctors and learn all we can about our health.
[ Q ] Pro. Why do you think there are two separate camps on the issue of drugs in bodybuilding? Why is there a "for and against" debate?
[ Pro ] It is all about the individual's personal choice. Some may think steroids are very bad for them (health wise), like they would die if they take them, so they choose not to use them. It may also be due to ethical issues, whereas others may take them to bring their physique to the next level.
For those who use these drugs it is this little edge they look for to achieve their dream physique. They may also be better informed about the effects of steroids. In my opinion, if taken cautiously steroids have no negative side effects on health.
[ Q ] Do you agree on Pro's suggestion that steroids have no negative side effects Tony?
[ Tony ] Wow. It's true, it is up to the individual. But building your body with drugs is like cutting your nose to spite your face. Steroids are complete junk and the competitors know this, it is just that the gains that are made with them are so addicting, that it is hard not to fall into the trap, let's say.
I know that in the end there is only one concern and that is your health. So using steroids to build a dream physique will only turn into a nightmare in the future. I get emails all the time from guys that only did one cycle under doctor supervision, and now that they are off it, they are smaller and weaker than when they first started.
Taking steroids even once plants a seed that will take root and grow to affect you in time. It is like planting a virus in your computer: you may not know it is there, but it is doing its damage behind the scenes.
[ Q ] Pro. Do you think there will ever be a time where drugs are accepted in bodybuilding by a majority of fans and athletes? How would promoters, fans, athletes and the sport in general benefit from widespread drug use among the athletes?
[ Pro ] I am sure there will come a time when the majority in bodybuilding will accept drugs, a time when the general public are better informed about steroids and other anabolic substances. The promoters will get more ticket money (people want to see big, symmetrical physiques), fans will get what they want to see (they do not want to see skinny guys onstage competing) and athletes will get to achieve their dream physiques (big, ripped and proportioned) and maybe get more prize money from the promoters when the shows are running well.
[ Q ] As a natural bodybuilder Tony, do you feel that one day professional bodybuilding may become completely natural? What would happen if there were a heavily enforced, blanket ban on all anabolic drug use in bodybuilding?
[ Tony ] Well let's put it this way: the pros would all have to buy new clothes.
If drugs were banned completely, and if athletes were heavily and honestly tested, the world of bodybuilding and sports would really take off in my opinion.
For example, if a normal everyday person who does not understand the world of bodybuilding were to turn on the television and see guys like Ronnie and Jay they would say, "oh my god, that's disgusting." Now I am just being honest here, this is what they would say. I know because most of the world is ignorant to what bodybuilding is on a professional level. And nobody watching would say, "I want to look like a professional bodybuilder."
Click Image To Enlarge.
Jay & Ronnie & The 2006 Olympia.
View More Pics From The 2006 Olympia Pre-Judging Here.
Now if that same, everyday person was watching a bikini pageant or a male swimsuit pageant they would be more inclined to want the look presented there.
What I'm trying to say is the world of drug bodybuilding will never be accepted because it is a freak show to most of the world. If bodybuilding took a natural approach and if a guy like me was made Mr. Olympia, it would inspire many more people to pursue it. One day the sport will understand that bigger is not always better.
[ Q ] Pro. How would you respond to what Tony has just said? Will professional bodybuilding ever be natural?
[ Pro ] There is no way a pro bodybuilder could be completely natural. It is impossible to be competitive as an all time natural in pro shows. If there were a complete ban on all steroids in pro bodybuilding, then the competitors would be a lot smaller and less ripped and the promoters would lose the crowd.
True, drug abuse in pro bodybuilding is getting out of control and we probably do need some restraints. I still think they (the IFBB) should do something about the emphasis on freakiness. In my opinion, what inspires others is a physique that is hard enough to get, but attainable.
I have a physique that is not too big, like the mass monsters we are seeing more often nowadays, but bigger than lifetime drug-free bodybuilders. To achieve such a physique requires taking drugs, but within limits.
[ Q ] Pro has said there is no way a professional bodybuilder could be completely natural. In your view, Tony, should anabolic drug use be permitted in bodybuilding competition, as perhaps an option strictly reserved for pro athletes? Do you think, from a competitive standpoint, promoters, fans, athletes and the sport in general would stand to gain from any degree of drug use among the athletes?
[ Tony ] I truly feel that anabolic drugs should not be part of bodybuilding or any sport - period.
Look, the whole purpose of bodybuilding is building the body to be stronger healthier. So how can one do this if they are in a hospital bed from the use of steroids?
The world of competitive bodybuilding, to me, has become a freak show. There is no way in hell anybody off the street would want to look like these guys. It is just too much. Most of them are all out of proportion for their height. For instance, Arnold was his best at around 240 lbs on stage but he was 6'2".
Nowadays, the bodybuilders that are 240 are 5'6" and personally to me they look like crap. Yes I know this is my opinion, but lets face it, if you put 100 pounds of meat in a 25lb bag, what's that bag going to look like? When is enough, enough?
Bodybuilders have to understand this, and this comes straight out of Anthony Catanzaro's mouth: bigger muscles do not mean better muscles. It is all about balance and proportion, and you definitely don't need drugs for that.
It is a shame that competitive bodybuilding makes money on holding what I like to call freak shows instead of bodybuilding shows. But this is the road it has chosen and I truly feel that one day the competitors will realize it is just not worth the damage they are doing to themselves, just for a plastic trophy, some money and a pat on the back.
To me, the real champions are the guys willing to stay natural and true to their bodies. It is funny, but we all plant seeds in one another.
I'm happy to say that I planted a seed of trueness in other's by being a lifetime natural bodybuilder, and you can't beat that - even with drugs.
[ Q ] So how would an all-natural stance improve the sport Tony?
[ Tony ] It (an all natural stance) would generate many more bodybuilding fans around the world because the bottom line is bodybuilding started out with people wanting to make their muscles bigger and stronger and healthier. This results in the muscles looking beautiful as well.
For example, diamonds are the most beautiful creations to come from earth as rock, but it has to first be formed, cut and polished into perfection.
The diamond cutter examines the diamond and turns the rock into something truly amazing.
You see, it takes time and effort to build something beautiful, they say diamonds are forever, and so should be your work of art, your body sculpted and carved naturally just like that diamond.
[ Q ] Pro. Anabolic drugs are often cited as being health damaging. Is this reputation deserved?
[ Pro ] This way of thinking is completely false. If used intelligently, anabolic steroids are not harmful to one's health.
[ Q ] Do you agree Tony?
[ Tony ] Drugs will never make you healthy, I can guarantee you that. I know I lost my mother to cancer, and I know that drugs can keep you alive, but they can never help you to live a normal, balanced life.
You have to understand something: drugs are man-made-substances. They do not come out of the ground or from a tree, like fruits and vegetables do. You see, God made everything we need in life for us to survive a healthy long existence.
There are more people on depression medication now then ever before. Well then, why are there more depressed people in the world than ever before? There are more drugs to fight disease than ever before, so why are there more people dying of disease each day.
Remember this: drugs are never the answer to the problem; they are the problem.
[ Q ] So how does it feel to be a drug free, all-natural champion Tony? Do you sometimes wonder what it would feel like to use anabolic drugs? Have you ever been tempted to use these substances?
[ Tony ] Being a natural champion is all I know, and all I will ever know.
I would never consider taking drugs to better my physique and performance.
[ Q ] Pro. Some say that professional bodybuilders contradict themselves, as they use drugs, yet are involved in what is essentially a healthy activity? How would a bodybuilder justify drug use when aiming building a healthy, attractive physique?
[ Pro ] True, bodybuilding is viewed as a healthy sport, but drug use is widespread in this sport and in all other sports as well. It is not necessarily bad for one's health though.
Again, it is the wrong perception the public have regarding drugs or ergogenic aids. If one weight trains, does cardio, and follows a healthy diet, and does not abuse anabolic steroids and other bodybuilding drugs, in my opinion they will be as healthy as if they were completely natural.
[ Q ] Tony. Pro has just made a pretty big statement. Does the public have the wrong perception regarding drug use in bodybuilding? Is it not contradictory for bodybuilders to be using drugs?
[ Tony ] This is really sad. True, the public is usually always ignorant and, yes, it is good to learn all you can about the drugs you are taking, but at the same time who wants to know about the devil? I don't even want to look his way. I know that all good healthy and wonderful things come from God, and drugs are not one of them. Like I always say,
if it comes from the devil throw it away."
Unfortunately, kids today who are just starting out do not understand the whole concept behind bodybuilding. They look at a guy with muscles like myself, and just think, yes he's on drugs and in order for me to look like him I have to be on drugs too. This stems from a lack of knowledge and patience on their part.
I do not think the public has a very good understanding of what exactly goes into a world-class physique, but I do think it is a contradiction for bodybuilders to be using harmful drugs when they are supposed to be improving themselves.
No, I'm not on drugs, nor have I ever been. To this day I don't even know what they even look like. I wish drugs would just disappear in general, not just from the bodybuilding community but in the world of prescription and non-prescription medicine as well.
Its funny: drug dealers and users are thrown in jail, but if you think about it most of the world is on some type of drug, and the doctors and pharmacies are the biggest drug dealers and pushers of them all. But people do not look at it like that. They think because it is legal and prescribed by a doctor, that it is fine. We need to open our eyes and realise what is going on in the world today and that drug use is spiralling out of control.
[ Q ] Tony. Pro is pretty adamant that performance drugs, if used correctly, will not harm the bodybuilder. It does seem the bodybuilding community is divided on both the health and ethical implications of using anabolic drugs to gain a muscle-building advantage. Why do you think there is this division? What do you think are people's motivations for using drugs or remaining natural?
[ Tony ] Like I always say, I never question what a man or woman does for a living in order to pay the bills. Unfortunately, money is like the devil in this case. The drug users know the risks and downsides, but the money is root of all evil.
I'm sure there have been cases where bodybuilders who have started out natural and never thought about using drugs. But as time went on and the competition got harder, they were tempted because unfortunately in this sport there is no financial reward for being natural, crazy but true.
For example take a look at all the muscle-building products drug-taking bodybuilders endorse.
I always said that I am before my time. One day I feel that natural bodybuilding will become larger than what it is now. It seems to me that the drug using bodybuilders are starting to understand themselves that the money is not worth the health problems.
[ Q ] That being said Tony, would the pro champions of today still be champions if bodybuilding were totally drug free? What other qualities are needed to make a champion?
[ Tony ] If the pro's today were no longer on growth hormones they would no longer be champions in that form of competition. They would be downsized.
I have seen drug bodybuilders come off the drugs and shrink so much that you couldn't even recognize them. It is like taking the air out of a balloon and just watching them shrink to less than what they stared with. Yes, this is the truth.
I have had guys come up to me and ask me what they could do because they are smaller and weaker now than when they were before they even started. Scary isn't it. Bodybuilders of today need a lot of different qualities such as perseverance and determination. Drugs will not compensate for a lack of these qualities.
[ Q ] Do you agree Pro? Are drugs needed? Would the pros become downsized as Tony has said?
[ Pro ] Sure, this would be the case. But with or without drugs, dedication, discipline, drive and will power and talent are still necessary qualities needed to make a champion. Drugs are no magic pills. Also, without anabolic drugs a pro bodybuilder would be downsized, but remember, it is more than drug use that makes a champion.
Training, nutrition and recuperation are equally as important. Concerning the loss in size bodybuilders are thought to experience, it all depends on how a bodybuilder goes off drugs.
If it is done correctly by slowly tapering off, and modifying their training and nutrition, one would keep many of the gains obtained from drugs, even during an off cycle. Again, you need knowledge about what you are doing. Know what you are putting in your body, its effects either good or bad, and when and how to do an on or off cycle.
[ Q ] But there have been times where drug-free athletes have attained steroid-like results. Does this not bring into question the need for drug use among all bodybuilding athletes?
[ Pro ] All champions possess tremendous will power; discipline and dedication and anabolic steroids can only build on these qualities to make a champion. I think some bodybuilders can definitely get amazing results without drugs.
[ Q ] Same question for you Tony. Are drugs a necessity for bodybuilding success among all bodybuilders at the high end?
[ Tony ] As far as the level of impact drugs would make on a bodybuilder, it would have a lot to do with his or her genetics for one. I would never turn into Ronnie Coleman if I took them. I do not have his genetics. The other main aspects would be diet and training.
Yes, guys who have trained natural and made great progress, like myself, have made their tremendous natural gains by training hard and eating right.
But no, a champion is not made with drugs; a champion is made with heart.
[ Q ] Pro. Let's say a beginning bodybuilder has weighed the information presented here and has decided to begin a cycle. What advice would you give? How would you balance your answer to give them advice on safety while highlighting the benefits these substances can have for them as bodybuilders?
[ Pro ] Start slow. Take the mild types and follow on and off cycles. Do get regular medical check-ups. Drugs are not magic pills though. Training, diet and recuperation are equally as important. If all these were followed in a first cycle, the bodybuilder would be stronger physically, have better recuperation and of course build bigger muscles while improving self-esteem.
[ Q ] Same question. What advice would you give Tony?
[ Tony ] Like I always say, "If you're in a car with someone who is going nowhere you can always get out and take the bus."
You don't need to take drugs to achieve a head turning physique. When I was a kid and first started out, I used to say to myself, "I know I can do this naturally if I work hard and commit myself." I look back today and would never change that decision for anything.
Life isn't easy. It takes great power and will to achieve the greatest in not only the physical but the mental as well. To me, drugs are poison not only for the body but the mind as well.
Remember this: if you stay natural to yourself, there is nothing in this world you can't accomplish. God has given us everything we need to be the best. God did not make drugs, man made drugs.
I know you can be the best if you believe you're the best. Remember a champion is nothing unless he is a champion on the inside as well. Look into your heart to find the champion in you and know that there's no drug on earth that can give you what God has already given you. Stay true to yourself and true to your body.
Steroid Forum Discussions:
[ Q ] Thank you Tony and Pro for this excellent debate. I know the public will be better informed as a result.
- Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine. (1998). Anabolic Steroids: Side Effects. [Online]
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