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Steroids 101

Anabolic steroids, technically known as anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), are drugs that are designed and developed to therapeutically treat muscle wasting conditions due to malnutrition or other factors. In the process, they also increase muscle growth considerably. And this muscle growing effect is what makes steroids the most valuable aid to anyone looking for a more muscular body. Basically, they do what we all want -- grow muscle, while burning fat.

Table of Contents

Steroids 101

The muscle building process associated with AAS is increased with the addition of weight training and high protein diet. That is due mostly to the “anabolic” nature, which enhances the properties of protein in order to repair muscle tissue and induce cellular growth. This is contrary to “internet wisdom” that all steroids are essentially growth drugs. There aren’t “cutting” steroids or “bulking steroids, Just some that produce more water weight gain than others. Steroids also increase appetite, which is another obvious advantage when looking to get bigger.

All anabolic steroids are structurally related to testosterone and attach to many of the same receptors as this hormone. That is where the “androgenic” component comes in and it’s that androgenic nature that increases strength and it’s also what causes the majority of side effects. These side effects are especially pronounced in women, who, when using steroids, can take on characteristics of men – a deepening voice, a thicker neck, increased body hair, acne, and even an enlargement of the clitoris to the point where it may look like a small penis.

The medical application for the androgenic qualities of steroids has been used in cases of young men who had delayed puberty. In more recent years, testosterone is used in older men, whose natural production has decreased, in order to maintain the health benefits of adequate androgen levels.

how steroids work

Fig 1. How Steroids Work

The History Of Steroids

An Empirical Belief in The Power of Testosterone

The desire to be better than we are is an innate quality to humans.  At a time when ones physical prowess was a matter of survival, it was the fastest and the strongest who prevailed.  As far back as the ancient Greek sports competitions, the competitors were looking for ways to get that extra edge with elixirs, herbs and whatever else might have helped.  In fact, even before hormones (specifically testosterone) was understood there was an empirical belief that males possessed something that made them bigger and stronger than women and that “something” came from the testicles. This led to all sorts of experimentation including eating animal testicles, preferably bulls, since they are considered among the strongest and most aggressive.

A couple of decades ago, the supplement “Ochic” was very popular among bodybuilders. Ochic is just desiccated bull testicle extract. There actually is a tiny bit of testosterone in testicular tissue, but by ingesting it orally, most would be destroyed in the digestive tract, making it essentially inert.  Herbal concoctions, such as Tongkat Ali and Fadogia Agrestis have been used for centuries throughout Europe, Asia and Africa with excellent success.  In modern day, they have been reintroduced to bodybuilders in supplement form.  This age old search for maximizing male strength and vitality led to much experimentation and ultimately to the discovery of steroids.

The First Experimental Medicine with Steroids

It wasn’t until 1849 that Adolf Bertold had the (somewhat quackish) notion of removing the testicles of one animal and surgically attaching them to another to see if the male characteristics could be transferred.  It didn’t work.  Credit for the first legitimate attempt to self-administer a steroid suspension goes to Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard, a British neurologist who, in 1856, was studying the effects of testicular extracts from dogs and guinea pigs.  He had a theory that the extract had revitalizing properties and might even prolong lifespan.  He eventually tested the extract on himself, and he reported the injections of extract as indeed having a rejuvenating effect on him. That, took balls. (Literally and figuratively).

German Scientists Deliver Synthetic Hormones

In 1931, a huge step forward was made by German Scientists who were able to identify an androgenic component in the blood (derived from urine) and make it into a purified indigestible form.  This was, in part, to be used by the Nazi army in an effort to create a “superman” race of enhanced soldiers in preparation for their attack on Europe.  The hormone they developed was called Androstenone (known as Andro in the 90s).  Yes, this is the same compound on which the first prohormone was later released in 1991.  Androstene was allowed to slip under the wire of being regarded as a “food supplement” because Androstenone was never technically classified as a drug.  It was actually thought of as a failed experiment since the effects were negligible, short lived and had more side effects than benefits.

Enter Testosterone Injections

In the months immediately following the Second World War, Androstenone use was discontinued.  As a replacement, scientists perfected a way to isolate the testosterone molecule (from cholesterol).  It was used to treat prisoners of war and concentration camp victims; in fact, it helped them regain strength and overcome malnutrition anemia and severe muscle wasting.  Incidentally, the chemist, Leo Ruzicka, who was mainly responsible for discovering how to synthesize the drug for human use, won a Nobel peace prize.  Imagine that – getting the world’s most prestigious honor for the invention of steroids. Those were certainly different times.

testosterone calories

Fig 2. Testosterone Chemical Structure

The Steroid Cold War for Olympic Dominance

It wasn’t more than a decade after the Second World War that the eyes of the world turned to the Russian Olympic team.  It became obvious the Russians were onto something when they began utterly dominating the Olympic games, annihilating the competition and breaking strength and speed records left and right.   They realized the potential of testosterone and were giving it to all of their athletes.

olympics steroids

Fig 3. Olympics and Steroids

In the Cold War years, that did not look good for the U.S.A, which prompted the government to step in hire a team of scientists to find a way to compete the Russians using similar chemical enhancement.  Thus, the modern steroid was born. In 1959, US Olympic weightlifting team physician John Bosley Ziegler invented the way to take the testosterone molecular and lessen the harsh androgenic effects and increase the anabolic effects.  He also discovered a way to put it in an oral form and used the method of 17 alpha alkylation, so that the drug would not be broken down by the liver.  It was pure genius.  The drug was, of course, Dianabol (Methandrostenolone). And to this day, it is considered by many to be the most effective steroid mg per mg.

Dianabol was considered so much of a success, it was readily prescribed for the treatment of fatigue, anemia, weight loss, poor appetite and jaundice.  But it was obvious to bodybuilders what its real potential was.  Dianabol did what every bodybuilder has been trying to do since the invention of the barbell, it built muscle. And it did it better and faster than anything else.  Keep in mind, the prescribed dosage at that time was 5-10 mgs a day for 2-4 weeks.

Over the years, steroids have undergone many changes, but they are all based on the original testosterone molecule.  One exception was Deca Durabolin (nandrolone decanoate) – going with the notion that if the androgenic component was removed entirely, so would the androgenic side effects.  This theory backfired somewhat, since without the androgenic effects, there is a distinct anti-androgenic effect; hence, the term “deca-dick', which is a euphemism for the loss of libido and erectile function when using deca.

Steroid Development For Performance Enhancement

Once bodybuilders discovered its miraculous benefits, the dosages of steroids quickly rose, and so did the side effects, most notably gynecomastia and liver damage (arising from the 17aa process which severely stresses the liver).  Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids have been a part of the Olympic games ever since. In fact, sprinter Ben Johnson was busted for using Winstrol (stanozolol) in 1988, sparking the US government to step in and work toward making steroids a controlled substance for Americans.  Johnson retaliated by claiming his rival Carl Lewis also took steroids.  But it was Johnson who tested positive and was stripped of his medal.  Incidentally, winstrol is the only steroid that comes in both oral and injectable form and is also the only steroid where the veterinarian and human version are the same drug.

The Science of Steroid Stacking

It seemed that whenever progress was made in one direction, there was a corresponding negative side effect.  Trenbolone, a steroid designed for cattle, is perhaps the most potent of all steroids and also one of the most toxic.  Primobolan, which is the least toxic, is also regarded as very weak requiring high dosages and the addition of a more androgenic steroid.  This is the reason for “stacking” steroids, to find that optimum balance.  However, most people have little rhyme or reason in their stacks. They simply stick a bunch of steroids together and think that the combination is more sophisticated than using just one or two.

Steroid Black Market

Steroids became classified as a controlled substance in the USA in the year 1991, which resulted in a “black market” of bootlegged and counterfeited drug dealing.   Fake steroids were as common as real ones and when you bought something from either a classified ad in the back of a muscle magazine or some guy in the locker room at the gym, you were taking a big chance as to whether the stuff was even real or sugar tablets.

real fake sustanon

Fig 4. Example - Fake (left) vs. Real (right) Sustanon 250 Organon

Mexican veterinarian steroids were very popular for years because of easy access across the border.  The wide product range really helped their popularity with athletes and bodybuilder.  These were made with holograms and batch numbers from the factory making it a lot harder to bootleg.

Post Prohibition

When the Internet exploded in the early 2000’s, access to foreign pharmacies and underground labs producing generic knock offs of the genuine drugs became far more prevalent.  It’s far more profitable to sell genuine steroids on an ongoing basis than to attempt to rip someone off and be found out and shut down after a few months, so availability is rarely a problem. Though it’s a good bet that most “home brewed” steroids are not quite the dosages that they claim to be.

As of this writing in 2015, it is almost impossible to find legitimate human grade steroids on the market as most of the steroids products in existence today are manufactured in underground laboratories, that are 100% clandestine and have no oversight.

The Future of Steroids

It’s fair to say that as long as people have the desire to be bigger, faster and stronger, be it for athletic competition or for personal use, steroid use will continue. All the good, the bad, the positive and the negative aspects of it.  How those drawbacks are controlled is entirely up to the individual and his or her understanding.

In recent years, there have been other advancements in anabolic enhancement such as peptides and SARMs.  With SARMs being the most like steroids, as these are molecular structures designed to attach to androgen receptors, thus creating many of the same beneficial effects of steroids.  These are truly your Steroids 2.0.  Since the performance enhancement benefits are vastly superior to any steroids ever produced, we are at a time when SARMS are being used by top level athletes all over the world.

Side Effects

Simply put, when used properly steroids will improve the appearance of ones muscularity. It’s common knowledge among the steroid using community that they are not nearly as dangerous as they’ve been presented in the media. The downside, there are many people without the proper understanding of how they work do not take the proper precautions when using them. All too often, these people use much higher dosages than are safe. This is mostly the result of ignorance and laziness. Without a solid foundation in the process of bodybuilding they expect the drugs to do all the work. That leads to more drug use which in turn slows the body’s ability to grow muscle naturally.

Steroids were first used as a “boost” to go beyond the natural limits of one’s muscularity. However, since they are so easily available via the internet, they’re become a crutch to all who don’t want to learn or work at building muscle naturally. In return, this has led to a new epidemic in steroid related casualties such as a non functioning hormonal system, (the inability for the body to produce testosterone on its own) impotence, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver damage (mainly from oral steroids), lowered HDL and increased LDL ,testicular atrophy and gynecomastia (swelling of the breasts). Some of these conditions can be prevented with proper nutritional support. One item that is popular with many steroid users is N2Guard. It contains many of the ingredients proven to combat the deleterious side effects of most steroids.

steroids side effects

Fig 5. Potential Steroid Side Effects

Stacks and Cycles

All steroids have both anabolic and androgenic qualities in various percentages. Those that are more anabolic, such as primobolan, tend to be considered “milder” but that isn’t always the case. For example, Halotestin is almost purely anabolic but is very liver and kidney toxic. On the other hand, Masteron is almost entirely androgen, yet it is relatively mild on your liver. At the same time, we have deca durabolin (nandrolone decanoate) that can be harsh and mild depending on dosage. For this reason, many bodybuilders choose to “stack” various combinations of steroids in order to get the balance they desire. This technique has been distorted to the point where many newbies think that stacking several compounds is necessarily to get results. As a result, they simply combine a random assortment of steroids in the hopes of achieving a particular result. Message board gurus will advise one way or the other, but in reality stacking more than 3 injectable steroids is overkill. You can simply use more of one or the other.

Oral steroids work faster, and are often used to “jumpstart” a steroid cycle; though, using orals for more than 6-8 weeks may result in liver damage.

*Want to learn more about steroid cycle? Click here for 100s of free cycle*


One of the biggest misconceptions regarding steroids is that they take weeks to begin working. Though it may be weeks before you start seeing the results, AAS work immediately. Faster acting esters, such as Testosterone Propionate, DO NOT bring faster results. They’re simply in the system faster at peak levels and then out of the system within a couple of days. Propionate esters need to be injected more often and tend to be more painful shots.

Alternatives to Steroids

For years, there have been attempts at making a side effect free alternative to steroids. This became enormously popular in the 1990’s after steroids, which were once legally prescribed for cosmetic purposes, were declared a controlled substance and no longer available. This was right after the big boon bodybuilding received with the release of the film “PUMPING IRON.” Suddenly, a new generation saw the appeal of muscle, and, at the same, time the substances that could help them achieve that goal was now declared dangerous and unlawful. Supplement manufacturers scrambled to sell alternatives – everything from glandular extracts to Yohimbe, to bee pollen. Some of these substances may have had an ergogenic benefit, but nothing came close to real steroids.


Today there are more supplemental steroid choices than ever, and more bogus ones as well. Products like OxandroVar and DianaBulk actually have active hormone in them that activate much of the same receptors that steroids like Oxandrolone and Dianabol do. Even the action of gaining lean mass on a caloric deficit can be achieved by using a Primobolan Depot analogue product like PrimobolDex.


There are even some products that replicate most of the main effects and benefits of steroids very well. A serious alternative to steroid use like Ostarine (MK-2866) is a perfect example of products designed to be used in-between cycles to still get the benefits of the drugs but without suppression or side effects. There are also products like Andarine (s-4) and Cardarine (GW-501516) that have been shown to increase natural gains, boost cardio shape and shed bodyfat. These sarms have become very popular for use after a cycle in order to maintain gains.


To keep your testicles from shirking during cycle, and to help you recover you natural testosterone production after a cycle, the staple product for all steroid users has been HCGenerate, the only product reported to grow a bodybuilder's balls back from atrophy within 3 days of use. The Fadogia Agrestis in HCGenerate has been shown to stimulate the Leydig cell in your testicles; thus, promoting the development of natural testosterone that’s excellent for use during a cycle to keep suppression to a minimum, and, after cycle, to get back to normal levels.


In the words of Dan Duchaine, the man who first wrote about steroids for bodybuilding applications; “Because the AMA was wrong about so many things, we thought they were wrong about everything. But we were wrong.” In other words, steroids are not the evil scourge that the media make them out to be, but they are not without their risks and potential hazards. As with anything powerful, they deserve to be treated with respect. They aren’t toys and they aren’t candy.

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Written by
Albert Wolfgang is a professional medical writer with over 20 years of experience. He hold multiple personal training certifications, including the coveted NASM and AFAA certificates. He graduated with honors with a B.S. and M.S. in biochemistry with a minor in physical studies. Albert and his team have trained over 100 IFBB professional bodybuilders, including Hollywood stars and many up and coming fitness stars.

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