In 1968 Jackson Bowling, a writer for bodybuilding magazine Muscular Development set out to clear up any misconceptions about the growing trend of anabolic steroids in bodybuilding. Jackson’s advice? Use them sparingly and under the supervision of a doctor. Fascinating to think that in less than 50 years Steroids have gone from being relatively unknown in bodybuilding to widespread.
Bodybuilders and athletes alike are hearing more and more about the “new” tissue drugs and anabolic steroids, but down to earth facts and information has been hard to come by.
Just what are these steroids? Are they harmful? Do they really work the miracles some claim ? These are but a few of the many questions that more and more weight trainees are asking, and this article hopes to give the answers in plain, every day terms.
In the first place, the anabolic steroids you’ve been hearing so much about aren’t “new.” For some years geriatric physicians have been using them as an aid to weight gaining in cases of elderly men and women whose bodies are just too worn-out to respond to normal diets.
Just how do steroids work? In spite of complicated and sometimes conflicting material written on them, the steroid principle is fairly simple. Anabolic steroids take their name from the anabolic rate of our bodies. This is the term given to the rate at which our bodies create or renew cell and muscle tissue.
The opposite of the anabolic or creative rate is the catabolic rate, the rate at which cells and tissue “wear out” in our bodies.
Many factors enter into determining the anabolic and catabolic rates in our bodies, among them the type and quality of our diets, the presence or absence of disease, amount of calories consumed, basal metabolism, and amount of healthful exercise given the body.
When a person neither gains nor loses weight, it’s a good bet his anabolic and catabolic rates are fairly well balanced, and the body is replacing and renewing cells and tissue at about the same rate they are wearing out and breaking down.
When a person gains weight, his anabolic rate is going to be somewhat higher than the catabolic rate. Likewise, when weight is lost under normal conditions, the catabolic rate of breakdown is on the upswing.
These occurrences are all natural factors; they do not require steroids. These steroids do nothing more than artificially force the body to create, build or renew cells and tissues at a far faster rate than they are wearing out. Always remember, however, that this is an artificial rate, a rate far outside the normal range of our bodies.
In this sense, steroids do work; that is, they tend to produce weight gain. There is a catch, though, and the catch is this: no two people will react exactly the same to a steroid program. Some will gain, a few may even lose, and some may suffer ill effects from the presence of the steroids in their systems.
To make matters worse, all too often men (even women) will attempt to use these steroids without supervision of a physician, and this supervision is a must, because only by a preliminary examination and lab testing can it be determined if a person is a good subject for steroid use.
When a brief examination and testing has been completed, a doctor will normally be able to predict the probable effect of steroids on the individual patient, and he will be able to accurately figure the safest dosage and frequency. Most certainly no reputable physician will simply issue a number of steroid pills and leave it to the patient to determine his own dosage.
It might be well to mention here that steroids are and have always been more for the use of the sick and the the elderly than for the young and the healthy. Many physicians prefer not to administer a program of steroids unless ill health itself makes it necessary. No doctor worthy of the name is going to let the patient himself call the shots, so the first and most important thing to remember, if you are considering steroids, to to consult a reputable physician and do as he advises.
What might the doctor advise? What program might he approve for a lifter or bodybuilder? This could vary with the individual physician, but in general, most will want to keep the length of the program as brief as possible and the dosage as low as possible.
Four to six weeks seems to be the longest program which is considered safe, and such programs are not to be repeated for at least six months. During this time, the consulting physician will have a chance to assess any gains made and locate and treat any side effects. Chances are, though, if corrective treatments are needed, your doctor will not approve a second program of steroids and you would be wise to heed his advice.
Doctors, both in practice and research, believe several shots over a short period of time are far safer than a daily dosage of pills. Injections tend to produce fewer ill effects and give the physician greater control over the patient’s dosage. One of the greatest dangers cited regarding steroid pills is the possibility that users will buy “bootleg” pills and take overdoses in hopes of some fantastic overnight gains.
A workable and approved program of steroids would probably include the injections themselves, a sound diet pluss diet supplements (protein, vitamins, wheat germ, etc.), proper rest and a regular schedule of beneficial exercise.
In spite of the steroids in the body, any weight that is gained still depends on the amount and the quality of the food and supplements you consume. Just where weight and muscle is gained depends on the areas of the body you exercise during the program.
From the standpoint of bodybuilding, workouts during the program should emphasize bulking, rather than definition and using maximum poundages. Rack work, squats and power lifts are highly recommended to tax the muscles.
For Olympic and competitive lifters many doctors would advise the lifter not to force his gains but to continue his workouts as before, accepting any increases as they come, instead of trying for a new top lift on every heavy day.
Above all, lifters and bodybuilders alike would be wise to avoid overtraining. A good, sensible program, as often seen in MD, on bulking or lifting will do as much or more than so-called “super routines.” Moreover, unusual fatigue after lifting should be reported to the physician in charge of your program at once, since fatigue or weakness may be due to some bodily reaction to the steroids themselves.
The different reactions to the steroids are many, but most seem to be caused by the fact that steroids, while working in the body, tend to influence internal functions of certain organs and glands. Sometimes these effects are not apparent during the program but crop up later.
This is because many times the glands and organs involved do not snap back into action after the steroids are no longer there to support their activity. In such cases, the patient is a poor subject for steroids and should have the internal condition corrected as quickly as possible, and stay off steroids and other tissue drugs thereafter.
Some ill effects ascribed to anabolic steroids are high blood pressure and frequent bleeding from the nose, gall bladder trouble, even severe headaches, all signs that the body is rejecting the unnatural chemical balance that has been forced upon it by the steroids.
Others report gastric and digestive problems, and some claim an inability to eat certain foods they did not have difficulty with before taking steroids.
In most cases the side effects of steroids can and have been corrected by careful medical attention. Doctors feel, however, that in these cases the patient should never have used the steroids and agree that a preliminary examination would have shown that the patient was a poor subject. In such cases, they were unanimous in agreeing that they would not have permitted use of steroids had they been able to examine the patients beforehand. (Many bodybuilders and lifters who took the drug were forced to stop after suffering serious side effects, thus losing the size and power they unnaturally acquired … [magazine] Editor)
Hopefully, all prospective steroid users will consider these things. Those hoping for a miracle can forget it and get back to the gym. Steroids can increase body weight in many cases but the dosage needed to produce fantastic physique or lifting gains is almost always a fatal dose, and there are reported cases of death occurring when users took huge doses of bootlegged, black market steroids.
The average man, however, following a careful, medically-supervised program, can possible gain 15-25 pounds of fairly solid bodyweight. Steroids can’t do the job alone, though, and there is still no substitute for good diet, good habits and sensible exercise. This is true whether or not steroids are used.
Just who should take steroids ? Obviously, not the lifter or bodybuilder who has had no trouble bulking up in the past. The day of miracles has passed an you can improve your strength and appearance just as easily by continuing to follow your own tested and proven program.
Again, an advanced lifter has no need of steroids. So-called super strength is only a myth, and titles and records still come the slow way, the hard way, and anyone who thinks steroids wi8ll turn him into a champion is just kidding himself.
Likewise, steroids are not for the lazy lifters, they daydreamers who are looking for an easy way to a top physique or championship performance. Forget it. There is no easy way.
In the end the man who can benefit most from the sensible use of anabolic steroids is the true hard gainer, the man who can’t seem to make decent gains and who has the drive and ambition to train for these gains while on steroids and who is willing to work to keep them afterward.
By the same token, the lifter who may be recovering from an illness or injury that has sapped much of his strength and his normal powers to gain may also be a good subject. Where illness or injury is present, however, steroids should not be used unless a physician has made a thorough examination and determines there will be no harmful reactions.
However, it may be advisable for most lifters and bodybuilders to avoid steroids in favor of the more natural means of gaining weight and strength. Steroids should be considered as a last resort, and the man who uses them must go into the program with his eyes open, understanding that there may be side effects not even his doctor can predict.
He must be willing to adhere strictly to the rules of good health and habits as well as being willing to train hard yet sensibly, and he must be willing to call it quits if ill effects crop up.
Above all, and this can’t be said too often, he must put himself completely in the hands of his doctor and he must be completely honest with him throughout the program, reporting any side effects and following all medical advice to the best of his ability. Steroids as an aid to weight training are still new and their effects are not fully charted, and this is the only safe and sensible way to make use of them.