steroids

How much steroids really contribute to muscle growth

Let me talk about steroids for a moment.

Now apart from occasionally having to speak out against a minority of naysayers to defend my natural status, this is a topic I don’t usually broach.

There are a few reasons for this.  But my main reason is simply that I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough on the subject. I don’t have any personal experience of steroid use.  So, the only knowledge I have is based on what I see from others’ use, and from what I read.

However, this is an interesting study that I came across, and I thought it was definitely worth discussing.

steroids

For 10 weeks, 40 “normal men” (i.e. not bodybuilders / regular gym goers / athletes – originally there were 50 men, but 10 dropped out) aged 19 to 40 years old were assigned to one of four groups:

  1. No steroids, and no exercise 
  2. Steroids (600mg testosterone enanthate per week), and no exercise
  3. No steroids, and exercise (weight training 3 days per week)
  4. Steroids (600mg testosterone enanthate per week), and exercise (weight training 3 days per week)

Fat-free mass (i.e. lean muscle mass) levels and strength levels were measured before and after the 10 weeks.

Food intake of the participants was controlled throughout, with a diet of 36 calories per kilogram of bodyweight, and protein and at 1.5g per kilogram of bodyweight.  (Protein was surprisingly on the low side compared to most recommendations for muscle size).  Dietary intake was adjusted every two weeks according to changes in bodyweight.  The weight training sessions were controlled and supervised.

So, what happened?

After the 10 weeks, the changes in muscle mass for the four groups were:

  1. No steroids, and no exercise = no significant change in muscle mass
  2. Steroids (600mg testosterone enanthate per week), and no exercise = an increase of 3.2kg of muscle mass
  3. No steroids, and exercise (weight training 3 days per week) = an increase of 1.9kg of muscle mass
  4. Steroids (600mg testosterone enanthate per week),and exercise (weight training) = an increase of 6.1kg of muscle mass

The body fat percentage did not change significantly in any group.

Note that neither mood nor behaviour was altered in any group (I.e. “roid rage” is a myth – but this could be another topic of discussion in itself!)

But wait – there’s more!

The four groups also had the following changes in strength:

  1. No steroids, and no exercise = no significant change in bench press or squat 1 rep max
  2. Steroids (600mg testosterone enanthate per week), and no exercise = an increase of 19% squat and 10% bench press 1 rep max
  3. No steroids, and exercise (weight training 3 days per week) = an increase of 21% squat and 11% bench press 1 rep max
  4. Steroids (600mg testosterone enanthate per week),and exercise (weight training) = an increase of 38% squat and 22% bench press 1 rep max

So, what’s the big deal?

OK, so it was no surprise that group 1 (no steroids, and no exercise) saw no changes in muscle mass or strength.  And it is also not surprising that group 4 (steroids, and exercise) saw the biggest gains in muscle mass and strength.

But, how about the fact that group 2 (steroids, and no exercise) saw much greater gains in muscle mass than group 3 (no steroids, and exercise), and had almost the same strength gains too.  So, let me reiterate that the guys taking steroids but not working out had much greater gains in muscle mass than the guys who were working out without steroids.

steroids

Am I saying we should all start taking steroids?

The purpose of me discussing this study is not because I want to try to encourage people to take steroids.  Steroid use can often come with a bunch of negative health implications.  And if you are taking steroids while competing within a drug tested sport, then obviously you are straight up cheating.  Though I am not bashing steroid users here either.  To achieve maximum muscle size and strength, steroid users will still train hard and be dedicated to their nutrition.  Yes, the study showed that steroid users grew even without training, but they will never reach their maximum muscle size potential without hard training.

So, why am I discussing this study?  It is to promote a greater level of appreciation for those who choose NOT to use steroids. It is so much harder to build a muscular physique while drug free.  And I don’t think those who manage to do it always get the credit they deserve.  I am also trying to demonstrate just what a significant advantage steroids give in boosting physical performance.  Anyone who downplays the edge steroids give, saying “it’s mainly all about training and nutrition”, are very naive.

Don’t compare

Additionally, I want to emphasise the importance of those that train drug free not to compare themselves to those taking steroids.  It is important to manage your expectations.  Don’t expect to go to the gym, following the training program of a professional bodybuilder (usually obtained from a muscle magazine), and think that you’ll end up looking like them.

This brings me to my final point.  Drug free trainers can still build an impressive physique and can still gain muscle. No, you won’t put on mass comparable to a professional bodybuilder.  But by paying particular attention to getting body fat levels relatively low (through a good diet), you can still look awesome.  And remember, that when you are lean, with visible muscle definition due to having lower body fat, you actually look “bigger”.  So, don’t be disheartened.  You can still build an impressive physique without steroids.  But my recommendation would be to focus more on getting lean, rather than shooting for pure size (which you may never achieve drug free).

References

The Effects of Supraphysiologic Doses of Testosterone on Muscle Size and Strength in Normal Men
Shalender Bhasin, M.D., Thomas W. Storer, Ph.D., Nancy Berman, Ph.D., Carlos Callegari, M.D., Brenda Clevenger, B.A., Jeffrey Phillips, M.D., Thomas J. Bunnell, B.A., Ray Tricker, Ph.D., Aida Shirazi, R.Ph., and Richard Casaburi, Ph.D., M.D.
July 4, 1996
N Engl J Med 1996; 335:1-7
DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199607043350101

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199607043350101

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