Fewer things have caused more controversy in the field of professional sports than the use of anabolic steroids, or “juicing” as it’s commonly called. The pressures of multimillion dollar contracts, pulling off the “big win,” and Olympic hopefuls wanting to do their countries proud has led some athletes to turn to steroids in order to outperform their opponents.
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t just professional athletes who use them. Walk into any gym where amateur bodybuilders are training, and chances are you’ll find at least a few who use steroids to achieve those pumped-up physiques. While steroids have received a massive amount of attention in the media, few outside of the sports and fitness industries understand exactly how they work.
1. They mimic testosterone. Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone. Both men and women naturally produce testosterone in their bodies, but men produce it at a much higher rate. As with testosterone, the use of anabolic steroids increases facial and body hair, muscle mass, deepness of the voice, and physical strength.
2. They increase “bulk.” Lifting heavy weights causes microscopic tears in the muscles. These tears are repaired and replaced with additional muscle tissue during cellular protein synthesis, which eventually results in larger muscles. Because steroids increase the rate of protein synthesis, users will also experience muscle gain even without lifting weights.
3. They block cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone our bodies release during times of physical and emotional stress, and it “feeds” on lean muscle tissue when it runs out of carbohydrates to consume. When the production of cortisol is blocked by steroids, there’s nothing left in the body to interfere with or sabotage muscle-building efforts.
4. They allow for a quicker recovery time. Those who participate in strength training usually notice that their workouts dwindle as the week goes on. This is because their bodies haven’t completely recovered from previous workouts. Because steroids work to increase muscle mass and physical endurance, users find that they’re able to train harder and longer with less recovery time between workouts.
5. They help combat body wasting from disease. Due to their muscle-building properties, anabolic steroids are occasionally prescribed to cancer and AIDS patients. Muscle wasting can occur because of the nature of the diseases themselves and because they often cause fatigue, which leads to decreased physical activity. Because anabolic steroids don’t require weightlifting to increase muscle gain, patients can experience an increase in both muscle mass and strength without having to work out.