Steroids are synthetic hormones which when used for the right conditions such as muscle wasting and hormone deficiencies can produce beneficial results. They are also commonly used to build muscle quickly, enhance muscular strength and reduce body fat. The use of steroids as a strength and muscle enhancer is common among weight lifters and gym buffs, despite the fact that steroids are regulated substances and anabolic steroids are technically illegal when used without prescription.
What are steroids?
Steroids when used in a health or fitness concept refer to anabolic steroids, which are different from corticosteroids or medications prescribed primarily to fight autoimmune diseases. Steroids are synthetic hormones that mimic the effect of testosterone in the body. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for producing masculine physical characteristics in males such as increased muscle growth, greater strength and leaner muscles.
Steroids are available in oral and injectable forms. When taken through injection, these are often administered in the upper outer quadrant of the buttocks.
When taken as muscle and strength enhancers, steroids are cycled or stacked. Cycling refers to the use of these supplements according to specific intervals such as intake for 12 weeks, without steroids for the next 6 weeks, and resumption of intake for the next 12 weeks. Stacking refers to the use of more than one synthetic hormone or supplement at one time to to enhance the effect and achieve faster results.
What does steroids do?
Steroids work by increasing the body’s muscle mass through different mechanisms but the result is often the same: increased rates of protein synthesis and reduced rates of protein breakdown. Steroids basically act as a supplement to the natural amount of testosterone that the body can produce. While naturally-produced testosterone can promote muscle growth and increase strength, the introduction of steroids can enhance this ability and produce results in half the time.
One study in Maastricht University found that the average muscle gain of a person on anabolic steroids and undergoing resistance training was 4 to 11 pounds in just 10 weeks, while other studies on natural muscle growth through resistance training have shown that an average person who is not steroids can gain no more than 20 to 25 pounds of muscle a year. This means that steroids can help a person achieve the same amount of muscle mass in four months that would naturally only be achievable after a year of dedicated diet and strength and resistance training.
Steroids like synthetic testosterone have also been found to inhibit the creation of fat cells, which is beneficial for anyone who wants to achieve a leaner physique. Studies have shown that some steroids can inhibit the formation of fat cells when not competing with the effects of estrogen. However, this effect only seems to be limited to subcutaneous fat or the fat under the skin, and not to visceral fat and the fat in between the muscles.
Potential Side Effects
Different kinds of steroids possess different profiles that cover potency, toxicity and side effects. Each also differ in how they interact with other medications. Steroid use is often associated with side effects primarily because the introduction of synthetic hormones disrupts the natural balance and production of hormones by the body. Male users may exhibit tenderness and even enlargement of breast tissue. Other side effects include a lowered sperm count, smaller testicles and decreased sex drive.
Steroids for Medical Use
Medical steroids are prescribed for patients suffering from muscle wasting diseases like cancer or AIDS. They may also be prescribed in persons with delayed puberty or problems with testicular function.
Steroids can only be legally used when accompanied by a medical prescription.