Anabolic steroids – you’ve probably heard the term countless times as people throw around the term pretty freely these days. And while you might be familiar with their role in bodybuilding and athletics, you might not know exactly what they are. On this site we’ve talked a lot about anabolic steroids, what they do and some of their specific side-effects. We even have a beginners guide to anabolic steroids for anyone who’s curious. But you still might not understand just precisely what they are. In this article we’re going to go over their history, their chemical make-up and what exactly makes them anabolic.
Here at DieOff, we do our very best to present the plain truth in order to explain the facts. As such we have lots of other articles about steroids and there possible side-effects. If you’d like to learn more about how steroids can affect your penis or what steroid use can do to your hair line we have written about both in detail. We also try to answer common questions about steroid use like why steroids increase make you so hungry.
Before we continue any further, we do have to cover a few things first. Currently, anabolic steroids are illegal substances. The US Drug Enforcement Agency classifies them as a Schedule III controlled substance. That means that they are illegal on a federal level and can land a person some serious jail time. We don’t make any judgements about a person’s own decisions here as every individual’s choices are their own. We only wanted to provide our readers with all of the facts so that they can make their own informed decision about what to do with their bodies.
What Exactly Are Anabolic Steroids
The term anabolic steroids (also known as anabolic-androgen steroids or AAS) is actually pretty wide. Generally, the term refers to a large variety of synthetic compounds that try to imitate the effects of natural testosterone production (1). Consequently, steroids can help in increasing the body’s lean mass by allowing more protein in the cells of skeletal muscle (2). Because of this muscle can then both develop and heal more quickly. This quick recovery allows for longer and more intense workouts and means that the muscles needs lees time to repair themselves. Naturally, this double benefit for putting on muscle so effectively makes anabolic steroids very appealing to professional athletes.
A Brief History of Steroids
Scientists actually discovered anabolic steroids all the way back in the 1930s. At the time, doctors were using steroids to help patients stimulate muscle growth as well as appetite (3). Shortly after they were synthesized, scientist started to realize that steroids could be used for improving a person’s athletic prowess. In fact, the Soviet Union was using steroids to help improve its athletes performance as early as the 1940s. As a response, an American doctor synthesized Dianabol. In 1958, the US Food and Drug Administration actually approved Dianabol for sale.
Not longer after its approval, people began to realize the negative consequences of steroids. In 1976, the International Olympic Committee banned the use of steroids. In 1990, the US government reversed its previous position and placed anabolic steroids on the controlled substances list.
These days, doctors still prescribe patients anabolic steroids for a large variety of reasons. Most often they are meant as a medicine for triggering muscle growth and appetite, which helps with chronic wasting conditions, such as cancer and AIDS. Additionally, people also use anabolic steroids to trigger male puberty for people with hormonal imbalances.
The Chemistry of Anabolic Steroids
So now that you’ve gotten a little history lesson on steroids, it’s time to really dive into what they are. In this section we’ll explain what steroids are used for. And most importantly, we’ll go over how they function on a chemical level.
What do Steroids Do?
The main purpose of anabolic steroids is to imitate the effects of testosterone. For men, testosterone is the hormone that determines male sex characteristics. This includes things such as body and facial hair, muscle mass, as well as sperm production. Every man’s body produces testosterone naturally. However, anabolic steroids trigger the production of more than the body would produce on its own (4, 5). As a result, steroids can help increasing the body’s lean mass by increasing the amount of protein in the cells of skeletal muscle. As a result, muscle can grow faster and heal more quickly. This quick recovery allows for longer and more intense workouts and means that the muscles need less time to repair themselves. This faster growth of muscle and quick recovery is also the reason that so many bodybuilders use them.
The Chemistry Behind Anabolic Steroids
In chemical terms, a steroid is a very broad category of molecule, many which occur naturally. This group includes well known molecules like cholesterol or testosterone. However anabolic steroids (and anabolic androgenic steroids in particular) are much more specific. As we said before, anabolic steroids try to mimic the hormones of testosterone and have very similar structures to natural testosterone (6).
Since the body has a limited amount of natural testosterone, people have a natural limit to their muscular growth. However, steroids trigger the bodies production of reinforcing proteins. This is the basis of anabolic steroids’ ability to speed up muscle growth. As with the natural production of proteins, this only occurs when the muscles are being used. As such, taking anabolic steroids without doing any sort of training or exercise won’t stimulate the muscle enough to incite growth.
How Steroids Assist a Workout
As we’ve mentioned, steroids trigger the bodies androgen receptors. This done two things that help a persons work out. Firstly, the body’s cells will increase their production of proteins, which the body uses these in order to build more cells. When the body does this, it starts the part of the part of the metabolic cycle known as anabolism. The activation of the anabolism is what gives anabolic steroids their name actually.
Anabolism is one half of the metabolic process. The second half, catabolism, includes when cells break down larger proteins. Anabolic steroids shorten the duration of the cells’ catabolic stage. In laymen’s terms, it means that a person’s muscles don’t need as much time to recover in between workouts. And as a result, using anabolic steroids mean that someone can do a whole lot more while needing less rest than usually.
The Longer Effects of Steroids
Like all substances that enter the body, every steroid has a certain half-life. This means how long a steroid continues to affect the body’s chemistry. This of course changes considerably depending on a person’s age, physique, gender, health and genetics (7). At the same time, there are many different kinds of steroids around and the half-life of each can vary considerably. Some less strong steroids only continue to really affect a person’s bio-chemistry for a few hours. The more powerful steroids can affect the body for up to two weeks after use. If you want to get more information on exactly which steroids have longer effects, you should read our article on how long steroids stay in a person’s system.
A substance’s half-life is not the same as the period of time that drug tests can detect them. This is called a substance’s detection time and it is generally much longer than its half-life. As such, tests for steroids can detect them for a time much longer than their effects. As with their half-lives, the detection time of steroids differs widely according to a steroid and the person using it. This it important to know if you have any chance of being drug-tested. If you want know more on the matter, we also recommend our article on whether anabolic steroids show up on drug tests.
Supplements that Aren’t Steroids
Up to this point we’ve been strictly discussing anabolic steroids. However’ when people talk casually about steroids for working out or bodybuilding, they after include other substances. These can include things like bronchodilators, estrogen blockers and HCG. Below is a short list of substances that some bodybuilders might use but are not anabolic steroids.
- HCG (Human chorionic gonadotropin)
For example, on a chemical level, Clomid is not a steroid at all. However, bodybuilders often use it the same way they would use anabolic steroids. People often categorize Clomid with steroids since most bodybuilding competitions ban the use of Clomid. It’s the same story with Clenbuterol. Clen acts as a bronchodilator, which means that it allows for a lot more oxygen to enter the body and can give people a big boost in their work-out. However, Clenbuterol doesn’t have any affect on a person’s androgen receptors or any of the other main effects of a steroid.
Corticosteroids – The Other Kind of Steroids
On this site we focus on anabolic steroids. However, that’s not the other kind around. Alongside anabolic steroids, there are also corticosteroids. People mostly use them in order to lower inflammation in the body as well as to ease swelling, itching, redness, and allergic reactions. As such, doctors usually prescribe corticosteroids for things like asthma, arthritis and allergies.
While anabolic steroids try to imitate testosterone, corticosteroids try to mirror the effects of cortisol. These kind of steroids don’t really provide any benefit for someone trying to get in shape and gain a lot of muscle. However, in order to inform yourself, you should know the difference between the two.
Understand Exactly what Steroids Are
So now you’ve had you crash course into the wide world of steroids. It might seem like a lot, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. You’re body produces testosterone naturally and by imitating testosterone, anabolic steroids can trigger some of the advantages that come with it. This includes being able to use more protein in order to build up muscle more quickly. It also means being able to hold onto the gained muscle for a longer people of time.
Of course, there is a lot more information around on steroids for those who are interested in it. If you want to know more about how steroids work on a chemical level, we recommend checking out some of the sources we linked to this article.