We’ve talked a lot about the different aspects of using steroids on this site. Likewise, we’ve laid out a basic guide to anabolic steroids that you can read. We have also talked a lot about the different side affects that steroids can have on person. So in today’s article we’re going to take a deep dive on the subject and lay out it for you. All of this should answer that old question – How do steroids work?
Before we go on, we do want to mention that steroids are classified as controlled substances in the United States and most other countries. As such, we do not mean to condone or encourage the use of anabolic steroids. That being said, a person’s choices are their own. Our main object lies in giving you as much real information so that you can make your own choices.
How Do Steroids Really Work?
Anabolic Steroids have very complicated chemical structures and effects on the human body. However, we’ve tried to break everything down for everyone who’s not a biologist or familiar with chemistry. First, we’ll explain what anabolic steroids are. Then, we’ll tell you exactly how they promote muscle in two different ways. And lastly, we’ll also go through how they work on a person’s hormonal system.
What Are Anabolic Steroids
The term anabolic steroids (also known as anabolic-androgen steroids or AAS) refers to a large variety of synthetic compounds that scientists discovered in the 1930s (1, 2). These different compounds aim to imitated the effects of natural testosterone production (1). For men, testosterone is the hormone that determines male sex characteristics. This includes things such as body and facial hair, muscle mass, and sperm production (3).
While every man naturally produces testosterone, anabolic steroids allow for more than the body would produce on its own. Consequently, steroids can help in increasing the body’s lean mass by increasing the amount of protein in the cells of skeletal muscle (4). 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 (5, 6). This quick recovery is why so many bodybuilders use them.
If you want further information, we also have an article you can read about what Anabolic Steroids are.
Steroids on a Chemical Level
Now that you’ve got a better idea as to what steroids are, it’s time to explain how steroids really work on a chemical level. As we said before, steroids were designed to mimic the affects of natural testosterone. They have similar chemical compositions to natural testosterone and as a result they can activate the body’s androgen receptors. After these receptors have been stimulated, a sort of domino-effect takes place. A person’s metabolism will speed up and the body will increase its production of muscle tissue.
Steroids Activate Anabolism
But that’s an oversimplification, so we’ll explain a bit better. Once these chemically trigger the androgen receptors, the body’s cells will increase their production of proteins. This is important because the body uses these in order to build more cells. When your body does this, it enters into the part of your metabolic cycle known as anabolism. The activation of the anabolism is what gives anabolic steroids their name actually.
To put it in plain terms, this is when smaller molecules build up and became more complex ones. Anabolism is also when your body will build up muscles. In fact, it’s during anabolism that the cells in your skeletal muscles start to grow and to replicate. Normally, it’s very hard for people to build up skeletal muscle. However, being able to jump-start the anabolism process means that people can attain much larger muscle mass than usual.
Pushing Back Catabolism
Of course this is only part of what steroids do to a person’s metabolic cycle. The other part normally consists of the catabolic phase. Catabolism is pretty much the opposite of anabolism. Where anabolism makes larger molecules out of smaller ones, catabolism breaks down larger molecules into smaller ones. Catabolism is regulated by hormones called glucocorticoids. Many anabolic steroids will inhibit glucocorticoids.
This is where part two comes into play. With glucocorticoids inhibited, anabolic steroids shorten the catabolic phase of metabolism. That means a person’s muscles need a lot less time to recover in between workouts. As a result, using anabolic steroids mean that someone can do a whole lot more while needing less rest than usually.
Now you should understand that steroids’ real effects are two-fold. Firstly, they increase the rate of muscle development and allow for easier growth of skeletal muscle. This on it’s own helps user’s put on some serious muscle mass. At the same time, steroids help to decrease the time needed for recovery in between work-outs (7). So, it’s no wonder that so many professional athletes have taken a keen interest in anabolic steroids.
How Steroids Affect Muscles
Since anabolic steroids encourage anabolism and discourage catabolism they help build muscle. However, steroids don’t affect all muscles equally. Everyone’s body has three different kinds of muscles – cardiac, smooth and skeletal. Cardiac muscle is the muscle in your heart and smooth muscle sits in the places like your digestive system and internal organ. Both cardiac and smooth muscle move involuntary.
When people talk about someone’s physique, they are referring to their skeletal muscle. This is the only kind of muscle a person can move voluntarily. When you’re pumping iron or doing leg lifts, you’re exercising your skeletal muscle. As we mentioned before, anabolic steroids can also trigger the growth of skeletal muscle. In specific, they encourage growth where the body has more androgen receptors in the cells. That means that steroids can increase muscle mass in someone’s chest, neck, shoulders, and upper arms more than other areas. Conversely, anabolic steroids do less to promote muscle development in the thighs, legs and back.
How Steroids Work on Hormones
Now that we’ve discuss what steroids are and what they do to your muscles, we’re going to go over what they do to a persons hormones. The main function of anabolic steroids is to imitate the testosterone hormone. It’s important to know that anabolic steroids raise a persons testosterone levels to much higher levels than they would have normally. This burst creates the noticeable gains that so many people see in someone using steroids.
With that in mind, this sudden jump in testosterone will really affect a person’s hormonal balance. While on a steroid-cycle, a person’s body will detect an excess amount of testosterone in the system. As a result, the body will suppress its own natural production of hormones in effort to try and compensate for the imbalance. The body’s attempt at finding a balance is what can throw a person’s hormonal balance so far out of whack. Normally, the signs of this imbalance won’t appear until the steroid cycle is already over and no longer and the body is not receiving synthetic testosterone or making its own.
Side-Effects on the Hormones
Because anabolic steroids tend to throw a person’s hormones out of their usual balance, they can also have a lot of hormone-related side-effects. These includes a wide variety of things. We’ve written before on how steroids can affect your penis as well as your hair line. Since hormone do a lot to regulate our mental state, using anabolic steroids can also cause sleeplessness and mood swings in people. The worst bouts of irritability actually doesn’t come from steroids, but from coming off of a steroid cycle.
Difference in Steroids
If you’ve read much on this site then you already know that not all steroids were created equally. The strength and effects of different steroids can vary considerably depending on the dose of the substance and the length of the steroid cycle. Naturally, the long a steroid cycle lasts, the stronger its effects and side-effects will be. Likewise, a lower intensity steroid like Anavar won’t trigger as intense effects as a more heavy-duty steroid like Trenbolone.
Last Thoughts on How Steroids Work
So now you should a much better idea about how steroids work exactly. Steroids mimic testosterone and trigger a person’s androgen receptors. In doing that, they encourage the growth of skeletal muscle and at the same time cut down the amount of time muscle needs to recover. These two factors lead users of anabolic steroids to get much more intense results from their work outs than they could normally.