Admit it: You’ve been at least curious about steroids. Even if you aren’t interested in taking them, you should at least know what they are. After all, they weren’t invented in some secret lab to rig the Olympics or create super soldiers for the government.
Steroids have a bad rap but they’re naturally occurring and, if obtained in the right way and taken for the right reasons, they’re legal and safe.
What Are Steroids?
The word “steroid” refers to a chemical structure – carbon rings and a hydrocarbon tail – that your body makes out of cholesterol (Tortora & Derrickson, pg. 48). To differentiate between the strictly physiological definition and the more common definition, steroids taken to build muscle are called “anabolic steroids.”
Steroids as a class of chemical are usually related to “sex characteristics” – meaning that men have more of some and women have more of others. These steroids, specifically hormones, contribute to what we usually think of as being “male” and “female.”
However, this view is slightly reductionist, and it can be misleading. For example, Testosterone is associated with men who have more of it but it is still present in and important for women. The physiological role of steroids contributes more to their close governmental control than does their role in competition.
For example, the classic “illegal steroid” used in sports is synthetic testosterone. Synthetic testosterone is carefully controlled because of its prescribed use in some medical interventions.
Of course, steroids aren’t only regulated within medicine. Even otherwise “legal steroids” can also be outside of the rules in organized sports making their use illegal if you make money off of those sports. However, if you want to use steroids to bulk up and it isn’t prohibited by any organizations that you are in, steroids obtained legally are legal to use.
Understanding Legal Steroids
“Legal steroids” that you can get from health stores and the like aren’t actually steroids at all. Medically referred to as “Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements,” these products are concentrated forms of naturally occurring chemicals that you are probably already getting from your diet.
These supplements aren’t steroids. However, the nutrients that they feature might allow your body to create more steroids naturally. Others contain chemical messengers that mimic the actions of your body’s naturally occurring hormones. Further, these nutrients are often blended with ingredients that provide your body with things like creatine, an alternate energy source.
Most legal steroids are taken orally. However, some are taken as an intramuscular injection. While the injection method has its proponents, injection is more dangerous and incurs additional costs. Steroid injection comes with risks like infection which, although slight if done properly, aren’t associated with oral steroids.
In either case, it is very important to take steroids as directed and with a more experienced person if possible.
In the case of oral steroids, the steroid is ingested and circulated through the body like other foods. In the case of an injection, the steroid is usually incorporated into a carrier substance and circulated through the blood. The idea isn’t that the steroid stays in the muscle, so much as that the muscle’s blood supply distributes the steroid throughout the body.
Are Steroids Safe?
It’s easy to ask questions like “are steroids safe?” but we’ve already covered some reasons that this easy-to-ask question is not so easy to answer. Synthetic steroids are completely safe if they’re prescribed for a medical condition – and even then they have side effects.
There are a lot of scary stories about the side effects and symptoms of illicit steroid use but if you use steroids legally and correctly these dangers vanish. However, when we’re talking about legal steroids, the answer becomes messier. That’s particularly true because, as mentioned above, most legal steroids contain multiple ingredients that all behave differently in the body.
Take the two big ones that we’ve talked about: testosterone boosters and creatine.
Creatine is a source of energy but it works similarly to protein. If you don’t have enough, your body just burns something else. If you have the right amount, everything is peachy. If you have too much, your body filters it out and passes it rather than storing it. If you take irresponsible amounts of creatine that you don’t burn off, this can tax your filtration organs, but that’s rare.
Testosterone boosters are a little different. Because testosterone is cholesterol based, it can hang around in the body if it isn’t used up. That makes it more likely to cause problems if you have more than your body uses. Further, imbalances in your testosterone system are what lead to a lot of the negative effects that you hear people attribute to steroid use.
A Short Guide to Safe Use
Steroids are like any nutrient: if you take in more than the average person you should use more than the average person. Look at things like creatine as being like protein: you can eat all the protein that you want but if you don’t actually workout it won’t do you any good. Steroids aren’t magic potions – you still need to work for your gains.
When it comes to legal steroids, you also need to know what you’re using, and what it does. To return to our analogy of steroids as “part of a healthy diet” suppose that you are having weight plateau problems. You could cut carbs and increase your protein intake. However, this isn’t a one-size-fits all solution and it might not help you get the change that you want to see.
Similarly, if feeding your muscles isn’t why you’re seeing plateaus, all of the creatine in the world won’t help you. So, while “multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements” may sound like it means “multi-benefit pre-workout supplements” that’s not necessarily the case. A far more effective approach is to isolate which ingredients you actually need and hunt for those.
If you need more than one, buy more than one but don’t assume that something is better just because it has more ingredients. That brings us to the last thing to think about when it comes to safely using legal steroids and that’s safely buying legal steroids.
The brightest beauty and the darkest danger of legal steroids is the lack of regulation. This makes them available to everyone but it also means that quality can – and should be – a concern. This isn’t just a criticism of steroids. It’s also true of other supplements. If you have a brand or supplier of supplements that you trust, see what other products they make available.
The final part of the puzzle when it comes to safely and effectively using legal steroids is to work with an expert. Again, legal steroids can be procured from any number of online and brick-and-mortar retailers without a prescription. However, you’ll see the most impact and the fewest side-effects if you work with a professional.
When you decide that you want to learn more about legal steroids, talk to your primary care provider. If you’re at this level of dedication to your fitness, you and your primary should already be pretty close. If you have any medical conditions or are taking any medications, this step is particularly important as steroids, like supplements, can interact with medication.
This isn’t only true of physical conditions. This is also the case – or even more the case – if you have mental and emotional health considerations. For example, some people with post-traumatic stress disorders are advised against taking steroids and supplements.
If you work with a trainer or nutritionist, talking with them can help you to narrow down which of those “multi-ingredients” are right for you. They’re likely to know more about your personal workout life and possibly more about your diet than your primary care provider and they are likely to be more agreeable to a steroid regimen.
Any one of these experts can also help you to find the most reliable brands and retailers for safe and effective legal steroids.
If you want the benefits of legal steroids but are hesitant to go all in, nutritionists can also help you to understand how you can get some of the benefits from other supplements or by tweaking your diet.
A Final Word of Caution
A final step in appropriately using legal steroids is to check the bylaws in any organizations or sporting groups that you may be a member of. You may also want to check with your employer, depending on your career.
This is something that was touched on above but that is worth repeating. While a steroid may be legal in the U.S. and in the state where you live, that doesn’t mean that steroid use will be tolerated by private organizations or employers.
In this way, you can think of steroids as being like language: you might have the legal right to say something but an organization or employer still has the legal right to fire you for it if it goes against their policies.
Are Legal Steroids Right for You?
Steroids have a bad reputation. And, maybe that’s a good thing. It makes us think twice about them and helps us to take them seriously.
While most of us only hear about illegal steroids and their negative side effects, there are legal steroids and they can be used safely and effectively. If you want to use steroids in your fitness journey, just make sure to acquire them legally from trustworthy suppliers and use them responsibly with the help of experts.
Further ReadingTortora, Jerry & Derrickson, Bryan. “Principles of Anatomy and Physiology” (14th ed.). Wiley. Danvers, MA, USA. 2014.