How Do Steroids Work in the Body for Bodybuilding?

When you think about what steroids can do to an athlete, it’s really quite incredible to think that it’s all from a single drug. Really it sounds like something science fiction, or something that belongs in a comic book – by swallowing one pill you can transform your body, grow more muscle and burn fat all at the same time. You become more powerful in the gym, you gain more motivation and drive and even wounds heal faster. Essentially you become a superhero!

Except a super hero with potential testicular atrophy and gynecomastia. Not things that your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man normally deals with…

So how does this work? What’s happening in the body? And should you steer clear?


The Basics

One key thing to recognize is that different steroids work differently. You can’t tar all these drugs with the same brush because each has different mechanisms of action and impacts the body in different ways.

At the same time though, there are definitely some similarities in the way these substances affect the body.

One such similarity is that nearly all of them work by elevating the levels of testosterone in the body. Testosterone is of course the male hormone and this is responsible for many of the traits that make men different from women – traits like muscle mass, low body fat, hair deep speaking voice, aggression etc.

This is how 90% of steroids trigger muscle growth and it’s how the vast majority exert their effects. However, this isn’t the only way that steroids work and actually there are a number of other factors that may be at play.

Mechanisms of Action

There are two main means through which a steroid can increase the amount of testosterone in the body. One is to bind to the androgen receptors. These are the receptors that respond to androgenic hormones like testosterone and DHT in the body.

The other mechanism is by providing a building block – known as a precursor – for one of those hormones. In other words, the steroid may get converted to testosterone or to DHT in the body. DHT is actually slightly more potent than testosterone and has slightly fewer side effects, so some bodybuilders prefer steroids that work in this way. These aren’t safe either though and can still cause issues like impotence and liver toxicity.

But there are others that act on the body entirely differently – the other 10%.

Some steroids for instance work by increasing the amount of red blood cells – this might happen on top of other effects or instead of them. Either way, this can enhance protein synthesis and thereby help the body to make more use of protein and transform it into muscle.

Other performance enhancing drugs like growth hormone and Clenbuterol aren’t technically steroids at all and work in entirely different ways. Clenbuterol for instance is a bronchial dilator as well as a stimulant which increases the metabolism for greater fat loss.

Then there are supplements that have similar effects to steroids but none of the dangerous side downsides. Crazy Mass supplements for instance work by providing the natural building blocks of testosterone that we get from our diet and using herbs that have been shown to stimulate testosterone production.

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