Walking The Walk vs. Talking The Talk with Steroids
Readers Note: 2009. I wrote this article in 1996. Since that time, the “steroid thing” has gone in directions no one could have expected. Over 10 years since I wrote it, and in many respects, it’s worse now in terms of the misinformation, disinformation, and outright fabrications, when it comes to these controversial compounds. When I wrote the article for example, the wide spread use of testosterone for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in men used today was not so common. Some things have improved (such as the acceptance of HRT and the benefits of testosterone for both men and women) and some are worse then ever, such as the steroid witch hunts that athletes have to endure. Maybe I will write another short update like this in another 10 years or so and things will be improved by then…
Readers Note 1996: This article is not for the easily offended or “PC” minded. It is an in-your-face, and hopefully humorous, look at the topic of steroids and how out of touch the medical/scientific community and the general public can be in regards to the facts about steroids. I don’t use steroids (I think my pic on the web page will confirm that!) nor do I recommend them to most people these days. Why? Because they are too expensive, illegal, and fake 90% of the time, moral and ethical issues not withstanding. If you have an uncle who will write you scripts and you want to use steroids than that’s your business. What ever price there is to pay for using them, it will be you and you alone who pays it. I just call em like I see em. Emotions can never alter facts, but facts can alter emotions. Never let your perceptions or your emotions alter your view of the facts. The article is intended as 80% humor and 20% education as it relates to steroids. If you lack a sense of humor, this article is not for you.
We have all heard the expression “walking the walk and talking the talk” as it applies to various situations where there is an appreciable gap between theory and reality. There are many places we can find disagreement between the people who “walk the walk” and those who “talk the talk.” If you were to ask me, I would tell you that bodybuilding is the quintessential place to find such individuals. Those who “walk the walk” constantly bickering with those who “talk the talk.” Now the best we can hope for, of course, is a person who is capable of both walking the walk and talking the talk! That is, a person who has plenty of hands-on real-life experience, half a brain, and an applicable educational background. However, these people are rare as you (the reader) well know. Given a choice between the two however, I would rather be able to walk the walk, than talk the talk. In this article I want to discuss a few examples of how this concept plays itself out in bodybuilding, science, nutrition, or what ever suits our purpose to get the idea across that, yes, there is a difference between “walking the walk” and “talking the talk!” This difference is one of several reasons we have so much confusion regarding anything to do with bodybuilding (e.g., nutrition, drugs, training, etc.) . It is certainly not the only reason, but is a major contributor to the plethora of different opinions we find in the world of bodybuilding, sports nutrition, or other fields relating to performance and health.
Ground Breaking Steroid Studies……Not!
Now what ultimately set me off to write this article, besides the fact that I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, was a study published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). NEJM is considered one of the most prestigious medical and scientific journals in the world. People tend to hold this journal up as the holy scripture of medical journals. The study was called “The Effects Of Supraphysiologic Doses Of Testosterone On Muscle Size And Strength In Normal Men (vol.336, July, 96).” This was a fairly strait forward study, so we don’t need to go into great depths about it and bore you to sleep with all the details. In a nut shell, there were four groups of men studied. One group received 600 milligrams of testosterone enanthate and trained with weight three days per week. The other three groups were just combinations of training with weights and getting no testosterone (placebo), getting the testosterone and not training with weights (couch potato on test!), and so on. So what was so wrong with this study that prompted me to write this article? Well it was not so much the conclusion of the study-which we will get to in a minute-but some of the statements within the study that caught my attention. For example, the researchers state:
“Athletes often take androgenic steroids in an attempt to increase their strength. The efficacy of these substances for this purpose is unsubstantiated, (emphasis mine) however.”
Unsubstantiated? Are they for real? Here is another statement from the study.
“…but whether supraphysiological doses of testosterone or other anabolic-androgenic steroids augment muscle mass and strength in normal men is unknown.”
Unknown? Unknown? Unknown to who? The next time you sit in the front row of a bodybuilding show or see some 280 pound androgen freak squatting the equivalent of a small family sedan, feel free to yell “hey fella(s), did you know that all those steroids you are taking have not been proven to build muscle!” Gee whiz, guess that forty pounds little Johnny put on in twelve weeks to make the high school football team was a placebo effect of the five Anadrol a day he was taking! As far as The Group For The Use Of Common Sense In Science (GFUCSS) is concerned, regardless of the research, if there is still a single doctor in the entire world who continues to doubt steroids have an effect on muscle mass, he should have his license revoked and should be dope slapped in a public forum! Oh ya, in case your wondering, I am the national president and only member of GFUCSS. Have any of these researchers ever stepped outside of the lab to see what is going on out there in the real world? It’s 1996 for God sake. How about this statement from the same study:
“We do not know whether still higher doses of testosterone or the simultaneous administration of several steroids would have more pronounced effects.”
We don’t know? Well I sure as hell do! Hear that sound? That’s the palm of my hand hitting my forehead in disbelief. Could the scientific community possibly be this clueless when it comes to steroids? You bet. So where do I sign up for the next study that proves mixing high doses of steroids build more muscle? Should I bring my own turkey baster or will they supply it? Is it any wonder why bodybuilders don’t listen to a thing doctors have to say? Now I am not some disgruntled trainer/bodybuilder who is resentful of science and scientists because he does not have the educational background to understand scientific materials. I have several years of organic and biochemistry, molecular physiology, biology, nutrition, yada, yada, yada, and I still find the average bodybuilder to know more about steroids than 99% of all the scientists and doctors I speak with! This is a sad state of affairs which could be rectified by some of these scientists and doctors coming out of the lab and hanging out at the average gym for a few days. I can just see it now , “here doc, swallow these little pink things and squat ’till you puke!” Now I love science, and many of my friends are scientists, but man this type of stuff boils my blood…….If you couldn’t tell.
On the other hand, the study did have some particularly interesting findings that really blow a hole in the “steroids will kill you” and “all you need is hard work to look like a pro bodybuilder” brigade. The study found that the men who got the testosterone but did not workout gained more muscle than the guys who trained with weights but did not get the testosterone! That’s right, the couch potatoes on steroids gained more muscle than the natural guys training with weights (poor bastards!). Also, the guys who trained with weights but did not get the testosterone, had a big drop in HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) while the guys on steroids had no drop in HDL! Like the song says “how do ya like me nowwwww!”
In conclusion, the study found 600mg of testosterone enanthate did not change lipid profiles, did not raise prostate-specific antigens, or increase aggression. So what does this study tell us? It tells us what even the dumbest bodybuilder has known for years; that moderate doses of steroids builds muscle and has little if any negative impact on your health. Now before you people out there who use steroids start dancing in the street chanting “I told you so, I told you so,” don’t forget that steroids do have potential side effects and when abused they do have risks, so use a little common sense. If you get thrown in jail, don’t come whining to me when your cell mate says “hey Bob, yer lookin mighty fine in them jeans boy.” Yikes!
So after all these years of biased-poorly done-goofy-steroid research, why does this new study pop up in NEJM and show the reality of moderate steroid use without all the scare tactics? The answer can be found in the final paragraph, which states:
“Our findings do, however, raise the possibility that short term administration of androgens may have beneficial effects in immobilized patients, during space travel, and in patients with cancer-related cachexia, disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or other chronic wasting disorders.”
Space travel? “Space shuttle to mission control, I can’t fit into my space suit anymore, can you send me up an extra-extra large?” So what’s the secret message you ask? The pharmaceutical industry and political/medical complex have finally realized that anabolic steroids for use in diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and others, is a huge untapped market for them. Now that we have a population that’s getting older, there will be a mountain of money to be made from testosterone replacement therapy and steroids can reverse many of the ailments we associate with aging, such as loss of muscle, stamina, and sex drive. What? Gramps can’t get a stiffy anymore? Give em a shot of Cypionate once a month! “Here pop’s, go shave your nads and put these little patches on.” By the time this article comes out, the above study will already have been plastered all over the news and in the news papers. Over the next year or two you will start seeing additional research (funded by large pharmaceutical companies) showing steroids to have all sorts of medical uses (which they do) and that steroids are not the evil liver trashing, ax murderer producing, scourge they have been made out to be. Will the legal status change? It really depends on how much money there is to be made and how much pressure the drug companies can bring to bear on law makers as they wave there shiny new studies showing steroids are not so bad after all. As usual, bodybuilders and other athletes are left to “walk the walk” while the medical community, politicians, and researchers “talk the talk, ” as the two sides still can’t see eye to eye. Yes, things are improving in this department, but it will be quite some time before the experience of athletes, trainers, and pain in the ass wise guy writers like me, converge with the conservative medical and scientific communities.
More Words of Wisdom……..Not!
“Athletes don’t need more protein than sedentary people,” “we get all the vitamins we need from our food,” “Just eat more carbohydrates and avoid all fat in your diet if you want to lose weight,” “all steroids in any dosage will make your liver fall out and turn you into a hypo gonadal ax murderer,” and finally, “going below parallel when you squat will ruin your knees” are typical statements made by researchers and doctors who continue to ignore research to the contrary and clearly have no real life experience working with athletes. I am sure you could come up with a few more of these stupid statements that make us all foam at the mouth with irritation. Though slowly but surly changing, it is unfortunate that the majority of doctors, researchers, and nutritionists still believe the above statement(s). Although there are cutting edge scientists and others in the field who would totally disagree with the above statements, they are, unfortunately, in the minority. For example, Dr. Lemon, a leading researcher on protein requirements for athletes, disagrees with the idea that endurance and strength athletes don’t need more protein than Mr. Potato Head, errr… I mean Mr. couch potato . Linus Pauling, considered one of the greatest scientific minds who ever lived, spent most of his career trying to convince the world we would benefit from far higher intakes of many vitamins (especially vitamin C) than could ever be found in our food. Dr. Udo Erasmus, the guy who “wrote the book” on fats, would most definitely disagree with the concept of trying to avoid fats in our diet for losing weight and improving health. We all know Dr. Mauro DiPasquale, one of the few doctors with real world knowledge of steroids, would laugh at the common belief that all steroids lead to health problems. Finally, Canadian Olympic coach Charles Poliquin has written several times that squatting far bellow parallel is not detrimental to your knees, provided your form is good and you are fully warmed up. However, these people, including yours truly, are still fighting an up-hill battle and are in the minority. The truth can never be suppressed, it can only be delayed.
Don’t Be Anti-science just ’cause I’m In a Bad Mood!
Of course the reader of this mean spirited sarcastic little piece should not be inclined to become anti-science or anti-research. Good research done by quality scientists is essential to furthering our understanding of human physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, or what ever is relevant to bodybuilding, health, or life itself. However, you have to ask the right questions to get the right answers, no? Asking the question “does anabolic steroids increase muscle in humans?” in 1996 is proof positive that the gap between those that “walk the walk” and those who “talk the talk” is still wider than the average American’s butt!
Will Brink is the owner of the Brinkzone Blog. Will has over 30 years experience as a respected author, columnist and consultant, to the supplement, fitness, bodybuilding, and weight loss industry and has been extensively published. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies.
His often ground breaking articles can be found in publications such as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women’s World and The Townsend Letter For Doctors.
He’s also been published in peer reviewed journals.
Will is the author of the popular e-books, both accompanied by private members forum access , Bodybuilding Revealed & Fat Loss Revealed.
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will, high its stephen gates hear just writing to say – ive started up training again with light weitghts, since i ripped my chest and shoulder and left me with a hernia, i cant train my abbs cus of the hernia so im relying on bicycle training and arobics stepper could i do anything else for my abbs? many thanks stephen…………
Good luck healing up Stephen!
Hi there can I use some of the information found in this blog if I reference you with a link back to your site?
When I was a Biochemistry student back in the 1990s I was also amazed to read that the link between steroids and sports performance had not been ‘proven scientifically’, but I discovered that there was a good reason for this. In fact I think the scientists you quote should not be derided for their statements when in fact (as I understand it) they were correct. ie. “whether supraphysiological doses of testosterone or other anabolic-androgenic steroids augment muscle mass and strength in normal men is unknown”. Of course in bodybuilding terms they are talking nonsense, but as I read it they are saying that a link has not been made in a statistically satisfactory way. No number of visits to a gym or bodybuilding show would contradict that (unfortunately), but it would convince them that there was a link (although I suspect that they knew that already).
It is my understanding that the reason for this lack of a statistically significant link between steroids and muscular performance is because true double-blind studies are very difficult to conduct with steroids due to the mild euphoric effect of the real chemical. This meant that those taking the steroid knew that they were and so created a placebo effect (rendering it only a single-blind study). I think more recent studies have tried to account for this by asking those under study whether they thought they were on the steroid or the placebo. Apparently in most cases test subject could tell!
I agree that scientists often set out (and fail) to prove what we all know to be true, but taking a purely scientific standpoint, unless we have statistically significant data independently verified by others, we can never say for sure something is true. Steroids and muscle strength just happens to be one of those things that’s difficult to study carefully.
The major difficulty in doing legit studies is due to stigma and legality of the compounds in question. There’s been a fair amount of AAS research at this point, and I doubt there’s a scientist worth his degree in 2011 who does not believe AAS impact performance, LBM, etc. They are not difficult to study at all from a technical perspective, it’s the anti steroid stigma, current legal status, etc. that’s the major issue.
That’s interesting. I’ve not read much research into this since the 90’s. So how do they account for the subjects that suspect they are getting the steroid rather than the placebo?
Is it possible for common folks to consistently know if their steroids batch is of good quality?
NOPE. For that reason alone, along with many others, simply not worth using in today’s world.
What are other reasons you wouldn’t use steroids in today’s world?