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Do steroids cause muscle and body growth?

      There is no evidence that ultra-high doses of steroids alone
 will cause muscle growth through a chemical effect.  In many animal
 species, high doses of anabolic steroids produce no more muscle
 growth than the normal dose would.(1,2)  However, there
 is evidence that steroids enhance muscle growth if taken along with
 rigorous physical training and a high protein diet.(3-5)  This
 exercise program must be in place before and during anabolic
 steroid administration.(4,6)  

      Anabolic steroids act on the balance between anabolic and
 catabolic processes within the body.  Anabolism is the constructive
 process by which simple substances are converted to more complex
 compounds, such as bone and muscle tissue.  Catabolism is the
 corresponding destructive process which breaks down these complex
 compounds for removal from the body.  The normal body will attempt
 to maintain a balance between these two processes as they carry out
 tissue renewal and replacement.(7)  The state of anabolism
 and catabolism may be measured by evaluating the body's nitrogen

      As Stedman's Medical Dictionary puts it:
      [Nitrogen balance is] the difference between total nitrogen
      ingested and the total nitrogen excreted by an organism.  In
      an adult, presumably not growing, this should be zero at a
      given intake or above.(8)
      Anabolic steroids reverse the catabolic effect by increasing
 protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.(4,7)  They are
 believed to diffuse into the cellular cytosol and bind to the
 androgen receptor.  The newly formed receptor-steroid complex
 migrates to the nucleus, interacts with the DNA and initiates
 transcription.  The production of RNA is then increased, causing an
 increased rate of protein synthesis.  In this way, the use of these
 agents increases muscle size and strength.(7,9)

      In order for the athlete to accumulate extra muscle mass, his
 or her body must temporarily be in a state of positive nitrogen
 balance:  More nitrogen (as muscle mass) must come into the body
 than is lost.  During strenuous exercise, the release of
 glucocorticosteroids throws the body into a negative nitrogen
 balance.  After  exercise, the body experiences  a temporary state
 of positive nitrogen balance, during which new proteins are added
 to muscle tissue.  Unless there is further exercise, the nitrogen
 balance returns to zero.   

      Without the use of anabolic steroids, muscle mass is built up
 very slowly after long periods of rigorous training.  Anabolic
 steroids can reverse the short-term catabolic effect, leading to
 positive nitrogen balance and faster gains in muscle mass. 
 However, maintenance of a positive nitrogen balance is short lived
 (1 - 2 months) unless the steroid dose is continually increased. 
 Rapid tolerance (tachyphylaxis) to steroids occurs in muscle tissue
 as the body attempts to maintain homeostasis.(9)  One
 homeostatic mechanism may be a rise in serum cortisol during
 steroid treatment.  This may counteract the anabolic effect while
 potentiating the catabolic.(9)   The risk of serious side
 effects is increased as the athlete takes higher and higher doses
 of anabolics to maintain a positive nitrogen balance.

      There is some evidence that anabolic steroids cause the
 athlete to feel like working out more often and more
 vigorously.(5)  This psychological effect may be more
 important than any direct chemical effect.(5)  Frequent and
 more vigorous workouts may be a reason for the increased incidence
 of connective tissue injuries associated with steroid


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REFERENCES 1. Wilson JD. Androgen abuse by athletes. Endocrine Reviews 1988;9(2):181-99. 2. Strauss RH. Anabolic steroids. In: ed. Drugs and performance in sports. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1987:5, 59-67. 3. Wagner JC. Abuse of drugs used to enhance athletic performance. American Journal Of Hospital Pharmacy 1989 Oct;46:2059-67. 4. Kibble MW, Ross MB. Adverse effects of anabolic steroids in athletes. Clinical Pharmacy 1987 Sep;6:686-92. 5. Kleiner SM. Performance-enhancing aids in sport - health consequences and nutritional alternatives. J Amer Coll Nutr 1991 Apr;10(2):163-76. 6. Daigle RD. Anabolic steroids. J Psychoactive Drugs 1990 Jan- Mar;22(1):77-80. 7. Smith DA, Perry PJ. The efficacy of ergogenic agents in athletic competition. part 1: androgenic-anabolic steroids. Annals Pharmacother 1992 Apr;26:520-8. 8. Stedman TL. Stedman's Medical Dictionary. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1976. 9. Windsor R, Dumitru D. Prevalence of anabolic steroid use by male and female adolescents. Med Sci Sports Exercise 1989 Oct;21(5):494-7. 10. Yesalis CE, Wright JE, Bahrke MS. Epidemiological and policy issues in the measurement of the long term health effects of anabolic-androgenic steroids. Sports Medicine 1989 Sep;8(3):129-38. by Trent Tschirgi, R. Ph. (c) 1992 University of Maryland Office of Substance Abuse Studies. All Rights Reserved.
Disclaimer: Steroid use is illegal in a vast number of countries around the world. This is not without reason. Steroids should only be used when prescribed by your doctor and under close supervision. Steroid use is not to be taken lightly and we do not in any way endorse or approve of illegal drug use. The information is provided on the same basis as all the other information on this site, as informational/entertainment value.

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