We often hear claims from steroid users that performance-enhancing drugs only give them a slight advantage, emphasizing their dedication and hard work.
But is this reality or just a smokescreen?
This episode unpacks a study from The University of Sydney comparing 147 natural bodybuilders with 40 steroid users. We’ll delve into training volumes, rest intervals, cardio habits, supplementation choices, and their actual results.
If you’ve ever wondered about the tangible advantages of steroids and how natural bodybuilders’ methods contrast with their “enhanced” counterparts, this episode offers clear insights.
From volume and intensity to supplement choices that highlight the health concerns of steroid use, this podcast sheds light on what truly sets apart the natural from the enhanced.
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
1:08 – How do training and supplementation practices differ between steroid users and natural bodybuilders?
10:13 – What are the actual outcomes of using steroids versus pursuing natural bodybuilding?
Mentioned on the Show:
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Hello. Hello, I’m Mike Matthews and this is Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today for a new episode on the topic of steroids. I came across an interesting study in my travels that was published about a year ago, and I wanted to discuss it here on the podcast because. It lends some insight into just how big of a difference steroids make in terms of gaining muscle and gaining strength.
Because many steroid users will say that, yeah, steroids do make a difference, but you still really have to know what you’re doing in the kitchen and you have to really know what you’re doing in the gym, or they’re not gonna make that much of a difference. Well, how true. Is that, that is the question that I’ll be answering in today’s episode.
And specifically, I’m going to be discussing some research that looked at the training and supplementation differences between enhanced and natural bodybuilders and sharing a few of the key takeaways that we can glean from this research.
Okay, let’s start with a paper called Self-Reported Training and Supplementation Practices Between Performance Enhancing Drug User Bodybuilders Compared with Natural Bodybuilders. And this was published in September of 2022 in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. So if you’ve spent enough time in gyms talking to enough people, usually guys, you’re going to come across drug users who are.
Honest about using drugs. And a common refrain you will hear if you talk about drug use and bodybuilding is that they still have to work just as hard as everybody else. They still have to be just as intelligent with their diet and with their training. They just get better results. That is what many.
Drug users will say, now you might be skeptical because you’re on social media and you’ve seen many drug users who pay very little attention, if any attention to what they eat and who also don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to their. Training, it’s just go hard all out, two hours a day, six days a week, seven days a week, and they look like superheroes and they perform like superheroes.
They are big, they are lean, they are strong, and they are always big, lean, and strong for years on end. And so in this study that I wanna share with you today, scientists at the University of Sydney surveyed 147 natural and 40 enhanced bodybuilders to investigate how their training and how their supplementation protocols differed.
And what the responses showed is that the steroid users did significantly more volume per major muscle group per week than the Natty bodybuilders. So in the enhanced bodybuilders, it was 24 to 40 sets per major muscle group per week versus. 12 to 24 sets. And the enhanced bodybuilders also typically trained in higher rep ranges than the naturals.
So in the enhanced bodybuilders, it was 13 to 15 reps per set. On average. In the nineties, it was one to six reps per set on average. The researchers also found that enhanced bodybuilders were slightly more likely to use advanced. I guess you put that in scare quotes, advanced or sophisticated training techniques.
So there was more in the way of supersets and. Partial reps and tempo training, pre-ex exhaustion, so forth. So about 98% of the enhanced bodybuilders said that they use techniques like that versus about 90% of the naturals. The enhanced bodybuilders were also less likely to periodize their training. So that’s training in different rep ranges based on goals and circumstances.
So about 50. Percent of the enhanced bodybuilders were periodizing their training versus about 71% of the natural bodybuilders. There were significant differences in in between set rest times as well. Most of the bodybuilders surveyed rested about one to two minutes in between sets, but a larger portion of the steroid users rested just 30 to 60 seconds between sets than the natural.
So about 23% of the enhanced bodybuilders said they rest just 30 to 60 seconds. In between sets versus about 4% of the natural weightlifters. And also a larger share of natural bodybuilders rested more than two minutes in between sets than the steroid users. So about 45% of the natural bodybuilders said that they rest more than two minutes in between sets versus about 20% of the steroid users.
And so then what we are seeing here is that the enhanced bodybuilders were much more likely to follow. Just an old school body building program. A lot of volume, so a lot of volume in terms of hard sets per major muscle group per week. I mean 40 hard sets. Imagine trying to program that 40, 40 hard sets, even 20 hard sets for more than one major muscle group per week.
It gets tricky to program if you’re not willing to be in the gym four or five days per week for at least an hour and a half per session, but you try to do 30 or 40 sets for even one major muscle group, let alone more than one. That is a lot of training. I. And one of the reasons why I would not recommend trying that is as a natural weightlifter, you are almost certainly going to just get hurt if you try to do that.
We also saw that the enhanced bodybuilders are more likely to do higher rep sets. Which is also something that I’m sure you have seen if you’ve spent enough time in the gym. You’ve seen guys who are clearly on a lot of drugs and they have long workouts, and they’re doing like eight exercises per workout, and they’re doing several sets per exercise, and they’re doing sets of 15, 20, 25 reps per set.
They’re rarely doing. Below probably 10 or eight. And the enhanced bodybuilders are also often doing super sets and giant sets and cluster sets and partials and negatives and force reps and so on. Also, the supplementation data was kind of interesting because both groups of bodybuilders surveyed took supplements, no surprise, but significantly more steroid users took eaas, BCAAs, H M B, digestive enzymes, supplements that are of.
Dubious value, eaas BCAAs worthless, especially to an enhanced bodybuilder who is almost certainly eating plenty of protein, absolutely worthless. H M B also, almost certainly worthless for an enhanced bodybuilder, even if they’re doing fasted training, and that would be the only scenario where I would recommend H M B for its anti.
Catabolic properties. That’s why it’s in one of my products. It’s in a product of mine called Forge, a pre-workout fat burner that is, uh, explicitly designed for fasted training. If you wanna check it out, it’s at buy legion.com/forge and it has H M B, but outside of that use case, I wouldn’t recommend H M B.
It’s not gonna harm anything, but it’s probably not going to help much of anything. Either. So anyway, that supplementation data point is just in line with the training data with what we saw there, that the average steroid user in this study was less knowledgeable, was less, you could say, even skillful in their bodybuilding because of how effective steroids.
You can make all kinds of mistakes in the kitchen and gym, but if you’re on the right drugs, you are going to get outstanding results. And let’s talk about the results in this study. The bodybuilders were all of a similar height. They’re about five nine, but the steroid users weighed about. 18 pounds more on average than the natural bodybuilders.
So the steroid users, on average, about 210 pounds. The Natty is about 192 pounds. Now 18 pounds of muscle is a lot. In case that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, let me just give you a little bit of context. So the average guy will be able to gain probably about 30 to. 45 pounds of muscle over the course of his lifetime.
There is a genetic hard limit to how much muscle you can gain. Now you can quibble with that and say, well, actually that is technically not true because you can always gain at least a little bit more muscle. Those gears never completely stop turning. Yeah, fine, but. Practically speaking, your gains approach zero after 5, 6, 7 years of training after gaining the 30 to 45 pounds that you can gain in that period.
Any further muscle growth is going to be almost negligible. I’m talking about a pound or two in a year, and that’s a good year. And every subsequent year, your potential muscle growth gets even smaller. So if in year eight you gain a couple of pounds, year nine, it’s probably gonna be about half. Of that and half of that and so forth until you are trying to measure grams of muscle growth per year.
Now, every rule has exceptions, of course, and one could be a specific muscle group that is very underdeveloped on your body. It’s gonna be a smaller one, probably like calves, for example. Let’s say you never really trained your calves, but you trained. Everything else in your upper body and you train your lower body, generally intensely.
Many years you’ve gotten big, you’ve gotten strong, but your calves are relatively underdeveloped. Alright? Then maybe you can put a pound of muscle on each of your calves and you might be able to do that in 6, 8, 12 months, maybe even a little bit more than that. But that’s only because you had a muscle group that was underdeveloped.
But if calf training was a regular part of your regimen and you approached that just as vigorously as you approached everything else, then the rule would hold. Now I know I am on a little bit of a tangent here, so I’ll just wrap it up. If you wanna learn more about natural. Muscle growth potential, how much muscle you can build naturally.
Head over to legion athletics.com, search for naturally and look for an article I wrote on the topic. I also do have a podcast on it, but the article I think is a little bit better because there are some calculators in there that you can play with. Anyway, so coming back to this steroid study, what can we take away from this?
Well, one point is that steroid users can clearly do and recover from a lot more training than natural weightlifters. Remember, in this study, the steroid users are doing about twice as much training, and that is one of the reasons why steroid users can gain muscle and strength a lot faster than natural weightlifters.
They can just do a lot more work and recover from a lot more work. A natural weightlifter might need twice as much time to do the same amount of work. This study also highlights an observation that many of us have made over the years because we’ve seen it firsthand so many times, and that is steroids can help people gain a lot of muscle, gain a lot of strength with very suboptimal training.
I. So much so that if you as a natural weightlifter with a fair amount of experience under your belt, you’ve gained a fair amount of muscle and strength. You’ve been doing it for at least a few years. You’ve been following evidence-based programming, which differs a lot from the steroid programming that I shared in this study.
You’re doing less volume, so that’s fewer hard sets per major muscle group per week. You’re doing fewer reps on average per set. You’re resting longer in between sets your workouts. Are shorter. You’re doing 10, 12, maybe 15 sets in a workout period as opposed to 20, 30 or 40 sets over the course of, again, 5, 6, 7, 8 exercises for multiple muscle groups.
If you were to switch, I. Two, the steroid users program, you might see a little bit of progress in the beginning from the dramatic increase in volume and the dramatic increase in mechanical tension that is now being generated in your muscles. But that will be short-lived because eventually you will not only stagnate, but you may even regress because you will not be able to recover from all of that training, and you might even get hurt because you are not.
Recovering fully from your workouts and you are trying to push yourself as hard as you can. And so just keep all of this in mind when you hear steroid users claim that steroids don’t make that big of a difference and you still have to be really smart with your diet and with your training. And yeah, I mean they’re better than supplements, but they’re not that much better nonsense.
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