Steroids can be a great boost to the effectiveness of your workout or it can be an unhealthy, ineffective (and potentially even dangerous) hindrance to your muscle gaining goals. It’s all in how you use them.
In this article, we’ll go over the key points of using steroids safely and smartly. You’ll learn about what kind of dosages you should be using, how to use testosterone cycling effectively, how you should be nourishing your body to pack on that mass in a healthy and long-lasting way, and talk about some of the side effects you’ll need to know about before your start using steroids.
It’s extremely important that you do your background research so you know exactly how to use them correctly and how to get the most out of your muscle building program. Steroids should never be your main muscle building tool.
They can play a very helpful role but they are not the focus. The most important aspect of packing on mass is actually your diet. Your diet is where you’re going to give your body the ingredients it needs to build up.
Then your workout routine is where you’re going to give your body the training it needs to stimulate that growth. Steroids are simply there to help make both your diet and your workout show results faster and make those results even more dramatic.
Dosage is extremely important when using steroids. If you don’t use enough, it’s pointless. If you use too much, you put yourself at risk of serious injury and maybe even death. We’ll talk more about potential side effects below and there you will see exactly why it’s so important that you are careful with your dosage.
Even when you do use recommended dosages, you need to closely monitor the effects it is having on your body. If you are experiencing negative side effects, consider dropping the dose lower or stopping them all together.
We’ll talk more about specifics in the next section regarding steroid cycles.
Rather than using steroids continuously, most athletes will start a cyclical routine in which they alternate between using steroids and not using them (and also alternating the amount and the specific kind of steroid they are using).
There are many different cycle schedules you can use and you should select a plan based on what suits your bodybuilding goals. There are also different cycles recommended for people at different stages of their workout goals.
For the newbies out there, we recommend the following guidelines when starting on a steroid cycle:
- Start with just using one steroid. Rather than a testosterone stack (which combines 2 or more different steroids),you should just start by using one. Give your body time to adjust and also give yourself time to understand how that particular steroid is affecting you. If you immediately start with a stack of 2-3 and have adverse reactions, you won’t know whether that’s because of a single one or because of the shock your body is experiencing.
- Start with testosterone. This is the best steroids for gains, particularly when you still haven’t reached your goal yet.
- Do a standard 12 week on, 12 week off cycle. You need to do equal times on and off when you do steroids. This helps your body gradually adapt and make the gains while still giving it time off so that you don’t become dependent.
- Start with a modest dose. A testosterone dosage as low as 250mg for the first week to start is the most recommended so that you can safely test how your body reacts to it. After that test week, you can go up to 400-500 mg per week. And you will see some great gains with this. That first test week is important because testosterone dosing is a fickle thing and you want to make sure you are not overdoing it.
That last suggestion is particularly hard for many determined bodybuilders to follow. Our natural instinct is to think “if a little of a good thing does this much, a lot of a good thing will do even more.” But with steroids, this is not the best motto.
For one, as a newcomer to steroids, you need to be cautious so you know exactly how your body reacts to it. Secondly, if you immediately start with too high of a dose, you may shock the system and cause serious side effects that you might have avoided, had you allowed your body to gradually adapt.
Finally, if those aren’t reason enough, too high doses may just be a waste. When you are just starting out, you’ll already be able to see great gains by around 400-500mg per week. If you’re aiming for 1,250mg per week at this early stage, you’re just wasting that extra.
Anabolic Steroids Side Effects
Testosterone side effects and growth hormone side effects can be similar. You want to keep a close look out for these side effects so that you can modify your dosages as needed.
Each body is unique so while one person may need a high dose and may be able to handle that dose without experiencing serious side effects, another may need a lower dose and may be more sensitive to the side effects.
There are both long term and short term effects of testosterone. The short term effects will often disappear once you stop taking the steroids. The long term effects will linger for a long time and may even be permanent.
Your risk of experiencing the long term side effects increases the longer you take steroids. This is another reason that testosterone cycles are important. It gives your body time to adjust and helps you manage side effects.
Short term side effects include:
- Weight gain (but this is often due to muscle mass, assuming you are eating the proper diet and following a rigorous workout routine).
- Increased appetite
- Stomach pain
- Increased blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you need to keep a close watch on it since steroids may make the problem worse.
- Increased risk of infection, especially if reusing needles or injecting incorrectly.
- Aggressive behavior (sometimes called “roid rage”).
- Severe acne
- Thicker body hair (and body hair that grows more quickly). This can be especially undesirable in women.
Long term side effects include:
- Severe liver damage, including cancerous tumors.
- Increased LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
- Decreased HDL cholesterol (the good kind)
- Heart problems (and general circulatory system problems).
- Dependency on steroids
- Permanent contraction of diseases like hepatitis or HIV (if using injections)
- Stunted growth and development (if you begin with steroids before the age of 21).
Using Steroids Safely
If you just start using steroids without knowing much about how they work and how you should be using them to make the most out of it, you run a few risks, including:
- Limited results. If you use them wrong, you won’t get the results you want.
- Extended use. If you don’t get the results you want, you may use them for much longer than you would have needed to, putting you at high risk of experiencing those long term side effects that you learned about above.
- Damage overall health. If you use them for too long or use them incorrectly, you risk harming your health in the long run and you won’t even get the results you wanted anyway.
- Inability to produce testosterone naturally. As mentioned above, one of the potential side effects is testicular atrophy. And since testosterone is produced in the testicles, you are running the risk that your body will be unable to produce testosterone on its own, making you completely dependent on steroids.
So with these warnings in mind, here are some tips for using steroids safely. We’ll give you tips for steroids in the form of pills/tablets and in the form of injections. Each have their own special considerations, risks, and requirements for safe use.
Pills And Tablets
The specific usage instructions will vary depending on exactly which product you are using but you definitely need to follow those instruction to a tee. Taking pills too often can cause very serious damage to your liver.
In most cases, pills and tablets are designed to be taken once per day. You should take it at the same time each day so that the testosterone dissolves and is absorbed at a steady pace. You also need to take it with food.
Taking it with a proper meal helps to lessen the negative side effects because it won’t be so harsh on your system. It will also help your body absorb the testosterone more effectively.
If you are taking any other medications, you should talk to your doctor about whether or not steroid tablets can be combined safely with them. They can interact negatively with some medications.
You should also make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations before starting on a course of steroids as it is not recommended to get vaccinated while on them since it may result in infection.
Alcohol can also make some symptoms (like indigestion and stomach pain) worse when you are taking tablets. And since the tablets will already be putting your liver to work, consuming alcohol can greatly increase the risk for permanent liver damage.
While it may seem a little scary to do anything involving needles, steroid injections are often more effective and less damaging to the liver than pills or tablets. However, they still come with their risks and that’s particularly true if you don’t know how to do it.
Learning to inject steroids properly and safely is easy but it does require learning. That is, you can’t just fill up a needle and jam it in without knowing the instructions to follow. So here is how to safely use steroid injections:
- Choose the right needle for your purpose. You don’t need a massive, intimidating needle but you also can’t go too small. In general, a 25g chamber with a 1” to 1.5” needle will get the job done. After choosing the right kind of needle, invest in a lot of them. You need to use a totally sterile (and totally UNUSED) needle every single time. Every single time. The risk of serious infection is too great otherwise.
- Draw air. Before you fill the chamber with the correct dosage of steroid, you need to draw in at least the same amount of air. So, say you are doing 500mg, that means you need 500 mg of air minimum.
- Draw the oil (steroid). To do this, place the needle inside, push ALL of the air you drew into it out. Then, pull the plunger back to draw in the correct amount of oil (plus a tiny bit extra).
- Get rid of air bubbles. Once filled, start tapping on the side of the chamber while pushing the plunger gently to help get rid of air bubbles. A little bit of oil will squirt out of the end as you do this. But that’s why you drew out a tiny bit extra in the previous step.
- Prep for injection. Choose which muscle you are going to inject into. Many choose a muscle in the thigh for convenience because it’s easy to access and usually has minimal body fat. Once you’ve chosen an injection site, use an alcohol swab to disinfect the area.
- Plunge the needle in and then BEFORE you push, draw the plunger back. If blood enters the chamber, you’ve hit a vein and you need to pull out and find a new spot. This process of testing by pulling the plunger back before you actually try to inject is called “aspirating.” If no blood enters the chamber, you’re good to go. Go ahead and push the plunger to inject the steroid.
- To inject, simply push the plunger down until the chamber has emptied. Leave it in for about 30 seconds. If you remove it immediately, some of the oil may seep out.
- Remove needle. Remove the needle slowly and as you do, place a fresh, unused cotton ball over the injection area and apply pressure. Hold it there for 20-30 seconds. This also prevents any leakage.
- Massage the area. After the needle and cotton ball are removed, massage the area for a few seconds to help disperse the oil through your muscles. You’re ready to go.
Note: you do NOT inject steroids into your vein or into your scrotum. You inject them into muscle fiber. Anywhere else can cause, in the best case, severe pain and in the worst case, severe injury or even death.
How to Maintain Proper Nutrition While Using Steroids
Nutrition is everything. Ok, not everything. But it is 80% of it. If you’re considering taking steroids because progress at the gym has started to stall, look to your diet first. If you aren’t feeding your body what it needs, it can’t grow.
Muscles don’t just magically appear from use, they need the right material to build up. If your body is not nourished, it doesn’t matter how hard you are training. Your body can’t grow when it doesn’t have the material to build with.
So before you start a steroid cycle, make sure your diet is what it should be. And while on steroids, take just as much care to maintain your diet. Don’t depend on the steroids to do all the work for you. They are helpers. They are there to assist you, not there to do the job for you.
With this in mind, what SHOULD your diet look like? For packing on muscle mass, you need a diet very high in protein. If you’re also trying to burn fat, you’ll want to keep carbs to an absolute minimum.
In terms of calorie account: go for 18-20 calories per pound of bodyweight on training days. So a 180 pound person should eat 3240-3600 calories (of NUTRIENT RICH food) that day. It’s a high count because you’re trying to pack on mass. But you can’t get those calories from just anywhere.
Training days are NOT an excuse to fill up on empty calorie junk food. Every single calorie should be packed with nutrients. And on days you don’t train, cut calorie intake down to 12-14 calories per pound of body weight—meaning that 180 pound person would eat 2160-2520 calories that day.
- Between 0.5-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. The more bulk you’re aiming for, the more you want to aim for the higher end of that range. Protein is the fuel and the material that your muscles use to work hard and build themselves up bigger.
- 5-2.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. The wide range has to do with timing. Your pre-workout meal should be very high carb (closer to the 2.5 gram end). Every single other meal should be very low (but not NO) carb. You’ll learn more about why this is the case below.
- 25-0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight. Healthy fat is important. Do not go on a no fat diet. You need healthy unsaturated and saturated fats as both fuel and as building blocks to build a healthy well-functioning body.
You should distribute your protein more or less evenly across your meals. And you need to eat at least 25 grams of protein during a main meal in order to trigger muscle growth. By the same token, you don’t need to be eating much more than that at each meal (especially if you’re doing 6 meals throughout the day.
It’s also important that this protein requirement isn’t coming entirely from supplements. Protein shakes can be a great way to help fill in the gaps but you want the majority of your body’s nutrients to be coming from actual food sources—and healthy, wholesome sources at that.
This is because your body simply breaks down and absorbs those nutrients better when they are in food. The supplements are sometimes difficult for your body to use so while they do provide some benefit, they are not as effective as real food.
Load your plate with healthy protein sources like:
- Chicken or Turkey
- Organ Meats. These can seem a little unappetizing but they are so nutrient dense that your muscles will thank you.
Use carbs only as pre-workout fuel. To keep body fat low, you need to keep carbs low. Carbs are great sources of quick energy but that also makes them dangerous sources of added fat. Your body can transform carbs into energy very quickly.
That means if you don’t expend a lot of energy very soon after you eat them, all that unused energy will be turned into fat and stored for later use. That means: high carb meal about 45 minutes to an hour before your workout. But aside from that, keep carbs to a minimum.
This is what makes carbs such a highly debated nutrient in the diet world. Some diets tell you to load up on tons of carbs to take advantage of the energy effects. But others will tell you carbs are the devil and should be avoided like the plague.
This is why we’re advocating smart carb use. Get those amazing energy effects right before that training session and then avoid them the rest of the day to prevent your body from storing unused carbs as fat.
The carbs you do eat should be exclusively complex carbs. So fill your plate with:
- Whole Grains (especially things like quinoa and oatmeal)
- Fruits & Veggies
On that note, you also need to avoid simple carbs. Those are sugary and refined foods. If it’s been heavily processed, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. If it contains corn syrup, put it back on the shelf. If it contains refined white flour, throw it in the trash.
Fat tends to get a bad rap but it’s actually very important. You definitely don’t need as much of it as you do of protein but you do need it. It’s an important source of energy and it also helps lower your cravings for unhealthy junk food.
For someone trying to pack on mass, healthy sources of fat are going to play an important role.
First of all, fat has the highest concentration of calories. A single gram of fat has 9 calories. This makes it the most caloric dense of all three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat). Since you need to be eating a lot of calories to pack on mass, fat is a great way to meet your requirement.
This density means that you can get a lot of calories in a small amount of food. When you start to get into the 3,000-4,000 calorie range, it can be hard to eat enough food to meet that requirement. Fatty foods make that easier by packing a lot of calories into a smaller amount of food.
The second role that fat plays in building muscle is in the very structure of the cells that make up that muscle. Each cell’s membrane is made up of fat. So if you have a no fat or low fat diet, your cells will not have enough fat to build strong membranes. With weak membranes, cells will be damaged.
Damaged cells that don’t have the fat they need to repair themselves means muscles that don’t have the ability to repair themselves, meaning recovery will be slow and muscle growth will become all but impossible.
Finally, there are many vitamins that your body needs for building muscle that are “fat soluble” which means they can only be broken down and absorbed when they are saturated in fat.
That’s one reason why supplements aren’t the best way to get your nutritional needs. They usually don’t contain fat so no matter how many vitamins they have, your body will not be able to absorb them.
Special Considerations For Testosterone in Women
The female body also produces testosterone and uses it for much the same purpose as the male body. However, the female body produces (and needs) much, much less than the male body.
So there are special considerations to be aware of as a woman who wants to use steroids to give a boost to her workout and help with other aspects of fitness as well (such as weight loss).
Unfortunately, as a woman, there is far less information out there for how to safely use testosterone. But here are a few tips and guidelines regarding testosterone for women:
- Start with the lowest possible dose. You really do not need a lot to get results. Start with 5 mg or less.
- Pay close attention to side effects. If you want to avoid the unsightly hair growth and other masculinizing side effects, cut the dose even lower.
- Do not take steroids if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. It can affect the fetus and your fertility in negative ways.
- Get testosterone levels measured regularly. You really want to be sure you are not overdoing it. Try to keep your levels at (or only slightly above) a natural, healthy level for women. It’s much easier for women to overdo it with testosterone since they need so little to begin with.
In terms of the effects, they will be similar to the effects of testosterone in men. You’ll build muscle much more easily. You’ll recover from workouts much more quickly. And you’ll find that you have greater endurance and better overall performance.
And you’ll notice those results with much, much less of a dosage than what men need to take. So while the dosage might seem too low to be effective, don’t let the low dose fool you. It’s better to start low and slowly increase it if it’s not effective than it is to start too high and suffer the negative side effects of testosterone.
Using these much lower dosages (we recommend 5 mg but you could even half it), do a similar testosterone cycle as described above for men. And follow a diet with the same requirements as described above. Since women tend to weigh less than men, that will usually mean fewer total calories (and total grams of macronutrients) but the proportions (per pound of body weight) should remain the same.
Some of the less desirable side effects you’ll want to watch out for include:
- Irregular or missed periods
- Balding (on the head).
- Deepening of the voice
- Severe acne
- Thicker body hair, hair growth in unwanted areas (such as on the face).
Before you begin using steroids, you should focus on cultivating the perfect diet and exercise routine for your body first. Then stick to it long enough to see what kind of results you are getting naturally.
If you’ve been training for a long time and recently noticed that you are starting to hit a plateau where you no longer see much new muscle growth, check for possible shortcomings in your diet or exercise routine first before you start steroids.
Only after you know you’ve perfected these other aspects should you start a cycle of steroids. That way, steroids are simply that last little push you need to reach your goal. This article is a great jumping off point to help you figure out a steroid cycling routine that will help you achieve your goals.
But you should definitely still do additional research to make sure you are as knowledgeable as possible so that you can make steroids work for you without dealing with the more severe side effects.