Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of testosterone. They are popular among bodybuilders because physiologically, the elevation in testosterone level may stimulate protein synthesis leading to a significant increase in muscle mass or size and strength, according to the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.
Anabolic steroids can be legally prescribed as a treatment for people with low-testosterone deficiency, delayed puberty, or muscle loss due to certain conditions, including HIV/AIDS. Despite the drug’s efficacy in increasing muscle mass and enhancing athletic performance, there are potential side effects to be aware of:
- Kidney disease
- Heart attack and stroke
- High blood pressure
- Menstrual irregularities in women
- Hair loss
- Severe acne
- Increased aggression and suicidal tendencies
- Stunted growth in teens
- Breast enlargement
- Shrunken testicles
Anabolic steroids are banned in professional competitions by most sports organizations, but anybody is allowed to use them for personal purposes with limitations.
Popular brands of anabolic steroids include Dianabol, Clenbuterol, Trenbolone, Deca Durabolin, etc. You don’t have to take anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass or improve performance, as there are better, safer ways to achieve the same results.
All drugs in this section belong to the Anabolic-androgenic Steroids (AAS) group. They are all widely used by bodybuilders to elevate their testosterone levels unnaturally despite well-documented cases of adverse side effects.
Some drugs are taken by mouth, while others are injected directly into the bloodstream for immediate reactions.
Disclaimer: We do not recommend using anabolic steroids to enhance athletic performance or any other purpose. Please consult a medical professional before taking medications/drugs/supplements/legal steroids to avoid adverse effects.
Table of Contents
Best Steroids for Muscle Gain
One of the most popular brand names for Methandienone, Dianabol, is an oral anabolic steroid originally developed in Germany and widely considered effective.
Although today it is a controlled substance in the United States and Europe, this drug is still widely available on the black market and popular among bodybuilders.
Dianabol (also referred to as Averbol) is available without prescription in some countries such as Mexico; it is sold in the country under the brand name Reforvit-b.
Dianabol is part of the AASs (Anabolic Androgenic Steroids) group, with dominant anabolic properties.
It was once approved by the FDA and used for the treatment of Hypogonadism – a condition in which the patient suffers from the diminishing function of testes and ovaries – but now it has become the most commonly used AAS for performance-enhancing, especially tissue-building purposes.
Dianabol has also been used for the relief of pain associated with osteoporosis.
The human body is capable of producing anabolic steroids in the testis, ovaries, and adrenal glands. The working principle of Dianabol is based on male testosterone.
The drug’s anabolic properties enhance muscle-building capabilities, while the androgenic effects result in more noticeable male characteristics.
The expected physiological benefits may include increased production of protein, faster recovery rate, and improved metabolic capacity.
Chronic usage of Dianabol may cause exaggeration of male characteristics and an increase in muscle bulk. At the same time, it can trigger cardiovascular disease and influence sexual function.
Orally taken Dianabol may also cause liver damage because many compounds in the drug can be absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and rendered useless in the liver.
Irregular menstruations and male-pattern baldness are not uncommon as well.
Methandienone has a strong effect on the hepatic management of cholesterol, and it may adversely affect blood pressure.
To reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is recommended to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol intake and saturated fats.
Active cardiovascular exercise should help minimize the risk too.
Other common side effects:
- Man boobs
- Water retention
If taken in doses for muscle-building purposes, Dianabol usually results in the suppression of endogenous testosterone production unless there is an intervention of testosterone-stimulating substances.
Dianabol is a synthetic anabolic steroid. It is used illegally for muscle-building and performance-enhancing purposes.
The drug is not FDA-approved but is still available in the black market and popular among bodybuilders.
Although acute poisoning is not life-threatening, chronic use of Dianabol may lead to severe medical conditions, including cardiovascular diseases and liver damage.
Trenbolone Acetate, or Trenbolone, is a synthetic anabolic steroid mainly used for or administered to animals as a growth promoter and licensed only as such in several meat-exporting countries.
This steroid was synthesized in 1967. It is often used in combination with estrogen to maximize the rate and efficiency of growth in cattle.
It is a testosterone analog but with up to 50 times more potent anabolic activity than testosterone alone.
Trenbolone is sold under various brand names, such as Finaplix-S, Finaplix-H, Regumate Pig, and Revalor.
It was originally derived from the Finaplix-H pellet, which is a form of ear implant for animals to help maintain their weight during shipping.
The drug does deliver noticeable effects on fat-burning and muscle-building functions in animals and consequently grows in popularity among athletes such as bodybuilders in their attempt to gain the same benefits.
Categorized under the AAS group, Trenbolone may be useful as a treatment for various conditions such as muscle atrophy, androgen deficiency, and wasting syndrome.
Among athletes, including professional bodybuilders, Trenbolone acetate is highly valued for its efficacy in increasing muscle definition, raw strength, and physical hardness without the common water retention effect.
The FDA only approves Trenbolone acetate for use in animals in the form of implant pellets. In its approved form, it would be tough to administer the drug to humans without surgery.
However, the pellet can be ground up for human consumption.
Trenbolone may inhibit the production of testosterone and enhances the rate of fat storage.
Augmentation of mammary tissue is one of the progestational side effects, but it is more common when Trenbolone is taken in combination with other steroids.
Due to its high androgenic activity, Trenbolone may also cause increased aggression. Especially in women, the same properties can diminish feminine characteristics too.
Other side effects include:
- Increased blood pressure: Trenbolone raises blood pressure, but a proper cardio workout should balance out the effect.
- Coughing: a small amount of Trenbolone ends up in the bloodstream and is carried to the lungs.
- Insomnia: increased strength makes you hardly feel tired at all.
Just like all drugs in the AAS category, Trenbolone suppresses endogenous testosterone production when consumed in doses sufficient to promote muscle gain.
The good thing is that the level of production of testosterone can return to normal within 1 – 4 months of steroid cessation added with testosterone-stimulating treatment.
Trenbolone is only approved for use in animals. There is no guideline on how to use or administer the drug to humans.
There isn’t even prescribing guidance, but the consensus is that up to 300mg per week (taken eight times over one week period) is safe for a performance-enhancing purpose.
HGH (Human Growth Hormone)
The pituitary gland produces Human Growth Hormone naturally. HGH spurs growth in both children and adults.
It also helps regulate body composition, sugar, and fat metabolism, body fluids, and heart function to some extent.
The hormone’s function to build bones and muscles is possibly the main reason that a lot of athletes, including bodybuilders, consume the synthetic form of HGH to achieve a better, more pronounced build.
The synthetic form of HGH is used widely as an active ingredient in many prescription drugs.
The proven benefits of synthetic HGH have been well documented in various studies, but nearly all tests were conducted on growth hormone deficient subjects.
In that particular group of patients, HGH replacement therapy shows a noticeable improvement in body mass, VO2 Max, and power output, in addition to decreased fat.
Controlled studies in healthy subjects remain scarce; however, it does not stop a large number of healthy athletes from undergoing the same therapy and expecting the same kind of results.
HGH is also approved as a treatment for HIV-related muscle-wasting conditions.
Despite the benefits, around 30% of patients with human growth deficiency still experience side effects such as joint and muscle pain, fluid retention, high blood sugar, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
In healthy subjects, especially athletes, daily injection of HGH for a period of 20-days shows benefit in the form of increased lean body mass (a combination of muscle mass and possibly fluid mass) by 4.6 pounds on average.
In addition to the human growth side effects mentioned above, deficient patients and healthy people with too much HGH may develop a condition called acromegaly.
The main symptom is an overgrowth of bones in the face, hands, and feet.
Adults cannot grow taller, so long-term consumption of HGH will thicken the bones instead of lengthening them. The skin area may turn coarse, hairy, and thick, too.
Other side effects may include:
- Tingling and numb skin
- Enlarged heart
- Liver damage
- Mood changes
- Dependency and withdrawal
- Enlarged breasts in men
HGH may contribute to the growth of cancerous tumors and increase the risk of diabetes. Bear in mind that HGH acquired from illegal sources may contain unknown ingredients.
Some people take HGH for its purported anti-aging benefits, but the claim is unproven, and the FDA does not approve the use of HGH for such a purpose.
HGH is not cheap, and consequently, many variants are counterfeited products sold cheaply to attract buyers.
Effective for those with a growth hormone deficiency, HGH is not recommended for healthy people.
Growth hormone is produced by the body mostly during childhood, but the production rate diminishes as a person reaches adulthood.
Using HGH replacement therapy for performance-enhancing purposes is not advised.
Except for a few specific medical conditions (growth hormone deficiency and HIV-related wasting syndrome), the use of HGH is currently considered illegal in the United States.
Sustanon is an anabolic-androgenic steroid taken by injection, sold under the name Sustanon 250.
It typically is comprised of four testosterone esters, including testosterone decanoate, testosterone isocaproate, testosterone propionate, and testosterone phenylpropionate.
The drug works by providing a continuous release of testosterone into the bloodstream and maintains a steady level of testosterone for a period of 3- 4 weeks.
The testicles naturally produce testosterone in men, and it plays a crucial role in the healthy growth and development of male characteristics.
All active substances of Sustanon 250 are turned into testosterone by the body.
In men with hypogonadism – a medical condition in which the patients suffer from the diminished function of the testes or ovaries – treatment with the drug brings significant improvements, for example, higher sexual and erectile function.
A healthy increase in prostate size is also expected. As one of the drugs in the AAS group, Sustanon is essential for the treatment of delayed puberty, renal failure, and various types of anemia.
Used as a treatment for hypogonadism, Sustanon shows some additional benefits, such as increased lean body mass and bone mineral density, along with decreased body fat.
These advantages are most likely the reasons Sustanon 250 is popular among bodybuilders.
A boost of testosterone may help increase strength and overall athletic performance.
In the case of Testosterone Replacement Therapy, the way Sustanon works is pretty straightforward; for those who suffer from low levels of testosterone, Sustanon helps increase and stabilize the production of the hormone in the body.
All drugs have side effects; although most side effects of taking Sustanon are rarely life-threatening, medical attention is required for adverse effects.
Common side effects associated with Testosterone Replacement Therapy in general include:
- Muscle plain
- High blood pressure
- Breast enlargement in men
- Depression, mood disturbances, and nervousness
- Changes in sexual desire
- Swelling of feet and ankles due to fluid retention
- Prolonged painful erection
In women, testosterone Replacement Therapy may induce the loss of female characteristics. An increase in red blood cell count is also expected.
The risk of acute toxicity is low, but consumption should be discontinued (and resumed at a lower dosage) following the case of chronic overdose.
Sustanon is meant to be used only as a treatment for a low level of testosterone in adult men. It is also allowed for female-to-male transsexuals’ supportive therapy.
When taken in a supraphysiological dose (as in the case of bodybuilders), it is common to see an increase in LDL cholesterol and a decrease in HDL cholesterol.
Best Steroids for Weight Loss
Most commonly available as clenbuterol hydrochloride, the drug was first patented in 1967 and came to medical use ten years later.
It is a steroid-like chemical developed initially for the treatment of respiratory disease, not in humans but in horses and possibly cattle, by relaxing the animals’ airways to the lungs.
Clenbuterol is both a decongestant – a blood-thinning agent to reduce blood pressure – and a bronchodilator – which widens blood vessels to help carry more oxygen into the bloodstream.
This steroid has been shown to induce profound effects on skeletal muscle.
In mice skeletal muscle, the drug causes hypertrophy.
It is a beta-2-agonist (the opposite of a beta-blocker) that increases the production of noradrenaline and epinephrine.
The increase leads to various benefits, including a higher rate of fat burning, more considerable energy, and, therefore, determination.
Although Clenbuterol is not categorized as a steroid, it has some properties similar to those of anabolic steroids, for example, the ability to promote the increase of muscle mass.
This is why the drug has also been used in livestock to help grow lean muscle.
And just like Trenbolone, some bodybuilders turn to Trenbolone and expect to gain the same effects as what the drug does to animals.
Clenbuterol is a dangerous drug. Those who misuse it may not appear as typical drug abusers but as healthy fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders instead.
Reported clinical side effects include chest pain, tremor, high blood sugar, and irregular heartbeat. Clinical outcomes may persist for more than 24 hours.
Other common side effects:
- Muscle cramps
- Increased appetite
While side effects in human after prolonged use has not yet been understood, most of the conditions mentioned above should go away after Clenbuterol is cleared from the body.
In many countries, there are active black markets for Clenbuterol, which may contain other unknown ingredients with dangerous side effects too.
U.S. authorities do not allow the use of Clenbuterol for its purported anabolic effects and weight loss benefits. It is also one of the banned substances by the US Olympic Committee.
Clenbuterol does deliver anabolic effects, for example, enhancement of protein muscle synthesis and increase of muscle mass (as shown in animal studies).
Bodybuilders use Clenbuterol for the purported benefits of higher metabolism rate and core body temperature and, therefore, faster calorie-burning action.
Trials of safety and efficacy in humans are scarce.
Oxandrolone, sold under the brand name Anavar or Oxandrin, is an anabolic steroid that has similar functions to male hormones naturally produced by the body.
Anavar tablet is considered both a drug and supplement, available in tablet form.
Oxandrolone was first developed in 1962 and came to medical use in 1964. It has a high level of bioavailability.
Anavar is a prescription drug for medicinal purposes, but it is also available as an over-the-counter supplement.
The primary usage of Anavar is for patients suffering from rapid weight loss following surgery, trauma, or chronic infections.
Even in conditions where patients experience too much weight loss for unknown reasons, Anavar is often prescribed.
Anavar is also used as a treatment for bone pain caused by osteoporosis in which patients’ bones become brittle (thin enough that they break easily) and to prevent side effects in people who take corticosteroids – a group of medications/steroids to treat inflammation and swelling – for a prolonged period of time.
Anavar is proven effective in enhancing the healing of wounds as well. Oxandrolone is a synthetic analog of testosterone.
It is an FDA-approved anabolic steroid and has been proven effective in improving muscular strength and increasing muscle fibers in a human study.
Common side effects of Anavar include enlargement of the breast, insomnia, and changes in sex drive. Less common side effects are:
- Acne outbreak or worsening of acne in pre-pubertal men and women
- Abnormal (or absent) menstrual periods and baldness in women
- Enlarged penis and enlargement of the clitoris
- Painful urination; some patients become unable to control urination
- Decreased size or swelling of the testes
- Frequent and prolonged erections
Unless a user receives immediate medical attention, some side effects can be permanent. If taken by younger children, Anavar may interfere with the process of normal growth, although the risk is lower in older ones.
Adult men may experience a decrease in fertility too.
For medical purposes, doctors may prescribe Anavar because they think the benefits outweigh the risk of side effects. A lot of people who use the medicine do not develop serious side effects at all.
Just because a drug is FDA-approved, it does not mean the substances are without side effects.
It is always recommended to consult a healthcare professional before you take Anavar for any non-medical purpose, such as bodybuilding activities, to prevent unwanted side effects or overdose.
The impact on fertility is temporary, but the consumption of high doses over a prolonged period can make the effect irreversible.
Stanozolol, more popularly known as Winstrol (a brand name), is a synthetic steroid with characteristics similar to those of naturally produced testosterone.
Developed by Winthrop Laboratories (Sterling Drug) in 1962, the drug is FDA-approved for use in humans and animals, but production has been mostly discontinued.
It is taken by mouth in humans and injected into the muscles when used in veterinary medicine.
Winstrol has also been widely used as a performance-enhancing drug by young adults and professional athletes.
This steroid is most often administered to treat hereditary angioedema, a condition in which patients suffer from swelling of the parts of the body, including the face, throat, extremities, bowel wall, and genitals.
Although the drug is not a cure, it helps decrease the severity and frequency of the conditions.
A randomized trial in humans has shown that Winstrol is a potentially effective treatment for lipodermatosclerosis, a chronic painful process affecting the lower legs and associated with venous insufficiency.
Winstrol increases the rate of healing, provides relief of pain and reduces inflammation.
Bodybuilders take Winstrol for the purported benefits of stimulating protein synthesis and fat loss while retaining lean body mass.
The drug may also include red blood cell formation and the production of hemoglobin; therefore, it can be used as a treatment for anemia.
Chronic usage (supraphysiological dose) is thought to increase muscle bulk and more pronounced male characteristics or other effects related to male hormones.
In female patients, the use of Winstrol (or any other drug categorized under the anabolic steroids group) may cause the development of male characteristics, e.g., deepening of the voice, menstrual abnormalities, clitoromegaly (enlargement of the clitoris – irreversible), excessive hairiness, and changes in libido.
Discontinuation of medication may stop irreversible virilization as soon as mild signs are observed. Acne outbreak or worsening acne is expected, as well.
Adverse effects of Winstrol may include serious liver problems indicated by vomiting, yellowing of the eyes, unusual fatigue, dark-colored urine, or abdominal pain.
An allergic reaction is also a possibility, for example, difficulty breathing and swelling of the face, tongue, and lips.
The bodybuilding benefits of anabolic steroids, including Winstrol, almost always come with equal risks of side effects, including virilization.
The severity of the impact can be different among different drugs of the same category, but in general, Winstrol has the same properties as other drugs of the same group to some degree.
Best Steroids for Strength
Both Sustanon and Winstrol are also excellent choices for strength, although they are mostly used for mass gain and cutting fat, respectively.
Sustanon provides a constant release of testosterone in the body for a boost of strength and power, while Winstrol is a synthetic derivative of the same hormone.
In addition to those two, other steroids formulated for strength are as follows.
Nandrolone, sold under the brand name Durabolin – among other proprietary names –, is a muscle-building chemical that occurs naturally in the human body, albeit in small quantities.
Its chemical structure is similar to that of the male hormone testosterone and, therefore, able to help increase muscle mass; despite the similarities; however, Durabolin does not cause common side effects such as excessive hairiness and aggressive behaviors.
The drug is inactive if taken by mouth. It must be administered by injection.
Durabolin is useful for joint pain or muscle damage, although the study was conducted on animal subjects.
The drug has also been known to have a significant role in stimulating muscle growth.
Hypogonadism, or incompetence of the gonads, is possibly treated with Durabolin.
The condition is associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and dyslipidemia.
Durabolin acts as a testosterone supplement and therefore helps improve those risk factors and body composition at the same time.
In some cases, Durabolin effectively improves metabolic syndrome.
Anecdotal evidence suggests strong relations between Durabolin and the development of erectile dysfunction.
Pieces of evidence are provided by both patients and non-patients who have previously used Durabolin as a form of non-medical treatment.
The correlation makes sense because the drug potentially leads to the accumulation of estrogens and suppression of testosterone through negative feedback.
Other side effects may include:
- Cardiovascular effects in patients affected by fluid retention condition
- Gastrointestinal effects include vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea
- Hepatic abnormalities leading to liver failure
- Increased cell production
- Virilization in female users
Durabolin is shown to induce psychiatric side effects too, but once again, the test was conducted on animal subjects, in this case, rats.
A behavioral test reveals that early exposure to Durabolin might lead subjects to display depression-related behavior, such as reduced mobility.
Anxiety-like behavior was observed as well, especially in adult rats, which became reluctant to spend time in an open field.
There are enough pieces of evidence about the benefits of Durabolin as a supplement for bodybuilding purposes, but adverse side effects are also well-documented.
Anecdotal data suggests that Durabolin can decrease joint pain in bodybuilders; however, there is not enough data to determine actual efficacy or proper dosage to achieve that benefit without the common side effects.
Oxymetholone, also known as Anadrol-50 or simply Anadrol, is a potent anabolic steroid and synthetic form of the male hormone testosterone.
An odorless white (or creamy white) crystalline powder, it is insoluble in water and typically made available as pills.
The drug works by stimulating protein synthesis, hence muscle growth, and is thought to increase bone density, induce red blood cell formation, and hemoglobin production.
It is FDA-approved and available for medical use in the United States.
Anadrol is also used as a treatment for wasting syndrome associated with various diseases, including HIV.
The FDA does not directly approve Anadrol for this purpose, as it was initially intended as a treatment for anemia.
In cases of wasting syndrome, the treatment goal is to help a patient maintain lean body mass and therefore increase the chances of survival.
Despite the lack of FDA approval, Anadrol is considered safe and effective for its intended purpose in such treatment for a patient with advanced HIV-1 infection.
In hemodialysis patients, Anadrol is effective in increasing muscle mass and handgrip as well.
Despite its well-documented benefits in increasing and maintaining fat-free mass for patients with kidney disease and immune-deficiency conditions, Anadrol does not enhance athletic performance and should not be used for such purposes.
Anadrol has a long list of potential side effects, including but not limited to:
- Pre-pubertal exposure may cause increased frequency of erection and phallic enlargement
- Post-pubertal exposure may lead to bladder irritability, clitoral enlargement, impotence, menstrual irregularities, insomnia, decreased libido, vomiting, nausea, excitation, leukemia, edema, acne, and diarrhea.
- Male-pattern baldness in women decreased glucose tolerance and inhibition of testicular function.
- Salt and water retention
- Abnormal liver function
There can be signs of an allergic reaction, too, for example, rash and hives, swollen or peeling skin, difficulty breathing talking, or swallowing.
Some people may develop swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, mouth, and face.
Symptoms of electrolyte problems may develop, for example, muscle pain, irregular or abnormal heartbeat, mood changes, weakness, confusion, upset stomach, vomiting, or seizures.
Rare side effects include heart failure and liver cancer.
Anadrol is a dangerous drug. Bear in mind that side effects may occur not only through oral consumption but also through dermal contact, although this is mostly limited to people who work in manufacturing or healthcare facilities.
For its intended purpose as a treatment for anemia, it may take up to 6 months before patients see any noticeable benefit.
Best Steroids for Beginners
Among the drugs mentioned above, Sustanon and Deca Durabolin are relatively the safest and best for bodybuilding beginners.
The active ingredient of Deca Durabolin is Nandrolone Decanoate, a synthetic anabolic steroid that has been available for decades and has proven effective in stimulating muscle growth, improving body composition, and intensifying the functions of testosterone in preventing metabolic syndrome.
One of the well-documented side effects is its role in developing erectile dysfunction, but this effect can be avoided by combining a small dose of both Deca Durabolin and testosterone.
Another good option is Sustanon, which is comprised solely of testosterone esters.
The drug works by providing a continuous release of testosterone before it helps produce a stable amount of testosterone levels for a period of up to 4 weeks.
It can be considered a simple boost of testosterone, hence immediate improvement in athletic performance, strength, and bone density.
Combined with strength training, additional (yet not too much) testosterone intake leads to increased muscle function and mass.
Steroids Side Effects
Most people taking anabolic-androgenic steroids generally expect to get a boost of testosterone and therefore enhance their bodies’ muscle-building function and fat-losing mechanism, among other beneficial effects.
Not every drug in this category is FDA-approved, and some are used (self-administered) illegally by powerlifters and bodybuilders to improve their athletic performance.
Adverse side effects include alterations to the cardiovascular system, liver toxicity, and sexual dysfunction; some users may also experience changes in psychology and behavioral tendencies.
However, severe side effects mostly occur following prolonged use of the drugs in high doses.
Many potential side effects are permanent, but most are reversible if users stop taking the drugs before too late.
A list of possible health consequences is as follows:
- Cardiovascular system: high blood pressure, blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke
- Infection: HIV/AIDS and hepatitis
- Liver: tumors and peliosis hepatis (rare tumor-like lesion in the liver)
- Musculoskeletal system: short stature (if taken by adolescents) and tendon injury
- Psychiatric effects: delusions and aggressive behavioral tendency
- Skin: acne breakout (or worsening), oily skin, and jaundice
- Hormonal system:
- Decreased sperm production
- Enlarged breasts
- Shrinking of the testicles
- Male-pattern baldness
- Deepening of voice
- Reduced breast size
- Excessive hairiness
- Male-pattern baldness
Despite the drugs’ common association with doping by professional athletes, their users are mostly comprised of male non-athlete weightlifters in their 20s and 30s.
Anabolic steroids are less popular among women because of the potential masculinizing effects.
Taking high and multi-doses of anabolic steroids may cause irreversible severe organ damage. A combination of alcohol and AAS significantly increases the tendency to display aggressive behaviors.
However, the dependency liability of AAS is considered low, and withdrawal symptoms are also mild. Clinical examination of the use of anabolic steroids is still quite limited.
A lot of investigations about medical issues potentially linked to drug abuse have been conducted on athletes who are self-administering drugs.
Although dependency liability is considered low, about 33% of athletes have been found to develop behavioral tendencies consistent with substance dependence disorder.
Hence, bodybuilders should move away from steroids and consider an alternative: legal steroids.