I want everyone to go ahead and look up the first CrossFit Games athlete that comes to mind (don’t have one? Noah Ohlsen and Annie Thorisdottir). I want you to head to their youtube page or Instagram and go to the comments. How many comments do you go through before you find one accusing them of steroid use?
A very common thing for our society to do when we see an athlete that has large muscles and little body fat is to immediately think that they must have used some extracurricular science to help them get to look and perform the way that they do?
While this isn’t the case for nearly as many athletes as we think in professional sports, it is happening!
First: What Are Steroids?
There are two large categories of steroids that doctors use to treat their patients: anabolic and corticosteroids. These are both synthetic substances that closely resemble the hormone testosterone.
If you have asthma, you are probably used to hearing “corticosteroid” as it is the medication you use to reduce the inflation in your airway, making it easier for you to breathe and help prevent or reduce the severity of an asthma attack.
When we talk about steroids in sports, we are referring to anabolic steroids. These closely mimic the effects of testosterone by promoting greater muscle synthesis in the recovery phase of training. This is usually medically prescribed to patients with anemia or in men experiencing low testosterone.
There are different anabolic steroids that are on the market for this use, but they all aim for relatively the same end goal. Originally made in 1935 in Germany, it wasn’t found to be used in sports until the 1954 Olympics by none other than the Russian Weightlifters!
How Do Atheltes Use Steroids?
Steroids work much like an overdose of testosterone. Testosterone is a highly effective sex hormone that aids in the recovery of muscles by promoting muscle synthesis (building muscle). Either taken through a syringe or pill, steroids are primarily taken by athletes around their training session that day.
These athletes will use one of many popular anabolic steroids, the most popular being Dianabol/D-Bol (Arnold Schwarzenager admitted to using this starting at age 17) and Trenbolone/Tren (Commonly used amongst modern Mr. Olympias today).
Athletes using these drugs will usually cycle them (slowly increase and decrease usage of a set interval of time) over a period of 6-12 weeks. This is rumored to reduce the likelihood of gynecomastia and Trenbolone Stomach (the rounded abs that you see on large bodybuilders). This cycling also is rumored to reduce the likelihood that males using these drugs don’t lose their natural testosterone production.
*Disclaimer: These practices are not tested in any meaningful scientific way. Nothing these people do is backed by lab science, rather the bodybuilding community creating a network of people using anecdotal evidence. You should not take steroids without a doctor’s prescription as the side effects of these drugs have been proven to cause multiple health complications that can shorten your life.
Why Would An Athlete Use Steroids?
For sports involving aesthetics and size being an advantage, athletes will use anabolic steroids to get bigger and more powerful muscles. These athletes will use smaller set ranges and eat to fuel the size of muscle they need (just like a natural athlete). The difference is that their recovery windows see drastically improved muscle synthesis, meaning that each session is gonna allow the muscles to grow just that much faster.
For sports that involve aerobic capacity, like marathon running, we see a bit less of an effect mid-race as muscle size would actually be a problem here (making you carry more weight over a long distance). Meaning, that only the improved recovery would matter if you were doing more than just the marathon in a short time span. A more effective cheat here would be blood doping (storing some of your blood weeks before a race and then injecting it back into your system to see an improved aerobic threshold).
In a sport like CrossFit, where the name of the game is to perform a task at high intensity, recover quickly, and perform another event at that high of an intensity, you bet steroids help the most! The advantage here isn’t necessarily the size advantage, but the ability to hit workouts over a weekend or training session at a higher intensity, more often, allowing your body to get in new situations each training week to adapt more quickly (or turn around and hit a WOD harder than someone who would normally be more worn down).
Great Everyone Has A Reason To Cheat. How Do We Know Who Is Cheating?
Here’s the thing, Steroid use isn’t the easiest thing to spot visually. The people who are the most “jacked” at a CrossFit competition, are actually the people who might be least likely to be on PEDs. After all, the look of your muscles and how your body stores fat will still come down to your genetics and diet.
You can try to use a list off of webMD to look for signs such as aggression, a deeper voice, paranoia, etc…, but, these are pretty standard things everyone has? Some women naturally have alto/tenor voices (medium depth of tone voice) while some guys have naturally high voices also in those ranges and could totally be geared up. I’m a 26 year old male and still have problems with acne and I was hesitant to take Tylenol when I dislocated my elbow. The point is, those signs are as hard to tell if someone is on the sauce as it is to decipher between a cold and COVID as a civilian.
The best way for us to know if an athlete is on extracurricular science is by using 3rd party drug testing. Is it foolproof, no. But, it is the best way we have to verify if athletes are truly using what say they are using for us to have fair competitions. (The reason Mr. Olympia competitions have known steroid users is that they don’t use drug testing and the community really encourages it for the biggest category).
The athletes that you looked up, if they are still allowed to compete, are third-party tested randomly throughout the year as well as tested at every major competition along the way. Athletes who are caught, are usually caught at their semifinals checkpoint, which is the hardest part of the CrossFit Games season. They receive 2-4 year bans and are noted on The CrossFit Games website!
Why You Shouldn’t Ever Resort To ‘Roids To Get Abs!
Now, this isn’t really a problem that anyone at Vegvisir has, but it is something I’m always asked, “can I get abs without steroids?”
You absolutely can. Health abs are made in the kitchen! Dangerous abs are made in the lab (engorged internal organs, hair loss, kidney failure, heart failure, strokes, etc… are all tied to steroid use).
Working out consistently, sleeping 7-9 hours, and eating healthily the majority of the is a proven recipe for success to get those wash board abs! Ya just need to make small habit changes over time and your goals will become a reality (:
But, it is fun to look into the dark side of fitness! After all, we wouldn’t have true crime as a genre if we didn’t.
If you’re interested more in learning about steroids in sports, “Icarus” is a fantastic movie about substance abuse in sports that you can find on Netflix! It’s a worthwhile watch as you’re killing time waiting for the sun and temperature to get lower to go outside this weekend.