Sweden is known as one of the world’s toughest countries on steroid use. In fact, they have arrested guys for simply looking big. But their latest study on elite lifters attempts to answer the question – Are steroid users really bigger, stronger, and faster?
What do you think is a long time on anabolic steroids? Well the latest paper (of which there are very few Ref 1) on long term steroid use contacted 17 strength training elite athletes and asked them – do you use steroids? 7 of the 17 men said they did not use steroids. In fact, they had signed contracts with local clubs and the Swedish Powerlifting Association (this was a Swedish study). The contracts, if violated, would force these clean athletes to suffer severe monetary fines. They also had a history of negative drug tests.
The men on steroids, well these 10 men admitted to steroid use but don’t worry their personal information is protected by a special Swedish law. While the “clean” group was powerlifters, the “doped” group included bodybuilders, powerlifters, and strongman competitors. These men were used to define “long term steroid use” and you can see what they reportedly used over the previous 10 years:
As you can see, they had a history of pretty standard bodybuilding drugs like testosterone and nandrolone with various orals and more exotic drugs like IGF-1. D2 was a particularly heavy user of AAS with doses reaching almost over 3 grams per week.
But this study wasn’t just about who was and who was not using steroids. This paper wanted to see if steroid using guys were in fact stronger then non-steroid using guys, specifically elite level athletes. Unlike many other studies, these guys were big and strong. In fact, they all weighed around 240lbs. They were benching over 400lbs, squatting close to 575lbs, and deadlifting almost 600lbs.
They recorded various markers for all the men, and took muscle biopsies to analyze their muscle tissue for differences. They also took blood samples to measure various hormonal indicators such as testosterone, growth hormone, prolactin, estradiol, etc. Before I get into the differences they found between the two groups, it is important to note that the clean group primarily trained in the 1-4 rep(s) per set range, while the doped group trained in the same range, but also in the 8 to 12 rep range. This might explain some of these differences you are about to see.
- The doped group had significantly high lean leg mass
- The clean group had greater squat force (both relative and absolute)
- Biopsies from the vastus lateralis (largest muscle in quad) showed that the doped group had significantly larger muscle fiber area
- Subject D2 actually had extremely large muscle fiber area even outside that of other members of the doped group
- FSH/LH were below clinically normal ranges for all the doped guys
- AST and ALT (liver markers) were elevated in about half of the doped guys
- Testosterone was generally higher in the doped group (but not of statistical significance)
“Thus, for long-term AAS abusers, increase in muscle mass/lean body mass may be not directly associated with muscle strength improvement.”
Now it should go without saying that this sample size was relatively small, and may not represent steroid users as a whole. The natty guys were also training for strength, so it’s not unreasonable to find that they were just as strong vs. bodybuilders who are generally training for size. Nonetheless it’s rare that we get to see such strong athletes analyzed and compared. It’s worth nothing no major health markers in the doped group were indicative of serious problems. So again, unlike the media would lead you to believe, long term steroid use isn’t going to make your dick fall off.