An estimated one to three million athletes (90% of male and 80% of female bodybuilders) in the USA use steroids or androgenic substitutes. Statistics for the UK are unknown but many believe it to be proportionally similar to the US. The drug is not just reserved for bodybuilders and power athletes either. As team sports becomes faster and athletes become stronger and more powerful, more and more players are inclined to experiment with steroids.
Anabolic steroids function in a similar manner to the male sex hormone testosterone. Testosterone contributes to gender differences such as greater muscle mass and strength. The hormone's effects are lessened when synthetically prepared in the form of anabolic steroids but they still augment an increase in lean muscle mass and strength gain when combined with resistance training. Athletes often take a combination of steroids (called "stacking") in an increasing dose (called "pyramiding"). Dosages for medical uses are usually in the 5-20mg range, however, athletes take between 50-200mg to achieve an ergogenic effect.
Despite the positive gains in strength and power, there are many, well documented negative side effects to taking steroids (which is banned by all sporting governing bodies). They include: damage to the cardiovascular system, increased risk of coronary heart disease, alterations to normal hormonal balance, infertility, abnormal liver function and interference with the immune system.
A substance called Androstenedione (known as "Andro") claims to offer similar androgenic effects to anabolic steroids and can still be bought over-the-counter without prescription in some countries at the time of writing. It's often marketed as "one step away" from testosterone without the negative side effects of steroids. Some sporting governing bodies such as the IOC and the Men's Tennis Association ban its use because it may endanger health. Andro is classed as a food and so bypasses the Food & Drug Administrations rules. It can even be bought in the form of chewing gum.
There is little scientific evidence to support the use of Andro in sport. Studies comparing a supplemented group who undergo a weight training program versus a placebo group show that gains in strength and lean mass are the same. Unfortunately, HDL (good cholesterol) is often reduced in those taking Andro potentially increasing their risk of coronary heart disease. Serum estrogen (female sex hormone) has also shown to increase with Andro supplementation, which can lead to gynecomastia (breast development). One of the appeals to athletes is that there is no specific test for Andro. However, because commercially produced Andro is not always pure and may contain testosterone, there is a real risk athletes may test positive for steroid use anyway.
Other common substances often used by athletes, known as prohormones, include Clenbuterol and DHEA. Clenbuterol, a drug often prescribed in Europe for obstructive pulmonary disease, is banned for sporting use in the UK. Studies show that, like anabolic steroids, it can increase lean muscle mass but also has potentially serious side effects. DHEA has been labelled in the media as "the mother of all hormones" and receives much hype in the anti-aging community. Athletes believe that it can also provide androgenic effects similar to testosterone but there is little research to back up this theory. Although DHEA is available without prescription at this time, it is banned by many Sporting Committees because of the long term health concerns that have yet to be researched.
But again, unless you know exactly how to use this staff you better avoid it