Taking the Plunge


by Mike Arnold

“When to begin using performance enhancing Drugs?”

With more people than ever before turning to performance enhancing drugs prematurely, the question “when should I begin using steroids” is more relevant than ever. With such a wide variety of opinions on the subject, I want to take a few minutes to address those who might be considering the jump to chemical enhancement, but are unsure of their readiness. While differences in both circumstance and age preclude the possibility of an all-inclusive answer, there are some general questions that every BB’r should be able to answer correctly before getting a green light to use these drugs.

One of the most commonly held beliefs, especially among the currently drug-free crowd, is that each individual should “max out” his natural genetic potential before considering chemical assistance. Although a noble idea, there are a few problems with this line of thinking. First of all, no one really knows what someone’s natural genetic limit is and even if they did, the amount of time required to reach it is unrealistic. With many naturals continuing to make gains well into their 30’s and some even into their 40’s, striving after such a long-term goal would put an aspiring competitive BB’r into retirement before he even got the chance to use AAS. For those wishing to take their physical development as far as they can, this type of approach isn’t really the best idea.

Still, the primary point of this message is not without merit, in that more BB’rs should take the time to establish a solid physical and educational foundation before jumping into AAS. There are a few good reasons for this. As the underpinnings of any successful BB’ing career, training & nutrition should remain the sole focus of those just getting started in the sport, until such time they have demonstrated competence in these areas. By being forced to rely on training & nutrition early in one’s journey, the BB’r learns how to make gains without drugs, thereby establishing a working knowledge of the basic principles of muscle growth. As a result, by the time PEDs are brought into the equation, the BB’r he will have acquired the knowledge and worth ethic necessary to take maximum advantage of these growth enhancing agents. Furthermore, having formed a more accurate and enduring perspective, it is unlikely that these individuals will ever come to view drugs as the be-all, end-all to muscle growth. Not only will this ultimately allow them to go further than their drug-reliant counterparts, but it is more likely to keep them from making poor health choices, as well.

Due to the potent muscle-building effects of AAS (an attribute that is more readily apparent in the beginner than the advanced BB’r), those who begin using them right out of the gate are often deceived as to their true place in a BBr’s program. They simply pop a few pills/ give themselves a few injections and the gains start coming. Since they are able to make substantial gains without needing to fine-tune their training & nutrition, they come to rely on PEDs to stimulate growth. Naturally, when their gains begin to diminish, their first thought isn’t “how can I manipulate my training and/or nutrition in order to stimulate additional growth?”, but rather “what drugs/dose should I use to keep on gaining?” This will work for a while, the length of which will vary depending on their current nutritional & training adequacy, but sooner or later, their gains will come to a dead stop, where no amount of drugs will enable them to make further progress.

Because they learned to depend on steroids right from the beginning, they never needed to develop the training skills or acquire the nutritional knowledge necessary to continue making gains at an advanced level—a level where even PED’s won’t stimulate new growth without the joint assistance of these two essential elements. At the end of the day, these individuals often fail to make the most of their genetic ability and/or injure their health in the process, as more and more drugs fail to yield the degree of improvement they desire. For this reason, taking the time to learn and appreciate the role that nutrition and training play in muscle growth is of critical importance and cannot be stressed enough. Not only will it end up paying long-term dividends, but will benefit the BB’r in the interim, as well.

Aside from the above-mentioned prerequisites, each prospective PED user should also consider his level of education in the area of performance enhancing drugs. Remember, these are not benign substances that can be used indiscriminately without harm. They have the potential to cause significant damage to various bodily systems, including the cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, reproductive, and hormonal systems, just to name a few. Many of these drugs can also adversely affect the mental and/or emotional health of the individual, while simultaneously exposing them to external side effects like gynecomastia, water retention, acne, oily skin, hair loss/growth, and others. These side effects can range from temporary and mild to permanent and serious.

Therefore, before one contemplates making the jump to AAS, he should possess a thorough understanding of both the positive & negative aspects of their use. He should also know how to prevent/minimize side effects, safely & effectively construct cycles in terms of duration, compound selection, and dosage, as well as implement PCT. He should not only be aware, but be ready to accept certain side effects should they occur. While serious (i.e. life-threatening) side effects can almost always be prevented through responsible use, not all side effects can be predicted. All steroid users will experience side effects to one degree or another; both internal and external. Some of these side effects are clearly genetic, such as hair loss, while others, such as acute liver failure, represent irresponsible use.

An inexperienced steroid user cannot possibly know in advance how he will respond to the various AAS, either in general or regarding a particular drug, until he uses them for himself. This is why premeditation and anticipation is so important—because if a BB’r experiences a side effect he finds unacceptable, such as hair loss, it may be too late to reverse it. The bottom line is to know in advance what you are getting into, what is important to you, and make decisions accordingly.

So, taking everything I just said into consideration, how long should one wait to begin using AAS? As stated above, there is no single answer that will apply to everyone and there are always exceptions to the rule, but I believe a BB’r should have at least 2 years of consistent eating & training under his belt before he is ready to consider AAS. While this estimate might be less conservative than some, I don’t believe those with serious competitive aspirations or those with a strong desire to achieve outstanding physical development should be wasting time. In my opinion, what good is it to take 15 years to accomplish what could be done in 5 years? Why go throughout your 20’s or even 30’s waiting to achieve the physique of your dreams? Are those not the best years of your life to build and showcase a BBr’s physique? I believe in the saying “responsibility to the responsible”, but there is also something called procrastinating. If you know what you want to look like and you know you will eventually need steroid to achieve it, there is no need to waste time.

Of course, anyone can wait longer if they desire and truth be told, in many cases it is a very good idea to do so. Most guys are simply not ready to transition to AAS use after 2 years of training…and some never are. A good way to gauge your readiness to use gear is by evaluating your gains rate. If you have been training & eating in a manner conducive to muscle growth, yet your gains have dropped off to just a few pounds a year, then chances are, if you continue training naturally, that you will get more of the same. Now, I don’t know about you but in my opinion, if one’s goal is to add as much muscle as possible, then it doesn’t make much sense to continue gaining muscle at the rate of only a few pounds a year when you could add 20 pounds or more in just a few months, especially when one’s time in this sport is limited.

Before moving on, I should mention that there are a lot of guys out there who think they are living the BB’r lifestyle, but in reality, their training & eating habits more closely resemble those of Richard Simmons than Ronnie Coleman. BB’ing might be relatively simple in its application, but the science behind it is extensive, covering multiple areas of study, including physiology, anatomy, kinesiology, endocrinology, pharmacology, nutrition/dietetics, and even psychology, among others. One could spend their entire lifetime immersed in study, yet never come anywhere close to “knowing it all”. Although the potential for learning is vast, one does not need to possess a doctorate in any of these subjects to make substantial progress. However, each person should be able to demonstrate a basic working knowledge of the foundational principles of muscle growth before transitioning to AAS.

While the two year time frame may be sufficient in the above cases, there are definite exceptions to this guideline. In the case of teens, two years is hardly sufficient, especially in those who begin training early in life. Obviously, someone who starts hitting the weights by age 14 is not going to be ready at age 16, no matter how faithfully he has been applying himself in terms of training & nutrition. Aside from obvious parental considerations, a teenager is just not mature enough, either mentally or physically, to begin using these mind and body altering drugs. While we may rarely encounter a teen prodigy who is ready to begin by age 19 (the minimum acceptable age to begin using AAS under any circumstances, in my opinion), most would do well to wait a few more years; using this time to further hone their BB’ing skills.

One should also evaluate his financial situation before taking this step. BB’ing is an expensive sport, with food, drugs, supplements, and gyms all taking a bite out of one’s paycheck. Priorities should never be compromised in order to afford the “extras”. For example, it does no good to spend one’s money on steroids if the potential gains cannot be supported from a nutritional standpoint. The bigger you want to get, the more you will have to eat, and with steroids supplying the ability to synthesize muscle tissue at an exaggerated rate, you better make sure to include additional money in your food budget if you want to be able to take full advantage of these drugs.

Unless you come from a well-off family that is able to comfortably support your ride through college, and knowing what it takes to make the most of a BB’ing career, I can say right up front that many college-bound students will be better off waiting until they have completed their schooling and landed a decent paying job before trying their hand at steroids. Most people are between the ages of 22-25 when they finish college—still very young and a perfect age to make a push for BB’ing excellence. Don’t be fooled by those who tell you that you should begin hitting the gas as early as possible if you want to be successful in this sport. Sacrificing long-term success for short-term muscle gain, only to find you don’t have a pot to piss in later in life, is not going to make you a better BB’r or a happier person. BB’ing is not a sprint. Those who are able to responsibly prioritize and stick with it for the long-haul almost always achieve greater success than those who come out running, but fizzle out quickly.

Truth be told, if you have the knowledge, finances, motivation, discipline, and genetics to do well in BB’ing, then it won’t take you long to get to the national stage and make a push for your pro card. Look at Justin Compton—the new pro who just won a pro show. He is an example of someone who bided his time; competing in natural organizations throughout his early 20’s and learning the value of training & nutrition before beginning to use drugs. Having both a solid physical and educational foundation in place, once he began using PED’s, he blew up and became a near over-night pro sensation. Now, I am not so naïve to suggest that everyone has the ability to follow a similar path, but I seriously doubt Justin would have made the same degree of progress had he not taken the time to learn the value of training & nutrition in BB’ing.

With so many variables to consider, it is impossible and even irresponsible to throw out some arbitrary timeline for AAS use. However, by taking some of the previously mentioned factors into consideration, hopefully you will be able to make a more informed decision—one that is in your best interest as an individual. Above all, prioritize correctly and remember that training & nutrition form the foundation of any successful BB’ing program. Only then will you be able to make the most of your genetic potential and achieve long-term success in both BB’ing and life.