by Mike Arnold
PED use among women has changed a lot over the last 15 years. What used to be a relatively simple undertaking involving consistent recommendations across the board has slowly evolved into a much more complicated process. Previously, pretty much the only females using AAS were aspiring bodybuilders. This made things simple. With most competitors sharing a common goal the majority pursued a similar course of action, but around the mid-1990’s things began to change. It was at this time that the Fitness division burst onto the scene, eventually culminating in the arrival of the Fitness Olympia. For the first time in 20+ years competition-minded women were provided with an alternative to the drug-heavy bodybuilding division. This opened the way for future divisions to follow, such as Figure, Bikini, and Women’s Physique.
With today’s competitive stages offering such a wide variety of looks for women to pattern themselves after, the number of female competitors has risen exponentially; to the point where females now outnumber male bodybuilders by a significant margin. This rapid rise in popularity has breathed new life into the IFBB and NPC, leading to higher contest earnings among all divisions and bringing a greater awareness of the benefits of “bodybuilding” (in all its forms) to the general public. But with competitors in several of these divisions capable of achieving pro status within just 2-3 years of training (sometimes when they’re still teenagers), the vast majority are ill-prepared to responsibly navigate the current PED landscape.
Naturally, in looking for answers many turn to the Internet. While the Net is certainly a valuable information resource, one must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in order to use it effectively. The rub here is that unless the individual already possess a certain degree of education in this area, distinguishing between truth and error can be difficult. Furthermore, not every self-proclaimed expert on social media is qualified to provide PED advice, despite possessing a Facebook page with the words “coach” typed on it. Remember, when using drugs that can potentially have very real (and sometimes permanent) side effects, leaving things to chance is not a wise proposition.
Even in the less muscular divisions, many women are increasingly turning to PED’s for an advantage. Although it may seem silly to think of bikini competitors using steroids, I can assure you that not only does it happen, but it happens with regularity. This is not to suggest that all bikini girls use these drugs, as that certainly isn’t the case, but the point here is if they are being used in bikini, they are being used everywhere. More importantly, with each division judging competitors according to a different standard—and with femininity being part of that judging (albeit to varying degrees depending on the division)—knowing how to achieve the desired result with the fewest possible side effects is an important part of the game.
Over the last 15 years we have not only seen an explosion in the number of steroids available, but there are also several new categories of drugs to choose from. It is important to understand right up-front that no matter how much research one does on these drugs, it is impossible to know in advance exactly how someone will respond. This is especially true for women who choose to use AAS, due to their increased sensitivity to androgens a number of female-specific side effects that men either don’t experience or don’t consider problematic (i.e. hair growth, hair loss, reduced breast mass, voice changes, etc). Therefore, before any recommendations can be made the prospective user must first be aware of the vast number of potential side effects that these drugs can cause, while also determining which ones they consider acceptable and which ones they don’t. While this will help point one in the right direction, there is no fool-proof way of ensuring that all side effects will be avoided. So long as one understands and accepts this fact, they are OK to proceed.
When it comes to women and AAS, the first thing she needs to know is that all steroids can potentially cause androgenic (masculinizing) side effects in all tissues, as androgens are not selective in terms of AR (androgen receptor) binding…they simply possess differing degrees of potency in these tissues. In laymen’s terms, every steroid has the potential to cause every androgenic side effect. Not a single one is exempt. They simply vary in their ability to do so. One mistake many prospective steroid users make is using androgenic ratings as a measure of androgenic potency. They believe this tell them how likely a certain drug is to cause androgenic side effects throughout the entire body, without realizing that androgenic ratings were used to determine androgenic potency in only one tissue—the prostate. Being that women don’t have prostates, androgenic ratings are completely worthless in helping a women assess androgenic risk in tissues such as the vocal chords, scalp, skin, clitoris, etc.
Just because a steroid may have a high androgenic rating in prostate tissue, it does NOT necessarily mean that it has that same degree of potency in other areas of the body. Likewise, having a weak androgenic rating does not necessarily indicate reduced potency in non-prostate tissues. There are many steroids which demonstrate this type of imbalance. Masteron is a great example. With an androgenic rating of 40, it would be considered below average in the androgenic rating department. Yet, experience has shown it to be pretty harsh on the hair line, causing significant hair loss in a large percentage of genetically predisposed individuals. Clearly, having a low androgenic rating does not mean that a drug is a weak androgenic in general. The bottom line is that each steroid must be evaluated individually when attempting to asses side effect risk.
Before discussing what approach a woman might use to build muscle while minimizing the risk of masculinizing side effects, let’s first differentiate between androgenic side effects and masculinizing side effects. Although they are often related, androgenic activity does not necessarily imply masculinity. Masculinizing side effects are defined as any effect which promotes a masculine/male appearance/features. On the other hand, androgenic activity is associated with a vast number of physiological processes (both internal and external) inherent to both males and females. In the same way that estrogen is usually referred to as a female hormone, despite its role in both male and female development/function, so to do females depend on androgenic stimulation in a variety of tissues in order to feel and function properly. Visible masculinizing side effects occur when specific androgenic tissues become over-stimulated.
Unfortunately, when the bulk of steroid research was being conducted in the 60’s and 70’s, researchers appeared to have little interest in ascertaining the androgenic potency of AAS in tissues other than the prostate. With no scientific journals available for reference, our only information on the subject comes from the original PED handbook—anecdotal evidence. While the scientific community has traditionally labeled anecdotal evidence unreliable, history tells a different story, with much of what we know today being attributable directly to real-world experience. Although imperfect, it has given us a pretty good idea of how each PED affects the body, especially from an external standpoint.
There are three main categories of muscle building drugs in use today—steroids, S.A.R.M.’s and peptides. Although other classes of muscle builders exist (myostatin inhibitors for example), their high production cost encourages less than ethical manufacturing practices and inefficacious dosing. For this reason few bodybuilders, at least at the present time, consider them worthy of their heard-earned cash. With peptides comprising such a wide variety of different drugs, they are usually broken down into sub-categories, including: GH peptides, GH secretagogues, the various IGF-1’s, insulin, and exogenous growth hormone. While this may not seem like many to choose from, keep in mind that only a portion of the peptides used in bodybuilding contribute to muscle growth. The good news is that all of them, aside from AAS, are completely absent of masculinizing side effects, as they don’t interact with androgen receptors. This makes them a safe choice for any woman desiring their benefits.
In my opinion, any female PED novice looking to add a small to moderate amount of muscle mass, but who doesn’t want to risk masculinizing side effects, should start with peptides and/or S.A.R.M’s. While S.A.R.M’s are usually devoid of significant masculinizing side effects when administered at lower dosages, some falsely believe that they possess no androgenic activity whatsoever. This is blatantly untrue. Even though most women won’t experience anything noteworthy over the short-term, long-term and/or higher-dose use increases the risk substantially. Furthermore, real-world experience has shown that a percentage of women are predisposed to side effects like hair loss even with the less androgenic S.A.R.M’s, such as Ostarine. Regardless, S.A.R.M’s are certainly a safer class of drugs than AAS, making them a much better choice for side effect conscious women who aren’t trying to get massive. We’ll get back to S.A.R.M’s in a minute.
For those women who don’t want to take any risks, the safest class of drugs available is peptides. These drugs possess absolutely zero androgenic activity, making the appearance of masculinizing side effects an impossibility. In addition to kick-starting muscle growth, most of them (insulin aside) also assist with fat loss; a benefit most women are happy to accept. While peptides aren’t going to pack on 10-20 pounds of muscle tissue overnight, gaining 3-6 pounds of lean mass over a few month period is a reasonable goal for an average, first-time female PED user. Best results will be achieved by combining growth hormone or GH peptides/secretagogues along with IGF-1 (I prefer IGF-1 LR3 in most instances). Whether or not someone chooses to do so will depend on goals, finances, availability, etc. Keep in mind that quite a few of the GH peptides/secretagogues can also cause appetite stimulation, often to a rather extreme degree, so if you want to avoid this side effect stay away from drugs like GHRP-6, GHRP-2, and MK-677.
Water retention is another potential side effect that many women tend to be bothered by. Unfortunately, all GH peptides/secretagogues, as well as many brands of exogenous growth hormone, cause subcutaneous water retention to one degree or another. Of course, this side effect is only temporary and subsides upon cessation of use. Furthermore, unlike AAS, which often result in significant gains lost post-cycle, the muscle gains induced by GH/IGF-1 are largely permanent. One may lose a certain amount of muscle fullness when they go off, but legitimate muscle fiber is usually maintained. One final word about dosing. There is absolutely no reason for a woman to use high dose exogenous GH when trying to build moderate amounts of muscle tissue, as the potential side effects outweigh the benefits. 2-4 IU of GH per day (or normal doses of GH peptides/secretagogues), in combination with 25-100 mcg of IGF-1 LR3 is more than enough to get the job done.
If peptides have proven insufficient or the individual is looking for a more potent muscle building effect right out of the gate, SARM’s are the next safest option. They can either be run alone, or stacked with peptides for an additional muscle building effect. Since research on these drugs is so limited, much of what we know regarding their effects on the user has been gained through real-world experience. From what we can tell at this point, Ostarine (or perhaps RAD-140) appears to have the least amount of androgenic activity in tissues responsible for causing masculinizing side effects. As for the others, LGD-4033 is probably number three on the list, with Andarine coming in last. In fact, I can think of no good reason for a woman to ever use this drug. The reason is simple. It promotes masculinizing side effects on par with many of the milder AAS, but without the same degree of muscle building power. I consider LGD-4033 to be a viable option under certain circumstances, because even though it is a significantly more potent androgen than Ostarine/RAD-140, it also possesses a much greater anabolic effect per mg. This allows similar or greater results to be achieved with reduced dosages, while simultaneously lowering side effect risk. Still, LGD-4033 tends to produce androgenic side effects with greater frequency than Ostarine/RAD-140, so I normally don’t recommend it unless it is necessary from a muscular development standpoint.
For those women who need more muscle than what these drugs can provide, steroids are the most reliable option. Traditionally, most women who enter steroid territory get their feet wet with Anavar, as its androgenic potency in tissues such as the scalp, skin, and vocal chords is much milder than most other AAS. If using injectables, Primobolan (methenolone) is usually the first choice, as its androgenic profile is similar to Anavar. Although Var is usually the less problematic of the two, experience has shown that both can be used with relative safety (assuming the doses are kept low) in the majority of users. It is when one graduates to other AAS that more worrisome side effects usually begin to emerge.
One steroid that has built a false reputation for safety among women is Winstrol. Despite its low androgenic rating, its effect on androgen receptors in the scalp can be quite profound, causing significant hair loss in a considerable percentage of users. By the time this side effect becomes visibly noticeable, most women have already lost a substantial amount of hair. While some post-cycle re-growth is to be expected (in most cases), many women never regain their hair’s full glory. Like with men, once a woman’s hair follicles shrink to the point of closing, they remain closed forever, so if you value your hair I suggest leaving Winstrol alone. It’s important to note that personal response can vary dramatically among individuals, so it’s possible that you might not experience this particular side effect, but if all you desire is 10-20 pounds of muscle mass, in my opinion there is no reason to take the risk. Besides, Winstrol is a relatively poor muscle builder. There are much more effective—and less masculinizing—options available.
In order for the following recommendation to make sense, it is important to understand what variables play a role in determining a steroid’s likelihood of causing particular side effects. Let’s use hair loss as an example. Despite popular belief, a steroid’s androgenic potency in scalp AR’s (androgen receptors) tells us only part of the story. This is because a steroid’s risk of causing hair loss is determined by two factors instead of just one. These are its myotrophic (i.e. muscle-building) potency and its androgenic potency in the scalp. More specifically, it is a steroid’s myotrophic potency relative to its androgenic potency in the scalp that determines the risk of hair loss. Allow me to explain with an example. Let‘s say Steroid A and Steroid B both possess equal androgenic potency in the scalp, but Steroid B is two times stronger from a myotrophic standpoint. Obviously, if we use Steroid B at half the dose of Steroid A, the muscle building effect will still be equal, but we will effectively cut down the risk of hair loss by 50%. Make sense? While this is an oversimplified explanation (assessing side effect risk cannot be determined through mathematical calculation), the point is valid in that a drug’s androgenic-myotrophic ratio will largely determine its likelihood of causing a particular side effect—in this case hair loss.
Since androgenic activity in non-prostate tissues was never scientifically measured, the best we can do is guess based on real-world experience. While this isn’t ideal, it’s all we’ve got and it is certainly a hell of a lot better than nothing at all. Fortunately, the combined experience of generations of bodybuilders has given us a pretty good idea of how each steroid effects in the body, particularly when it comes to external side effects like hair loss, voice changes, hair growth, etc. Although some may find the following recommendation to be somewhat controversial, extensive personal experience (in myself, clients, and many others I know) has proven it to be an effective and relatively safe course of action. I am talking about Superdrol. Yes, that Superdrol.
When evaluated purely from a masculinizing standpoint, I have found SD to provide the best balance of growth to masculinizing side effects. As most of you know by now, SD is an extremely powerful drug, with many bodybuilders claiming that no other drug ever allowed them to build as much muscle tissue as quickly as SD did. I will personally attest to this fact, as have many 1,000’s of other users all over the world. However, its incredible myotrophic potency has led many to assume that its androgenic character must be similar, when in reality it is extremely mild in comparison to almost all other steroids. In fact, SD’s has a Q ratio of 20:1 (the same as Anavar), which basically means that its anabolic effect is 20X greater than its androgenic effect. Even though Q Ratios are based partially on a steroid’s androgenic potency in the prostate, anabolic ratings can oftentimes give us a good idea of how a steroid might act in other tissues. In this case Superdrol displays very weak androgenic activity in many androgen responsive tissues, including the scalp, skin, and likely the vocal chords as well.
Overall, I have found it to be about as mild as Anavar (in terms of masculinization) when compared on a mg to mg basis. However, SD is a much more potent growth agent, with just 5 mg/day providing a growth response several times greater than an equivalent dose of Anavar. This increased myotrophic potency allows the drug to be used in one of two ways. She can either experience significantly greater growth with a side effect risk similar to Anavar, or she can experience roughly the same amount of growth with a side effect risk significantly below Anavar.
In other words, SD is actually less likely to cause masculinizing side effects than Anavar when used at doses that supply an equivalent muscle building effect. Again, this is due to its much more favorable androgenic to myotrophic ratio. Just to give you an idea of how strong this stuff is, most women will gain more muscle with just 10 mg of SD than they will with 50 mg of Anavar. Or, if a woman wishes to minimize the risk of side effects, she could use as little as 2-3 mg/day while still making gaining equivalent to 15-20 mg of Anavar. With such a low dose the possibility of experiencing meaningful adverse effects is almost non-existent.
I have personally witnessed a handful of women put on between 10-20 pounds of genuine muscle mass in less than 6 months by using just 3-10 mg of SD per day (cycled, of course). None of them experienced a single concerning side effect, aside from one lady wondering if maybe she had lost a little bit of hair (although she wasn’t sure). Two others said they experienced very mild acne, which went away after the drug was discontinued. One commonality between these women is that were all first-time PED users. Being able to put that kind of size on a woman in such a short period of time, without experiencing any masculinizing side effects, is extremely impressive. Of course, SD is well known to be harsh on the lipids and liver, so I am not trying to minimize its side effect profile in general. However, when used at female appropriate doses liver stress isn’t much of a concern. As always, before using any drug make sure you are fully aware of both its pros and cons.
One of the more pressing concerns associated with SD is the lack of high quality raws coming out of China. For this reason it is imperative to know what you are buying before you buy it. Otherwise, you could very easily end up putting a different drug in your body and experiencing a variety of unwanted side effects. In my experience, at least 75% (probably more) of all SD products on the blackmarket today are tainted/damaged in some way, so be careful.
Regardless of what PED’s a woman chooses to employ on her journey towards physical excellence, there are more options available today than ever before. Unless the goal is to be a professional female bodybuilder, rarely does one’s femininity need to be sacrificed in the process. Even when competing in Women’s Physique, most women will be able to build adequate muscle mass without having to resort to more risky options. With many of the previous pharmacological limitations having been lifted, and with an abundance of mildly androgenic/non-androgenic drugs now available, building the ideal female body without compromise has never been easier. So, before blinding deciding to use one of the old-school AAS, make sure to explore all of your options beforehand, as there is a good possibility something else might be a better fit.