Explore the progress made in PEDs, new ones, and what it all means.
When Ben Pakulski ponders the future of steroids in bodybuilding and powerlifting, he recalls the 2011 film Starring Bradley Cooper, Fields of Darkness.
In the film, Cooper’s character, a writer in creative crisis, takes a pill that pushes the boundaries of his mental capacity.
It’s certainly not as easy as Hollywood did, but for Pakulski, a former professional bodybuilder, the film’s central premise provides at least a free template for what the future might look like.
Imagine a performance-enhancing drug that can heal wounds or soothe sore muscles almost instantly, or imagine a pill that can directly induce muscle growth and fat loss. This is what some athletes and bodybuilders are looking for in steroids.
As science and genetics advance, Pakulski and other experts believe that modern steroids, which have stood amidst powerlifting and bodybuilding competitions for decades, will soon be a thing of the past.
Today, these drugs are widely targeted at building muscle in the body and often come with devastating hormonal side effects that doctors like Thomas O’Connor, known as the “Anabolic Doctor,” have to deal with in their office several times a day.
Those drugs that date back to the mid-20th century will always be used, says O’Connor, “because they work, phenomenally, and are available on the Internet.
However, the future points to more specialized drugs that can be tailored to the specific needs of the body.
Right now, next generation performance enhancing drugs include SARMs (Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators), which are essentially anabolic compounds that promise fewer steroid-related side effects.
Designer steroids that are specially formulated by chemists in laboratories. Peptides, which are molecules that activate hormonal pathways in the body.
And also testosterone replacement therapy, nootropic compounds designed to maximize brain function, and even – ultimately – the idea of gene editing to maximize performance.
How safe are all of these things? This is something we cannot say for sure at the moment, partly because science is still in its early stages on this issue, and partly because it is difficult to study them too closely, because they are still viewed as taboo – especially in competitive sports.
And the potential for abuse, especially among amateurs who lack the proper knowledge or professional guidance, is still a major concern.
To understand what the future of steroid drugs might look like, we spoke with several experts about how they envision this future, what they see on the horizon, and how to better understand the benefits and risks.
SARMs and designer steroids
According to O’Connor, athletes and bodybuilding enthusiasts who are not ready to try the more common steroids first turn to SARMs like ostarine and cardarin.
The S stands for “selective” because they are designed to more effectively target androgen receptors – structures in your body that bind to anabolic steroids to create muscle.
SARMs are not approved for human use, but some bodybuilders believe they work just like old school steroids without breaking down into unwanted molecules like estrogens that cause unpleasant side effects like acne, erectile dysfunction, and gynecomastia.
According to O’Connor, “the average person taking SARM is not an athlete who wants to get bigger and heavier.
There has been very little research done on the long-term effects of SARMs, and since they are commonly purchased on the black market, they may be contaminated with harmful substances.
Some preliminary studies have shown that SARMs can suppress natural testosterone production. Another study on cardarin had to be canceled because it caused cancers in the intestines of mice.
And according to O’Connor, if you take them for an extended period of time, they will act like steroids, which means that unwanted side effects are inevitable for you.
The same applies to so-called “designer steroids”, which are produced by chemically modifying conventional steroids.
These include compounds that emerged from laboratories like BALCO that were caught in the 1990s baseball steroid scandal.
The beauty of designer steroids is that they are modified enough to avoid the testing process. O’Connor says wealthy athletes usually make them to order from chemists overseas.
“What they are doing is blowing dust off steroids that were never actually manufactured but were produced on paper,” he says, also noting that the user is still prone to side effects.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)
A major part of Coach Ali Gilbert’s job is to help men optimize testosterone levels. This makes her an expert in testosterone replacement therapy, which can have profound implications for men over 40, but remains controversial, especially for athletes.
The difference between steroids and TRT is often the lower dosage, but according to Gilbert, men can be confident that they are not getting spoiled on their prescription.
This pure testosterone can help increase strength, improve mood and improve endurance. As such, TRT will have a performance enhancing effect, although the extent often depends on the dosage and how it affects the individual.
For the time being, TRT remains prohibited in most major sports, unless you can get a therapeutic benefit.
The UFC banned it in 2014, and some former fighters, such as Anderson Silva, have suggested that the US Anti-Doping Agency be more flexible about its use in MMA, especially as it can help older fighters recover faster. p>
Former UFC fighter Vitor Belfort, who passed the TRT and rekindled his career in his 30s, may have been the clearest example of TRT’s alleged impact, even though he mostly refused to talk about it.
Other MMA fighters, including Dan Henderson and Chal Sonnen, have admitted to taking the TRT course, although it was previously banned.
Sonnen told reporters that his doctor prescribed him to treat hypogonadism, a condition caused by a testosterone deficiency that can lead to decreased sex drive and depression.
Gilbert believes TRT will become more prevalent over the next decades, in part due to environmental factors that she believes have caused testosterone decline in men.
Gilbert, in particular, points to chemicals in plastics, cosmetics and lotions that disrupt the endocrine system and research has shown can lower testosterone levels even in young men. “This creates a problem,” she says.
Perhaps, Gilbert says, most men will undergo TRT within 30 years – she points to one expert who predicted that men could become infertile by 2060. And if this process becomes so widespread, it will be nearly impossible to ban it for athletes as well.
For Pakulski, the most interesting possibilities come from compounds commonly known as peptides, which can specifically target certain pathways in the body – they can essentially “transcribe” new DNA that changes the way our bodies look and feel. p>
Pakulski notes that science is getting better by targeting these pathways without the same level of external stimuli – so we can get stronger or lose more fat without exercising, for example, as hard.
Because they are more targeted, peptides are believed to have fewer side effects, although they do not have the same anabolic effects as steroids.
Growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), produced primarily in the liver, are among the best known peptides.
The efficacy of both HGH and IGF-1 as muscle-building and anti-aging drugs is a matter of constant controversy. They can cause side effects such as joint and muscle pain, increased insulin resistance, and an even higher risk of certain cancers.
Pakulski points to many other peptides that have just been studied. This can change the way we see and relate to the human body as a whole, not to mention their impact on performance.
“The reason we exercise is because we’re trying to turn on certain genes that will ultimately change our body,” he says. But peptides, if they fulfill their promised purpose, can help make these changes easier.
In other words, Pakulski says, “you no longer need to do a lot of exercise, you no longer need to do a lot of cardio, because you literally just bypass the need for physiological stimulus. This is the future of disease prevention – this is the future of everything really. ”
Pakulski says he spoke to a biochemist who is working on a peptide that may speed up healing. Other scientists, he says, are working to create implants that can measure the optimal levels of nutrients in each body, and eventually we can target peptides to address our weaknesses.
Pakulski also notes that instead of taking testosterone or growth hormone, we can take a peptide that allows our own bodies to increase the production of these substances.
It will not have the immediate effect that steroids do, but the medical factor can be substantial.
Science is already far enough away from the fact that there are peptides that can cause fat loss. There are also brain peptides with nootropic effects that can help increase the brain’s ability to function (and are already being used by some – the Esports Gankstars team was sponsored by the know-tropics manufacturer HVMN in 2016).
As with other performance enhancers, many of the peptides available on the web are produced overseas with little regulation, so they may not contain the substances they claim.
And while peptides may turn out to be safer than anabolic over time, as an anonymous powerlifter and strength trainer notes, the general perception that peptides are undoubtedly safer can also be deceiving.
“Someone might say,“ Oh, yes, peptides are relatively safe, I’m going to take peptides, ”he says. “Well, insulin is a peptide. And insulin will kill you. You have a few minutes to avoid falling into a hypoglycemic coma if you make a mistake with your insulin dosage.
What is the future?
It is too early to know the full range of side effects of these substances. Right now, peptides are pretty much legal for use by the general public and competitive athletes, but Pakulski thinks that may change.
In addition, some substances, including certain peptides, are extremely difficult to test, which could allow athletes to get away with using them until USADA, WADA and other organizations detect their presence in the blood.
Meanwhile, the hope is that the science and understanding of our own bodies will advance to the point where these compounds can be used safely and effectively, without the tendency towards excess that old school steroids have caused.
It is also hoped that professional athletes will even be targeted towards safer substances than those they are currently taking “secretly”.
But until this point, experts advise you to be careful no matter which path you choose. And then a more important moral question arises about when the use of these substances is justified and when not – an issue that must also be considered as science moves into new areas.
“I’ve been prescribing testosterone all day for accountants and lawyers who need it,” says O’Connor. “What’s the difference between that and assigning it to a young MMA fighter, Major League baseball player, or bodybuilder who uses it as a steroid? It’s ethical for me. The ethical difference is that a young person does not need it, but an age lawyer needs it. ”