Many steroid users would like us to think that if they grow so fast while medicated, it is not so much because of the drug but rather due to their innate ability to train. This is probably why they never dare to go off steroids. Is there really any usefulness in cycling anabolics? I doubt that any pro ever goes off! Why shouldn’t up-and-coming amateurs and contenders for the pros do the same?
Is it useful to cycle steroids?
After a while, steroids lose part of their muscle building properties. You then face the following dilemma: either increase the dosage at the risk of suffering more and more side effects or simply stop the drug for some time. In that case, you may lose some if not all of your gains. This is due to the lack of anabolic substitutes or strategies able to reverse the wasting period associated with steroid discontinuance.
Such has been the situation until now. I will show you not only how to prevent this wasting phase but also how to grow while off steroids. Of course, this will be a quite unorthodox method but it is highly effective. Let’s first review the classic strategies employed when off steroids.
Why does muscle mass shrink when steroids are discontinued?
Anabolic steroids accelerate the muscle protein turnover. They increase both anabolism and also catabolism. As the former is boosted more than the latter, your muscle mass increases. I know that we are constantly told that steroids are anti-catabolic. This is simply not the case. Nor do they block the cortisol receptors located inside our muscles. I wish they did so that everybody would be pleased but that’s not how things work.
If you don’t understand how steroids work, there is no way you can prevent the loss of mass when you go off them. Whenever our muscles are exposed to too much androgen, the number of testosterone receptors rapidly diminishes. On top of this, the receptors left lose some of their ability to trigger the anabolic process. You could say that the muscles become testosterone resistant as an analogy with the insulin resistance associated with the early phase of some diabetes.
By the same token, whenever our testes are exposed to too much androgens, their own production of testosterone lessens. So at the end of a cycle, your ‘nads may have shrunk a little or a lot. This depends mostly on your age. The young bodybuilders being less likely to end up with a little peanut than the more mature weightlifters.
To sum up, at the end of your cycle your muscles are resistant to the building properties of androgens and you are not producing much testosterone to stimulate those receptors anyway. It’s is an ideal situation for a rapid muscle shrinkage. This will not be due to an acceleration of catabolism but rather to a strong deceleration of the protein synthesis rate. As anabolism drops below the catabolic rate, the degraded muscle proteins will not be renewed, hence the loss of mass.
A further complication is that in many people (but not all) anabolics tend to reduce the cortisol elevation associated with training stress, the secretion of this wasting hormone may tend to increase. This will further depress the anabolic drive.
Should a minimal intake of steroids be maintained?
Pros and cons
In order to counteract this great wasting period, bodybuilders taper off their steroid use. It is rare that they stop cold turkey, especially after a serious cycle. The rationale is, maintain a reduced supply of androgens so that a) the muscles have a chance to recover some of their lost sensitivity to testosterone and b) the testicles can grow back a little. This may work to some extent but it mostly just postpones the wasting rather than preventing it. A possible strategy here can be to only partially discontinue steroids in order to artificially keep a high level of androgen in the blood. The issue of the lost muscle sensitivity is not addressed but at least you do not end up with a zero androgen level in your blood and all the problems inherent to this situation (loss of libido, depression, feminization, etc.).
This may seem an unusual way of stopping steroids but it is in fact very popular. It is why someone can tell you that he is completely off steroids when he is still using 3 to 5 d-ball a day plus one or two vials of testosterone a week. He is not lying to you when he says he is off as he truly believes it himself. It is just a matter of semantics here. This is the person’s minimum (zero or off) dosage. I am not going to argue on this as it is a universal strategy which has proved its efficacy.
The main advantage is that it prevents the muscle shrinkage. In fact, you can keep on making progress while “off.” It also protects from the wide endocrine fluctuations associated with a classical steroid cycling. The main disadvantage is you will not recover your muscle sensitivity to testosterone completely. More importantly, your endocrine system and especially your testes do not stand a chance of recovering homeostasis.
Which nutritional strategies should be adopted?
The first thing you have to figure out once you are off steroids is your nutritional strategy. You face several alternatives, namely:
- Attempt to maintain the muscle mass even if it means adding some fat.
- Trim the fat added during the steroid cycle even if some lean mass is sacrificed.
- Add mass and shed fat if willing to utilize some innovative strategies.
Let’s explore those strategies in detail.
- Attempt to maintain the muscle mass even if it means adding some fat.This is the most popular method. One tries to hold on as much as possible to the newly acquired mass until the next cycle. In that case, steroids are replaced by extra food in order to oppose the rapid loss of strength usually associated with steroid discontinuance. The food-induced water retention and the fat gains are the main mediators of this increase in muscle strength and will partially counter the lack of androgen-mediated brute strength. Of course, by overeating, you will be more able to delay the general fatigue that is often felt during the workout once steroids are stopped. On top of this, the extra food helps to accelerate the recovery in between workouts. This will again partially counter the lower recovery speed experienced when off steroids.The main drawback of this strategy is it will not entirely stop the mass loss, and also one is likely to rapidly pack on fat. If you are too fat already, it is not a practical strategy. On the other hand, if you’re lean and do not gain fat easily, then this is certainly the way to go.
- Trim the fat added during the steroid cycle even, if some lean mass is sacrificed.If you tend to gain fat with a relative ease during a cycle, this is the time to shed those extra pounds. Some people tend to lose fat while on steroids, while others tend to gain some even if they are careful about their diet. The rationale here is to say that if you diet while on steroids, you will severely impair their anabolic potency. Steroids are not the best means to ensure retention of muscle mass during a low calorie diet. In fact many people have an easier time getting defined while off steroids than when on. Since lean mass will be lost while off anyway, why not use this “clean” period to wash out your body a bit? Once steroids are resumed this extra definition will allow you to eat more which will potentiate the effects of anabolics.The main drawback here is the risk of losing all the lean mass added during the previous cycle. So, do not go on a super-strict diet. Drugs such as clenbuterol will come handy at this point.
- Add mass and shed fat if willing to utilize some innovative strategies.Such an attractive alternative may seem incredible. The catch here is the willingness and the mental strength required to implement such a strategy. Though the most rewarding method, it is both uncomfortable and complicated. Five years ago, I would have said it was not possible to add mass while improving definition, especially right after a cycle. But thanks to newly utilized, powerful, non-steroid anabolic drugs it is totally possible. The cost is not an issue either as those drugs are pretty cheap, not involving peptides like GH or IGF-1. More on this later.
What about HCG?
Many bodybuilders are attracted by HCG or gonadotropin. This hormone is supposed to stimulate the shrunken testes into growing back and recovering their normal rate of testosterone production. I would seriously encourage bodybuilders to avoid this drug. It is extracted from the urine of pregnant women. Even if we are told it has been purified, how would you feel learning in 20-30 years that there was this little something that scientists haven’t uncovered until now and that is killing people? Until HCG is completely synthetic, I would be careful about it. Its usefulness is questionable anyway. If your cycle was very strong, you are likely to be relatively insensitive to HCG. If your cycle was mild, you should be able to go off without it. If in this situation, you feel a need for it, it means you’ve messed up somewhere. Additionally, HCG is a potent gyno builder, especially when estrogen level is high because of past testosterone consumption.
The role of anti-aromatase.
A much wiser but more expensive alternative is to use anti-aromatase at this point. Such drugs inhibit the transformation of testosterone into estrogens. Estrogens are among the hormones responsible for the reduction of the testosterone output by the testes. But you should not discount the fact that the main inhibitors of androgen secretions are the administered androgens themselves even if they do not aromatize. Blocking the estrogen production constitutes therefore only a partial answer. The main drawback of anti-aromatases is the prohibitive cost. We are forced to develop strategies to reduce it to the bare minimum without compromising the drug potency too much. The ideal would be to start using them a bit before a cycle and to continue during and after the cycle. Due to high cost, this is not practical.
Teslac (Testolactone) used to be a popular anti-aromatase. Studies have shown that it was able to rapidly and effectively boost testosterone output. Strangely enough, it never gave much muscle mass. Even the scientists were proud to say that it was not a virilizing drug. The problem was discovered recently. Some of the Teslac was confused with testosterone by the measuring apparatus. So it was in fact in great part a false testosterone elevation explaining the lack of effects (Cummings1998).
Cytadren or Orimeten (Aminoglutethimide) is the most popular anti-aromatase among bodybuilders because it is relatively cheap. The problem is, it is not super effective, nor is it devoid of side effects. The most common are skin rash and drowsiness. You may feel tired all day long. This is supposed to subside after a while but in many experiencing this side effect, it does not. If you want to go with Cytadren, start with a half tablet at night. If everything goes well, add another half after training (assuming you do not train at night). You should end up using 3 half tablets per 24 hours at regular intervals if possible. Cytadren is the cheapest anti-aromatase and can be used during and after a cycle if your budget permits it.
Femara (Letrozole) is a newly developed anti-aromatase. Due to its price, I suggest to start it toward the end of your cycle. Use it for 3 to 5 days at the recommended dose of 2.5 mg. Then use one every other or every 3 days at night. If it is still too expensive, try half a pill every other day. It means that with one box you can cover 4 months. If you can afford it, take half a pill a day.
What about Lentaron (Formestane)? AVOID!
Are anti-DHT medications useful?
If you are on testosterone, anti-DHT Proscar can reduce the side effects of this hormone a little. As DHT contributes to testicular atrophy, Proscar while on steroids can be of some use. Do not expect too much though. You can start with one pill (5 mg) a day for 3 to 5 days, then you can take one every third day. I like it best at night for maximal effects on testosterone production. Proscar may also be wise for pro-hormone users.
Saw Palmetto: Recommended as an anti-DHT, saw Palmetto can weaken the potency of your steroid cycles. While off cycle, this plant extract will reduce the effects of what is left of your own testosterone. AVOID!
Pro-hormones: is it the right moment to use them?
A common belief among “unnatural” bodybuilders is that pro-hormones are only good whenever steroids are stopped. At first, it may seems like good advice, but as you think about it it may not be. Of course, using pro hormones while on steroids is a waste of money (unless you are taking very little drug). What about pro-hormones when off cycle? It will place you in the situation described above in which you keep a minimal intake of hormones even whenever you are supposed to be completely off. On the other hand, pro-hormones may be valuable during the tapering-off period especially if you are using an anti-aromatase and possibly a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor.
Anti-cortisol: not the right answer.
Many people assume that if they are wasting away when off cycle, it is because cortisol is free to perform its harmful work. This is the rationale behind the use of an anti-cortisol. If you could somehow tame cortisol effects, you would be able to keep your newly acquired mass despite the lack of androgen. In fact — believe it or not — impairing cortisol effects will not do much good when off steroids. As I said above, cortisol has only a minor role in this wasting process.
Insulin: beware of the potential fat gains.
We are often told that insulin is a very powerful anabolic hormone. Is it so effective that it can replace steroids? No — but if you want to hold on your muscle gains even at the risk of gaining fat, it may help. For those who fear injecting insulin, there are oral alternatives which are safer and may be more effective if you are new to anti-diabetic drugs. Capsules of sulfonylureas such as Glipizide (2.5 mg) taken with the morning and the post workout meals can increase both insulin and GH secretions at those key moments. Just make sure you ingest enough carbs during the following hour. You will feel that this drug increases your appetite, so just feed you body with carbs plus fast proteins like whey. Injections of insulin are more tricky. You can use a slow one before breakfast and a fast one before your post workout meal. Start with a ridiculously low dosage like 5 IU and slowly work your way up.
GH: an expensive weak anabolic.
Using GH would be very nice to counter the potential fat gains due to insulin while optimizing the muscle building process. Unfortunately, it is not cost effective. On top of this, GH works best when androgens are abundantly available, which is not the case in the situation we are considering.
IGF-1: probably too tricky to use optimally.
IGF-1 could favorably replace both insulin and GH. Its price goes down rapidly especially if you are willing to sacrifice some purity to get a better price (i.e: animal grade). Like most vendors, there are some annual sales each year which gives you an even better price. The main trouble with IGF-1 is that it is very tricky to use due to its rapid degradation once in the blood. Furthermore, it works better with both insulin and especially GH making it an expensive stack. So I do not recommend it.
Ephedrine is welcome if not already overused.
Using ephedrine plus caffeine can be a simple but very effective alternative when off cycle. It will replace the missing drive due to a shortage of androgen during your workout. It is especially good in case you have decided to shed the excess fat accumulated during your steroid cycle. The main drawback is that the use of ephedrine while on steroids has many advantages, so you may already be on it. In that case you will not fully benefit from it as you have already built up a tolerance.
Clenbuterol: do not expect too much out of it.
Clenbuterol was promoted has a wonderful anabolic drug. In fact, it was thought to be the right stuff while off steroids to continue to pack on mass while shedding fat. Unfortunately, it turns out to be too much expectation for this beta adrenergic agonist. Clenbuterol is valuable anyway, but do not expect miracles in terms of muscle mass. If you desire to get rid of some extra fat, Clen can help you to optimize the effects of your diet while allowing you to train harder and heavier. If you feel that Clen is hampering your workout, it means you are taking too much before training. In this case, divide your intake into two equal parts, one intake being used after training as far apart from the first intake as possible (as long as it does not prevent you from sleeping!). Clen can also replace the GH while on insulin or on insulin boosters such as sulfonylureas in order to counter the fat gains and the potential hypoglycemia. If Clen is not available, ephedrine plus caffeine can replace it.
Thyroid hormones: be careful about the potential lean mass losses.
The last drug I would like to mention today are thyroid hormones. As opposed to what used to be said, thyroid medications will not help you pack on muscle mass. If anything, they will make you shrink. Their main effects are to help you lose fat, but as with Clen they can be used to counter the fat promoting actions of insulin. Insulin plus thyroid is a nice stack in that insulin can counter the catabolic effects of thyroids. We are also told to use Clen or ephedrine along with thyroid hormones. I do not share this view. Clen or ephedrine are natural stimulators of the thyroid gland, forcing it to produce more hormones, not less as frequently believed. On the other hand, thyroid medications can be used when off Clen or ephedrine in order to reinforce the fat burning effects of a diet.
To conclude, many alternatives to steroids are available when off cycle. Unfortunately, none is truly affordable and effective for muscle retention. As far as fat loss drugs are concerned, several effective ones are available but they will not do much good for our muscle size. Up to now, anyway. Next month, I will tell you more about drugs which can not only prevent the losses associated with steroid discontinuance but will also build muscle mass despite the shortage of androgen. They will also play some nasty tricks on your fat mass which will shrink as you get bigger.