As an athlete, bodybuilder, or sportsman, you may have heard a lot about prohormones and steroids but are unsure of what they are and how (if at all) they differ. So what are the differences between prohormones and steroids? Do they accomplish the same things for athletes, and are they safe?
Prohormones are manufactured supplements that mimic increased testosterone when broken down by the liver, whereas anabolic steroids act as a form of synthetic testosterone and are administered more directly. Both substances can enhance sports performance but carry some risks to health.
Keep reading to learn more about prohormones and steroids, their similarities and differences, and how using them can affect game performance and overall health.
How Do Prohormones and Steroids Differ?
Both prohormones and steroids have been used widely by athletes in the past, and both have been argued to be useful in improving athletic performance. However, while they can accomplish similar things for a male athlete, they differ considerably regarding chemical composition and how your body receives and processes them.
Anabolic steroids are man-made substances that are derived from natural male testosterone. These steroids essentially boost or bulk up natural hormone levels in the body by introducing larger amounts of synthetic testosterone through injection, topical application to the skin, or an oral pill.
Steroids are absorbed and used by the body rapidly, and effects can often be felt within minutes or hours. They offer a more direct form of testosterone. They are quickly used by muscles, the nervous system, and the cell recovery process in very much the same way that the body would recognize and use natural testosterone.
Prohormones, on the other hand, are synthetic supplements that mimic the effects of increased testosterone production once they are absorbed and processed by the liver. The liver breaks the various components of the prohormone down into testosterone, which is released back into the bloodstream.
This makes prohormone supplements slower-acting than steroids, but they often produce similar results as far as increased testosterone production and the greater muscle mass and endurance that comes with it.
Both steroid and prohormone use can lead to
- Increased muscle mass
- Greater stamina
- Better endurance levels
- Increased speed and strength
- Better focus during games
- More consistent athletic performance
Both prohormones and anabolic steroids may be procured with a doctor’s prescription, and some forms of prohormone are available over the counter. So when would one use prohormones, and what are their specific effects on the human body?
When Would You Use Prohormones?
Prohormones interact with the body slower and are released back into the bloodstream as testosterone once the human liver has processed and broken them down. Prohormones are frequently taken over time in manageable doses in conjunction with a planned athletic or workout routine and muscle-building goals.
In other words, prohormones tend to work slowly over time to boost testosterone levels in male athletes and work with the body at a more manageable rate. Athletes will notice a gradual increase in muscle mass, greater endurance and may also find that they are performing better on the field.
Prohormones come in many different forms, and new brands hit the market often. This is due to the FDA periodically banning one form or another of prohormones as they deem them unsafe or risky for personal use. New, slightly different forms of the same drugs will keep popping up as older formulas are banned.
Thus, you can typically find several different formulas of prohormones on the market, such as 1-Androsterone and Epi-Andro, under various brand names and bottling designs. They are used for gradual muscle increase and increased endurance over time as one works out and seeks gains in bodybuilding and athletic performance.
So when would one be using steroids, and what effect do steroids have on the human body and male athletic performance?
When Would You Use Steroids?
Steroids are more direct forms of natural or synthetic testosterone that are ingested, injected, or applied topically to the skin to boost testosterone levels in the bloodstream quickly. They are available through prescription and can be used as hormone therapy for middle-aged and older men.
Athletes who have used steroids often report rapid results, and their use before games, races, and competitions has proven to be a common source of scandal and controversy in the sporting world. Steroids tend to have more immediate effects and interact quickly with the brain, endocrine, nervous, and muscular systems to increase endurance.
Common forms of prescription steroids include Jatenzo, Androgel, Axiron, and Depo-Testosterone. These may be taken orally, applied as a topical cream, or injected into the muscles regularly as part of male hormone replacement therapy. They are FDA-approved and controlled substances and must be prescribed by a doctor.
When used over time, steroids can increase muscle mass and hence improve athletic performance, as well as increase sex drive and lead to short-term boosts in emotional confidence. However, while steroids and prohormones can have some arguably positive effects, there are dangers, as well, which need to be considered so that neither substance is abused or rendered toxic.
What Are the Side Effects of Prohormones?
While prohormones are sometimes considered safer, more gradual, and easier for the body to process, some side effects exist. Prohormones are typically taken over a longer period to build up testosterone levels gradually. They are less of a shock to the human body than direct steroid injections, but should still be used with caution.
Prohormones are broken down by the body into testosterone, but they can also release quantities of estrogen into the bloodstream. Common negative side effects of prohormones include
- Feminizing traits such as enlarged breast tissue
Far more serious complications include liver damage, which means that if you are taking prohormones for athletic performance, you may wish to reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption. Your liver can only handle so much, and allowing your liver to process either prohormones or alcohol (but not both) is a smart choice.
Taking a natural liver supplement along with prohormones can also go a long way in ensuring long-term organ health and functionality. So prohormones can be used routinely with some precautions. What about steroids? Are there any adverse effects of steroid use in male athletes?
What are the Side Effects of Steroids?
Steroids can have a wide range of adverse side effects, and need to be taken with care, and under the supervision of a primary care physician or endocrinologist. Steroid use can have mild to serious consequences, such as
- Premature Balding
- Cardiovascular damage
- Lower sperm count
- Heightened aggression
- Mania or delusions
- Liver damage
As you can see, these side effects range from cosmetic to highly dangerous. The greatest risks to you are if you abuse prescription steroids or if you inject or ingest more than what your body can handle.
Ironically, while steroids can increase muscle mass and endurance through testosterone, they can also decrease sperm count and lead to testicular shrinkage, making fatherhood less likely or difficult. If you’re trying to start a family, consider holding off on prescription steroid use.
Overall, if you notice any of the above changes to your body or mood, be sure to check in with your doctor. He may lower your dosage or switch you to a less potent form of the hormone. So which is better for you? Should you look into steroids or prohormones? Is one safer than the other?
Which is Better?
Both steroids and prohormones can help boost athletic performance and increase muscle, but deciding which is best will take some consideration and thought.
For one thing, steroids are typically unavailable without a prescription from a doctor, and no competent doctor will prescribe synthetic testosterone just so that you can bulk up. Steroids are more direct and can improve before-game performance, but should be taken with care, as their side effects can be more extreme than those caused by prohormones.
Prohormones, on the other hand, may be available as “dietary supplements” at local nutrition centers or pharmacies and tend to interact with the body more gradually. You can have similar effects to those produced by steroids, but in smaller quantities that are processed more slowly by your liver as opposed to directly being absorbed.
This tends to make prohormones safer and easier to control. The side effects of prohormone are generally milder, as well, and quitting prohormone supplements may prove easier than weaning yourself off of steroids.
This is because research suggests that steroids can be seriously addictive to some users, and withdrawal from prescription testosterone can be a painful and lengthy process if addiction does occur. Prohormones, on the other hand, are thought to be less habit-forming, making them a safer option for those wishing to improve game performance with fewer risks.
Apart from legality and addiction concerns, are there other reasons to choose one over the other? Are prohormones cheaper, for example?
Prohormones are Cheaper than Steroids
Prohormones are more affordable than steroids and can save you hundreds of dollars per year over a prescription testosterone replacement. They’re also more readily available and have some price range. How much cheaper are prohormones?
Prohormones can cost you anywhere from $65 to $125 at a retail store for a 60-count bottle. If you consume 1 tablet per day, this will last you about 2 months and will cost you an average of $570 over a year.
Prescription steroids, on the other hand, can average $150 to $350 for a one-month supply, a cost that will run you at least $1,800 per year, if not more. That’s more than three times as high as non-prescription bottles of prohormone.
And as the long-term health risks of prohormone tend to be less severe than those associated with steroid use, you may save money in lifetime health care costs, too. Still, prohormones are powerful supplements, and you should monitor your health closely and stop taking prohormones if you notice adverse effects.
So, if all of this sounds a bit scary or off-putting, what alternatives to steroids and prohormones exist? Are there natural substitutes for these substances and supplements?
Alternatives to Prohormones and Steroids Exist
One of the least expensive and simplest alternatives to prohormones and steroids is to simply treat your body right, eat well, get plenty of sleep, and train in your sport of choice regularly.
While supplements and prescription drugs can boost muscle mass and improve performance, there’s no substitute for an excellent diet, fresh air, and a balanced, low-stress lifestyle.
Consider broccoli, salmon, dairy, eggs, nuts, kale, whole grains, and ancient grains as fuels for your body. Make water your primary hydration tool. Some athletes find that a high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet suits them best, while others benefit from whole grains like brown rice and lean proteins like fish and chicken.
Make sure that you’re taking time out for your mental health and doing things that you find relaxing and enjoyable. Men’s hormones naturally tend to balance themselves out when emotional health is optimal.
Avoid processed foods, artificial ingredients, and a diet high in sugars, as all of these have the potential to lower testosterone and damage your health overall. Finally, practicing your chosen sport and bulking up naturally is a safe and proven way to gain mass and improve performance.
After all, Babe Ruth had an amazing career before any modern performance-enhancing drugs or supplements were even on the market, and the man was a bit on the tubby side. Still, he was unbeatable in his day with nothing but talent, drive, and a love of the game.
Prohormones and steroids are both ways to introduce extra testosterone into your body. Prohormones release testosterone once broken down by the liver, whereas steroids are more directly ingested, injected, or applied to the skin and are absorbed into the bloodstream. Both can help improve muscle mass, strength, and athletic performance.
However, steroids are available only with a prescription and can include concerning side effects such as cardiovascular problems, aggression, and liver damage. Prohormones are often available over the counter, but it’s a good idea to quit alcohol if you take them, as the liver often struggles to handle both.
Prohormones are considerably cheaper and are easier to quit, while steroids can prove addictive. Alternatives to both include a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fatty fish, and vegetables and low in artificial ingredients and sugar. It’s also important to get proper sleep and keep stress levels low.
Gary David is the founder and CEO of CrazyMass, one of the nation’s leading supplement companies. Before starting CrazyMass in 2006, Gary was a bodybuilder and personal trainer for several gyms throughout Northwest Michigan, helping clients meet their fitness goals. Gary happily worked in this profession for over 15 years. He saw that most weight gaining products to increase muscle were made with ingredients that were dangerous or of poor quality. He knew there was a safer and healthier way to do this, so he created a special blend of herbs, amino acids, and nutrients to help bodybuilders slim down and gain muscle.
Although Gary no longer participates in bodybuilding competitions, he continues to be involved in the community, helping others prep for shows and attending events where he can advertise CrazyMass products. When Gary isn’t working long hours, he likes to spend his time working out at the gym, boating on Lake Michigan, traveling the trails around Northern Michigan by four-wheeler, and spending time with his family. He also loves to take a yearly trip to Europe with his wife and children.