Whether or not someone is using steroids does not really matter. Ultimately, this is their choice to make and if it’s something they choose to do then that’s their prerogative.
But be that as it may, it can still be very hard not to be at least slightly curious when you see that massive, muscular guy in the gym throwing weights around like they were nothing. Did he get that way naturally, or might he be using something?
And when it comes to celebrity fitness experts on YouTube, it actually does matter. These guys are selling training programs under the pretence that those programs alone will be enough to help you get a similar body to theirs. If it turns out that they have ‘cheated’ by using steroids, then this suggests that their program might not be quite as effective as they claim. Essentially, this is false advertising.
So is there a way to tell? Or will you forever be stuck in the dark? Let’s take a closer look…
Within Reasonable Doubt…
Unfortunately, there’s no way you can ever be completely sure as to whether someone has used steroids or not to reach their current physique. Some people are genetic anomalies and may appear to be using steroids even though they got their results naturally. In other cases, they might be using very small doses, making the results undetectable to the naked eye.
So instead, our objective should just be to work with probabilities. How likely is it that this person got to their current physique without a little chemical help? What is the likelihood?
To do this, we can then assess a few different factors that might suggest an athlete is either natural or not. Read on to see a few potential clues you can use…
One clue that someone might be using steroids can be found looking at their shoulders. Now, some people do have fantastic looking deltoids that are solid and round. But most of us struggle to put mass on in this area as quickly as other areas and to get them to look defined. When you use steroids however, the shoulders are likely to grow very quickly and fill out more than they previously would have. This is because the deltoids actually have a particularly high density of androgen receptors, which in plain English means that they’re very receptive to rapid growth.
Big shoulders are certainly not a guaranteed sign of steroid use but if they’re very defined, it might be your first cause for suspicion…
Backne is acne… on your back! You know, like you used to get when you were a teenager. Well, the reason you got acne as a teenager was because you had a large amount of testosterone that were triggering many of the physical changes you saw at that time. And guess what else causes unnaturally large amounts of testosterone? Steroids!
Again, there are many reasons for spots on the back – but steroid use is one of the more likely if this appears among other symptoms (although steroid use doesn’t always cause this side effect).
Another side effect of steroid use is hair loss. Once again though, this won’t affect everyone and it isn’t the only reason it happens either. But if you notice all these other symptoms and their hair is starting to thin out, then that might be a clue. Likewise, when looking at the strongest Hollywood stars, hair loss is a fairly safe indicator.
GH gut is a condition caused by a combination of certain steroids along with growth hormone (which bodybuilders also use to expand in size). This causes the stomach to become distended, making them look almost fat.
This is only a side effect of extreme steroid abuse however, so in most cases it won’t be a side effect you can notice.
This one is pretty simple. A lot of steroids are used via needles rather than being taken orally and this method actually creates less liver damage. So if someone is covered in injection marks – specifically in and around the large muscle groups – then this is another clue.
Let’s be honest, there is a limit to the size and strength you can develop without steroids. Someone like Ronnie Coleman we can be completely sure is on steroids simply by looking at his physique – it just wouldn’t be possible otherwise (the same goes for other recent Mr. Olympias).
But there are a fair few people who seem to straddle the line and fall somewhere between what’s likely to be possible and what’s probably unnatural. So how do you spot the difference?
One option is to run the numbers and work out an athlete’s FFMI. That’s their ‘Fat Free Mass Index’. This tells you just how much lean muscle an athlete can add based on their height and their current body fat percentage.
So find out their body fat percentage (or take an educated guess – remember that visible abs means 12% or under while Bruce Lee is around 4%). Now work out their lean body mass by removing that percentage from their overall weight. So if someone weighs 170lbs and they have a body fat percentage of 10%, then they will have a lean body mass of 170 – 17 = 133lbs.
Now you simply divide the LBM in kg by their height in meters squared. So:
FFMI = (LBM in kg) / (height in meters)2
This will give you a number between 0 and 25. 25 is the rough upper limit of what’s achievable for someone not using steroids according to the research (1). Again, it’s not a guaranteed method and there is a possibility that someone could reach a level of 26 or 27 naturally.
Steroid use can also make your voice become deeper. This is because it makes the larynx increase in size and although this normally stops once we exit puberty, it can be triggered again by steroid use. Likewise, steroid use can lead to another growth, including broader shoulders and a thicker set brow. It can also make a person experience mood swings which might present as aggression or potentially even depression or stress. Again, think of the ‘moody teenager’ stereotype!
Perhaps the biggest tell-tale sign of all though, is simply that the individual changes their size and shape very rapidly. Normally it takes a fair amount of time to add muscle and lose fat and if they seem to have changed overnight and they’re also exhibiting these other traits… well then you might just have reason to be suspicious!