Steroids vs Natural Physiques: The Pros and Cons of Each

If you want to learn everything there is to know about steroids, and whether you should consider hopping on the juice or stay natty, then you need to read this article.

There’s A LOT of misinformation and different opinions surrounding steroid use within the fitness industry. In this article I’m going to take an in-depth look at steroids, including how they work, the side effects, and how to tell if someone is likely “juicing”.

And before we get started, I just wanted to say that I’ve never taken steroids and never will. I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people don’t need steroids to achieve their fitness goals.

Simply adding 10-30 lbs of muscle mass to your frame and dropping your body fat to ~10% will make a HUGE difference on your physique, and is 100% doable naturally.

Anyways let’s get started by taking a look at how exactly steroids work, and how well they work.

1. How do steroids for muscle growth work?

steroids for muscle growth

When most people talk about steroids for muscle building, they’re really talking about “anabolic steroids”. In contrast to the steroids naturally found in the body, anabolic steroids are a man-made substance that has similar effects as testosterone in the body (such as increased muscle growth and recovery, leanness, etc).

Anabolic steroids provide these enhanced effects through a variety of different mechanisms, and all of these mechanisms contribute to one thing: increased protein synthesis. This increase results in rapid muscle growth that drastically exceeds the rate of muscle growth seen in naturals.

Now although testosterone is the most widely known steroid, there are several other forms out there that are popular among bodybuilders and sports athletes (dianabol, trenbolone, nandrolone, etc).

The reason for the many different forms of steroids is because each have their own side effects, potency, toxicity, etc. Many of these forms are often combined with each other to provide a synergistic effect, or are cycled for different purposes (e.g. Off-season vs preparing for a show).

2. How effective are steroids?

Despite what anyone tells you, steroids are VERY effective for muscle growth. Yes it’s true that those on the drug still have to bust their ass in the gym and with their diet, but they see results much faster and are able to build muscle at a greater rate than natural lifters.

Many professional bodybuilders claim that steroids don’t make as big of a difference in muscle growth as people make it out to. Well, let’s take a look at this well-known study examining the effect of steroids for muscle building.

This study was conducted by researchers at Charles R. Drew University. 43 male subjects were randomly assigned to one of four groups: placebo with no exercise, use testosterone with no exercise, exercise only (no testosterone used), and testosterone with exercise. They were given a standardized diet to follow.

The subjects were required to squat and bench press 3x per week for a total of 12 sets of 6 reps, with varying amounts of weights lifted in each workout depending on their progress. The two testosterone-using groups used 600mg of testosterone per week (which is only a moderate dosage by today’s standards). Muscle size was measured using MRI.

After ten weeks, these were the results:

steroids vs natural results

Crazy right?

The group that used testosterone with no exercise gained more muscle than the group weightlifting 3x per week! How awesome is that?!

Now as if that wasn’t enough to blow you away with steroid’s superhuman effects, steroids are also extremely effective at keeping you lean.

Studies show that testosterone inhibits the creation of fat cells, which basically makes it the ultimate drug for achieving your dream physique.

Examples of Steroid Results:

Let’s take a look at some “before after steroids” pictures to visualize just how effective the drug is.

steroid results


These pictures are just a year apart. As you can see, this guy’s body has changed drastically within a very short period of time. His muscles on steroids are much fuller, vascular, and leaner. This transformation would not be possible for a natural lifter to accomplish within a year. You can also notice his “roid belly” starting to develop.

Let’s also take a look at some famous steroid users:

Jay Cutler:

jay cutler steroids vs natural


Ronnie Coleman:

ronnie coleman steroids vs natural



Truth is, virtually all pro bodybuilders are on steroids. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to achieve the sheer mass that you need to put on in order to compete with the likes of Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman, etc.

And as you can see, the effects of steroids are pretty obvious; you can gain A LOT more muscle mass and retain more of it at a lower body fat % than you would ever be able to do naturally. To put it into perspective, let’s quickly take a look at something called the Fat-free mass index (FFMI).


FFMI is basically a measure of “how muscular you are”. It can be roughly calculated by dividing your fat-free body mass in kg by your height in meters squared. For natural bodybuilders, we have a limit as to how high are FFMI can get without the use of drugs. By using steroids, you are able to get past your natural FFMI.

For example, let’s take a look at one study that analyzed FFMI in 157 male athletes (around half of which were taking steroids, and half were not).

And guess what?

  • the average FFMI among natural athletes was 22
  • the highest FFMI among natural athletes was 25
  • the average FFMI among steroid-using athletes was 25
  • the highest FFMI among steroid-using athletes was 32

Meaning that the AVERAGE steroid-user had an FFMI that was equivalent to the highest FFMI found in the natural athletes.

It’s safe to assume that for natural athletes, we have an upper limit for our FFMI of around 25/26. And to reach an FFMI of 25-26 naturally, you need exceptional genetics!

I have a FFMI of around 22, which is the result of several years of training consistently. I believe that I’ll be able to reach a FFMI of around 23 (possibly even 24) when I reach my peak, in about 4-5 years.


natural bodybuilding

On the other hand, professional bodybuilders such as Phil Heath who is quite obviously enhancing with steroids, have clocked in at a FFMI as high as 35!

 phil heath natty vs steroids

Even Arnold back in the day (who has been open about his steroid use) a has clocked in with a FFMI as high as 30.

So overall it’s pretty fair to say that if someone’s over a FFMI of 26, then it’s pretty likely that they’re on steroids. But keep in mind that someone can have a FFMI lower than 26 and still be on steroids. Many fitness models have a “natural FFMI” below 26 yet are on juice.

Take Jaco de Bruyn for example. His FFMI clocks in at 25 yet is enhancing with steroids.

jaco de bruyn

BUT don’t get all excited just yet. There’s obviously a reason why everyone isn’t juicing. We’re about to dive into a few of the most serious side effects of steroids, and why I personally choose to stay natural

3. Side Effects and Potential Risks of Steroids:

The potential side effects and risks from steroid use will vary for everyone, but I’ll list out some of the most common ones.

Reversible effects:

– testicular shrinkage, acne, cysts, oily hair and skin, elevated cholesterol levels, elevated blood pressure, increased agression, and decreased sperm count

Irreversible damage:

– increased male-pattern baldness, heart dysfunction, gynecomastia (“breast development”), decreased natural testosterone production and liver disease


I don’t know about you, but this list is enough for me to completely stay away from steroids. Even the slightest chance of premature baldness automatically steers me clear of ever using steroids!

If you ever talk to a steroid user, they’ll likely tell you how much better and healthier they feel when they’re off steroids. And chances are, they’ll likely tell you not to even get started with them.

Although the pros of steroids seem pretty convincing, I personally think that the cons of steroids outweigh the benefits. Now I’m going to talk a little bit as to why I choose to stay natty.

4. Why I Will Always Choose to Stay Natty

You can still achieve an amazing physique naturally. Although natty’s have a limitation of reaching a FFMI of around 25-26, this still enables you to develop a muscular, lean, attractive physique.

Here’s a recent photo of me with a FFMI of around 22-23.

natty bodybuilding


This is the result of around 4 years of weightlifting consistently, with about 1-2 of those years being wasted on improper training methods and injuries early on. Nonetheless, I have developed a lot of size and am currently quite happy with my physique. I’ve realized throughout the process that I don’t need drugs to build my ideal physique. And given the potential side effects of using steroids, it was always a no-brainer for me to stay natural.

I’m going to continue putting on size within the next 5-10 years and will likely reach a FFMI of 25 in the future. So you can imagine the physique I’ll be able to achieve with around 10 years of weightlifting.

And yes, the downside with staying natural vs taking steroids is that the process to achieving your dream physique takes A LOT longer. But trust me when I say that you will enjoy the process every step of the way. Seeing your body slowly improving and getting past previous strength barriers is very satisfying and something that motivates you to keep going.

And I honestly find a natural physique to be much more attractive than the physiques of most steroid users. After prolonged steroid use, you can develop that “roid belly” or “HGH gut” and your shoulders/traps kind of grow out of proportion, like in the photo below.


signs of steroid use


But that’s just my opinion. I will always stay natural, and I’m not saying that you should too, but beware of the potential side effects and shortcomings that come with taking steroids.

The Bottom Line on the “Steroids vs Natural” Debate

I hope this article provides you with a thorough understanding of steroids and also what you can realistically expect to accomplish naturally.

If you want to look as good as competitive bodybuilders or most physique athletes out there (and stay looking that way 24/7), then hands down you’re going to need steroids.

But if you want to attain an attractive looking physique that you can fairly easily maintain at around 10% body fat year round, then you can 100% do this naturally.

What’s your take on “steroids vs natural”? Share your comments below!