Anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) have been the fitness industry’s best kept secret for decades. But for all the speculation as to who might or might not be taking them, what is it actually like to stop using them?
We’re not referring to the mass monsters of professional bodybuilding here either. There are in fact countless ‘regular’ gym bros use PEDs on a daily basis.
According to GP Dr Beng Eu, who specialises in non-prescribed steroid use, between 100,000-150,000 people in Australia use anabolic steroids, many of whom are not professional bodybuilders. Many PED-users feel obliged to keep their steroid use a secret, through fear of being stigmatised.
But in recent years, there seems to have been a shift away from the stigma surrounding steroid usage. Fitness influencers, athletes and YouTubers, have all started to open up about their experiences with PEDs, in order to shine a light on the fitness industry and educate young gym goers on their effects. The majority of which are negative.
One such individual is Australian personal trainer, fitness influencer and Myprotein Ambassador and Transformation Coach, Joshua Williams.
Joshua became a national champion in amateur bodybuilding after taking PEDs, but his mental and physical health suffered dramatically as a result.
He shared his story with DMARGE, from his decision to start taking steroids, to the problematic experiences which led him to stop.
The decision to start
Like many young individuals who lift weights, Joshua started using steroids when he began competing in amateur bodybuilding competitions.
A friend of his initially floated the idea of taking steroids, so that he would have a chance to win a competition.
“Almost everyone was taking gear, otherwise you had no chance,” he said. “It was either do it naturally and get annihilated on stage or do what everyone else was doing and have a chance placing.”
The results were immediate in the gym. Performance-enhancing drugs often help to build muscle, burn fat and boost endurance; in Joshua’s words, “The pumps and performance were insane.”
But, like many other anabolic steroid users, he started to experience a long list of the common side-effects, which took a mental and physical toll on his body. His symptoms included mood swings, aggression, bad skin, depression, hair loss and testicular atrophy, amongst others.
Eventually, enough was enough, and once he stopped competing in amateur bodybuilding competitions, he decided to cut out the juice altogether.
“My physical and mental health had suffered enough,” he revealed.
Coming off steroids
Although the side-effects he experienced while taking steroids began to subside, his performance at the gym suffered as a result of getting natural.
“Training was just not the same,” he said, “You immediately start losing muscle and strength.”
This proved to be highly demoralising for Joshua, who described coming off PEDs as “training for 12 months and getting weaker instead of stronger.”
“There’s nothing more discouraging and [it] is a big reason why I advise against anyone ever taking them.”Joshua Williams
Getting back to fitness
But thankfully, the ‘comedown’ effects of taking steroids did not last forever for Mr Williams. After, training rigorously for almost a year, he started to regain his strength.
He admitted, “I just realised that being naturally strong was absolutely achievable, but the time it takes is just much longer.”
Indeed, you’re going to suddenly wake up with a six-pack and bulging biceps the morning after an intense workout. But if you follow a solid training plan – Josh has previously told DMARGE his best methods for structuring a workout – and eat the right foods, you will make slow but steady progress.
His experiences are ones he does not wish upon anyone else who finds themselves in a similar position.
“I would highly advise against it. You’re risking your physical and mental wellbeing for gains that disappear the second you stop taking them.”Joshua Williams
“If I could go back, I would tell my younger self that the only person you need to compete against is yourself, and you don’t need PEDs to do so.”
He pins why so many gym goers – especially young men – fall prey to the ‘quick route’ of taking anabolic steroids on a warped perception of time.
“Young men between 18-22 think 2-3 years is a lifetime of commitment. In reality it’s a drop in the bucket compared to your entire lifespan.”
But, despite his problematic experience, Joshua is someone who does not live with regret. He cited becoming an amateur bodybuilding national champion as one of his greatest achievements, despite what it took him to get there.
It is people like Joshua, and other influencers such as Joe Lindner, who are helping to create an open dialogue around PED-usage in the fitness industry. Steroids can elevate your performance in the gym, but ultimately your physical and mental health is almost guaranteed to suffer as a result in the long term.
For young men who are thinking of hopping on the juice, if Joshua’s experience is anything to go by, it will undoubtedly come at a price.