by Willem Koert
Willem Koert is a Dutch science writer. Although his favorite subject is muscle enhancement and life extension, in his professional life he writes primarily about health, the food industry and biotechnology. In his spare time, he publishes
Ergogenics, a newsletter on bodybuilding related science.
The cycles physicians prescribe to athletes don’t work, at least, not as well as they should. That’s the main conclusion of a group of Dutch researchers, who compared the muscles of steroid users, who had used nandrolone decanoate in medical doses, with the muscles of ‘wild’ users, who had used the cycles which are common in the steroid underground.
In the nineties scientists finally discovered what every gym rat already knew: steroids build muscles. But do they also stimulate the development of muscle fibers? On that level consistent studies are missing. Some studies found that the administration of high doses of anabolic steroids increased the slow fibre size, others found no effect of steroids at all. Maybe that’s because the authors looked at the wrong muscles, the Dutch write in their publication. The authors from the studies that didn’t find effects had looked at muscles in the leg, and steroids happen to have a more profound effect on the muscles of the upper body.
Having learned from the mistakes from the past, the Dutch used trained strength athletes who had been lifting weights for six years – without ever using anabolic substances. In their first study, they gave a small group weekly doses of 200 milligram Deca-Durabolin – straight from the famous Organon plant in Oss, The Netherlands - for eight weeks. A group of equal size got a weekly placebo. Both groups had their urine checked for metabolites. Before and after the cycle the researchers took a biopsy sample from the frontal part of the delts, and analysed the fiber composition.
To make a long story short: nothing had happened. There was no statistical difference in fiber composition between the "nandrolone group" and the "control group". Nonetheless, in another publication<sup>(1)</sup> the same researchers reported the effects of the same cycle on a remarkably similar group of bodybuilders, and concluded that the users made significant gains of three kilograms of fat free mass. To put it more precisely: two kilo’s upper body, one kilo on the legs. These modest gains were however not reflected in changes on the fiber level, where the researchers were unable to find any statistical significance between the groups.
The left part of the table below shows a simplification of the results. The figures show the relative growth of the muscles fibers.
In the second part of the study the researchers repeated the procedure. They used another group of experienced weight trainers with no history of steroid use, who this time bought their own steroids on the black market, using real life cycles. While the researchers did not give specific details of the cycles used in their article, they described the contemporary Dutch gym cycle whereas the mean amount of androgen varied from 200 to 1200 milligram a week and consisted of two to six different steroids in the cycle <sup>(2)</sup>.
Those cycles did have a clear effect on the muscle fibers, as the right part of the table below shows. This time the changes during the eight weeks of the cycle were of statistical significance. (The differences between control group and cycle group, however, were not.)
|Medical cycle (n=8) vs. placebo (n=7)||Gym cycle (n=12) vs. control (n=7)|
|Mean fiber diameter||nandrolone||1,00||gym cycle||1,13|
|Diameter type 1||nandrolone||1,04||gym cycle||1,11|
|Diameter type 2||nandrolone||1,01||gym cycle||1,15|
When scientists have answered one question, several new questions remain. The Dutch study is no exception. In the discussion the researchers ask themselves: What exactly made the real life cycles so much more effective? Was it the higher dosages? Or was it the effect of stacking different components? That, they conclude, should be an interesting thing to investigate.
The take home message of the study is a sad one. It is very unlikely that 200 milligram of Deca Durabolin causes hyperplasia or significant gains in male strength athletes. Don’t waste your time or money on them. For that matter, it doesn’t mean that you have to turn to megadoses to make progress on steroids. There is still a huge space in between medical doses and megadoses.
1. Hartgens F, Van Marken Lichtenbelt WD, Ebbing S, Vollaard N, Rietjens G, Kuipers H. Body composition and anthropometry in bodybuilders: regional changes due to nandrolone decanoate administration. Int J Sports Med. 2001 Apr;22(3): 235-41. [PubMed]
2. Hartgens F, Cheriex EC, Kuipers H. Prospective echocardiographic assessment of androgenic-anabolic steroids effects on cardiac structure and function in strength athletes. Int J Sports Med. 2003 Jul;24(5):344-51. [PubMed]
3. Hartgens F, van Straaten H, Fideldij S, Rietjens G, Keizer HA, Kuipers H. Misuse of androgenic-anabolic steroids and human deltoid muscle fibers: differences between polydrug regimens and single drug administration. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Jan;86(3):233-9. [PubMed]