As legal interventions have heated up regarding the use of anabolic steroids for athletic purposes, alternatives have been fabricated to satisfy the demands of fitness and health-conscious individuals. Presently, numerous fitness-supplements are easily obtainable from health stores. A majority of health supplements have been deemed as an effective and safe alternative to steroid use.

What are steroids?

With over 3 million Americans have used steroids, the desire to “bulk-up” is strong. However, what happens to your body when you take steroids and are there major risks to taking performance-enhancing drugs? Every time a person “pumps” weight at the gym, their muscles experience damage. However, the body recovers by forming new muscle protein strands to repair the muscle fibres and overtime these strands increase in thickness and quantity. Ultimately if muscle protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown, the muscles will grow. The degree of growth is largely regulated by testosterone, which increases protein synthesis. Consequently, men will generally have larger muscle mass than women since they have higher levels of testosterone.

Steroids are any compound with a specific four-carbon-ring structure, indicating that the term “steroid” actually includes chemicals that can be utilized to treat fevers, headaches and even sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. However, perhaps the most popular form of steroids is the type that is utilized by over 15% of gym-goers known as anabolic steroids. These steroids mimic natural testosterone with the intention to enhance performance.

Within a single day of taking anabolic steroids, the expression of your genes will begin to alter. Steroids easily enter your cells and bind to the androgen receptor, which is “activated by binding any of the androgenic hormones, including testosterone and dihydrotestosterone in the cytoplasm and then translocating into the nucleus”. At this point, they can move into the nucleus and attach to your DNA which activates hundreds of genes to increase protein synthesis, while slowing down protein breakdown. Individuals who take steroids can have 3 to 5 times more nuclei in some muscle cells while decreasing their body fat levels.

As soon as after a few weeks of taking steroids, an individual will be able to quickly increase muscle size and strength, while also protecting muscle fibres against damage: deeming steroids ideal for exercise tolerance and recovery. However, there are several side effects associated with continuous steroid use such as hair loss, acne and liver damage. Additionally, steroids may affect an individual‘s behaviour since steroid receptors are found in parts of a person’s nervous system such as the forebrain, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. Consequently, frequent users may experience mental symptoms such as “roid-rage”, depression and aggression. Male users may also begin to experience sperm cell abnormalities as well as a decrease in their sperm count. Furthermore, steroids can actually decrease the natural production of hormones that are necessary for maintaining a normal testicular size.

What are the dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements, on the other hand, are products that provide active ingredients missing in your diet and may be consumed to directly improve your performance. Their ingredients may come from a variety of sources such as proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, herbs and other botanical ingredients. These supplements are widely available in tablets, capsules, softgels, powders, liquids, gelcaps and even nutrition bars. Dietary supplements should only ever be consumed orally, and should never be injected except by a doctor.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA because they cannot be categorized as foods or drugs. instead, dietary supplements are regulated under the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, DSHEA. The DSHEA defines nutritional or dietary supplements as “a nutrient, a formulation or some compound that is natural or drug-free”, unlike anabolic steroids which are completely illegal in the United States.

Supplements can be divided into three main categories including sports foods, health supplements and performance supplements. Sports foods provide targeted doses of key nutrients, and should only ever be used when real food is not an option. Health supplements are used to address specific needs for short periods and are recommended by a health professional. Performance supplements such as pro supps can provide a direct performance boost for system recovery. However, many are very costly and may include some negative side effects. Inappropriate use of supplements can sometimes lead to a reduction in performance and a hampering in recovery.

What are the differences?

Publicly, there is a common misconception that anabolic steroids and supplements are essentially the same things. This statement is simply not accurate, as anabolic steroids are labelled as drugs that abnormally increase in individuals testosterone levels, whereas nutritional or dietary supplements are concentrated forms of natural food nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, omega 3 fatty acids and much more. Additionally, the majority of supplements available on the market deliver noticeably impressive results without the dangerous drawbacks of illegal anabolic steroids. In order for a supplement to reach its optimum potential, nutritionists and fitness experts recommend frequent exercise, proper physical training and a well-balanced diet.

Supplements can be deemed as nutrient-rich products which fill in an individual’s nutritional gaps which are not satisfied by food alone. Anabolic or artificial steroids can be deemed as drugs aimed at replenishing insufficient supplies of testosterone in a person’s body. While the majority of supplements are proven to be safe and effective, steroids pose mental and physical dangers in the long run. As always, it is recommended that you speak with your doctor or health consultant before taking any supplements.

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