The Evolution of PED’s in Bodybuilding

by Mike Arnold

The idea that a singular, endogenous hormone was somehow responsible for the development of male characteristics goes back 1,000’s of years, with various cultures forming a direct association between the testes and masculinity. However, it was not until 1849 that this theory gained credibility in the scientific community. In an attempt to ascertain whether or not testicular secretions played a role in aggressive behavior, German scientist, Dr. Berthold, conducted a round of experiments designed to evaluate the effects of castration on immature roosters. As hypothesized, the castrated chickens did not develop any of the physical or behavioral characteristics normally observed in adult, intact males.

Shortly thereafter, physiologist Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard, at the advanced age of 72, made a presentation to the Society of Biology in Paris regarding a personal self-rejuvenation experiment. During his presentation, he claimed to have self-administered a series of 10 injections over a 3 week period, with each one consisting of testicular blood, seminal fluid, and testicular extract (derived from guinea pigs and dogs). He claimed that the preparation provided him with renewed vigor, increased strength and endurance, and made him feel decades younger. Although we now know that this concoction would have had virtually no effect in any of the areas claimed, back then this was unexplored territory, and it caused quite stir in the medical community. Indeed, it may have been the first case of AAS induced “performance enhancement” reported by an accredited physician.

In the decades that followed there remained a strong push among researchers to identify and isolate the various sex hormones, with the first major achievement occurring in 1931 by Adolf Butenandt. Butenandt was responsible for isolating the first male androgen, androsterone, which was harvested from 15,000 liters or urine donated by the Viennese police force. Although lacking the anabolic and androgenic potency of testosterone, its discovery was a benchmark achievement in the field, pointing researchers in the right direction of their next big find; one which would change the face of medicine forever—testosterone.

By 1935, just a few years after androsterone was first identified, testosterone was isolated and then synthesized from cholesterol. However, some have proposed (rightfully so) that Nazi Germany was the first to develop the drug, with some claiming that it was used as a potential means of increasing aggression and maintaining lean mass in soldiers during times of low food supply. Either way, the anabolic properties of testosterone had been well-established, which, even at this early point in the game, led some to speculate on its potential as a performance enhancer.

In a 1939 paper entitled “doping”, we see these same thoughts reiterated by Author Boje, who, while addressing the issue of doping in horse racing, made the following comment “In sports in which animals took part, the use of stimulants was so widespread that several countries introduced legislation to forbid it on the grounds of its cruelty to the animals. Equal attention ought also to be paid to human beings participating in sports”. These comments suggest that Boje believed in the ability of testosterone to provide more than just a placebo effect. Otherwise, there would be no use for such a drug in competitive athletics. Later in the article, Boje further clarifies his position on testosterone as a performance enhancer, while also warning the reader of the adverse health effects that this drug could bring about.

As we entered the 1940’s profit was the primary driving force of most researchers, with big-name pharmaceutical companies such as Searle and Ciba clamoring to develop new drugs capable of treating various medical conditions. 100’s of new steroids were synthesized during these years, but only a small portion would ever be produced and sold as prescription drugs. It was at this same time that efforts to obtain Growth Hormone for the treatment of GH-deficient children began, with all early work conducted on primates. This lead to the purification of both bovine and porcine GH, but since the physiological effects of GH is species specific, these versions of the drug demonstrated no significant biochemical or metabolic activity in humans.

With the realization that animal versions of the hormone were ineffective in human beings and with the chemical structure of GH yet to be elucidated, the next logical step was to extract the hormone from the pituitary glands of corpses, which was first reported in 1956. This form of growth hormone was appropriately named cadaveric GH and was the mainstay of GH treatment for nearly 30 years. However, in 1972 the hormone’s chemical structure was uncovered, which opened the doorway for the drug’s synthesis in the years to come.

Despite GH’s numerous performance enhancing benefits, its existence remained relatively unknown to most competitive BB’rs all the way through the 1970’s. This is in stark contrast to AAS, which by this time had infiltrated the BB’ing community on a massive level. There are a few reasons for this. With AAS being inexpensive to produce and used to treat a variety of common medical conditions, they were manufactured in much greater quantities. This, along with their legal status at the time, made pharmaceutical diversion (the most common method of obtaining AAS in the 70’s) infinitely easier. On the other hand, the availability of growth hormone was extremely limited, even to the point where those with legitimate medical conditions, such as dwarfism, often had difficulty obtaining it. Combined with an exorbitant price tag and significantly less public awareness of the drug, it pretty much fell off the BB’ing radar (if it ever registered on the radar to begin with) and into obscurity for several decades, being largely unavailable to bodybuilders for nearly 35 years after its initial release.

Before moving into the 1980’s, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a little more time reflecting on the state of steroid affairs in the 70’s. Although much has changed from then until now, much has also remained the same, in that the bread & butter of the Golden Days is still considered basic stock today. Steroids such as methandrostenolone (Dianabol), testosterone (esters & suspension), nandrolone (Deca & NPP), oxandrolone (Anavar), stanozolol (Winstrol), oxymetholone (Anadrol), fluoxymesterone (Halotestin), and other AAS were used just as frequently back then as they are today. Even drugs like trenbolone (as Parabolan) and methenolone (Primobolan) were fairly widely available. They also had access to some really cool stuff; stuff we don’t even have today, such as Bolasterone and other exotics that were only available through pharmaceutical companies for a limited time. While most of these traditional AAS have maintained their presence and popularity over the long-term, in those days there were distinct differences in not only how these drugs were used, but also in which drugs took precedence.

While testosterone forms the base of most steroid cycles today, it was Dianabol that occupied this position in the Golden Era. It is difficult to over-state just how popular Dianabol really was in those days. As the primary mass-builder, it formed the base of nearly every steroid cycle, including off-season and pre-contest programs alike. It was frequently run solo and was by far the most commonly recommended first cycle for novice users. It was typically run for much longer periods of time than what we see today, with 12-20 week cycles being the norm and with dosages ranging from 10-100+ mg/day.

Dianabol was frequently stacked with Deca or Primobolan in the range of 300-600 mg/week. Anadrol was sometimes substituted for Dianabol, but was generally less favored. Orals such as Winstrol and Anavar were commonly used during pre-contest prep, especially towards the close of the decade. Testosterone was not used nearly as often, as it was considered a rather crude substance—less refined than more advanced steroids like Deca and Dianabol. This belief no doubt originated with John Zeigler, inventor of Dianabol, and was likely perpetuated by BB’rs exposed to this teaching. Still, this opinion was not wholly misguided, as one must first understand the circumstances under which this belief arose.

As a “natural” hormone, testosterone fell victim to the mentality of the day, which stated that science was superior to nature. After all, if testosterone was so good, then why would Dr. Zeigler have created Dianabol in the first place? More so, why would the medical community have synthesized 100’s, if not 1,000’s of steroids in their quest to create stronger and more pure anabolics? One should also consider that in those days, the negative side effects of AAS were primarily associated with their androgenicity. Little was known about their negative effects on the cardiovascular system, the liver, kidneys, or any of the other organs/bodily systems. This led researchers, and consequently the general public, to falsely conclude that testosterone was more dangerous than other steroids, while in reality, testosterone was one of the mildest of all AAS in terms of its overall impact on internal health.

Another relevant factor was the lack of aromatase Inhibitors, which made supraphysiological testosterone use problematic, to say the least. A dosage of just 500 mg weekly—a starting point for many in today’s world—would have produced side effects such as gynecomastia, excessive water retention, hair loss, and acne in many users. This would have caused a significant percentage of individuals to assume that testosterone was a harsh steroid and subsequently gravitate towards other AAS. These days, many of the side effects which plagued earlier generations are no longer a concern, as ancillary drugs such as A.I.’s and 5-AR inhibitors have eliminated them.

In addition to this disparity in steroid preference/ranking, administration habits also varied significantly. The pyramid system of dosing, which was defined by a gradual increase in dosage during the first half of the cycle and followed by a gradual decrease in dosage during the 2nd half, was employed by the majority. This method of administration was believed to be superior for both muscle growth and recovery for two main reasons. One, by gradually increasing one’s dose over time, it was believed that the body’s adaptation mechanisms would never fully catch up to the current dose, thereby allowing the bodybuilder to continue making maximum gains throughout the entire “growth” phase of the cycle. Afterwards, during the downward phase of the cycle, common logic dictated that a gradual reduction in dose would allow for a gradual recovery of the HPTA (note: By the turn of the millennium this approach had been rejected completely, with newer and more effective methods of administration being implemented by the masses).

Before we go any farther, let’s back up for a minute and see where insulin fits into all this. As one of the more recent drugs to enter the world of BB’ing, some may find it interesting to know that the medical use of insulin pre-dates both testosterone and growth hormone. Yet, despite its long-term availability and relatively affordable price, it took a long time for the BB’ing community to draw a connection between insulin and muscle growth. With the anabolic & anti-catabolic properties of insulin well-known among the medical community for the better part of a century, the reason for this is anyone’s guess. One possible explanation revolves around the focus of early insulin research. Unlike testosterone & GH, in which the majority of early research centered on their role as growth agents, most of the early insulin research focused primarily on the metabolism of glucose as it related to the treatment of Type I Diabetes. With comparatively little mention of its role in the muscle growth process, its late entrance into the Iron Game becomes a bit more understandable.

Released by Eli Lilly in 1922, porcine (pig) insulin was the first form of insulin available to the general public, but unlike growth hormone, animal insulin was effective in treating diabetes in humans. Although imperfect, it remained in use for 6 full decades as the gold-standard for diabetes treatment. Throughout most of this time, relatively little headway was made in the area of synthetic insulin development, but this all changed in 1963 when Eli Lily was successful in synthesizing human insulin for the first time. It would be 19 more years before Humulin R was released onto the marketplace (82’), but none the less, we had finally reached the point where animal-based insulin was no longer a necessity, providing all diabetics with a chance at maintaining a fairly normal life.

Just 3 years later we witnessed the arrival of synthetic growth hormone, but it did not catch on right away, as both price (which remained high, despite being synthetically produced) and availability issues made its acquisition unrealistic for most. Exactly when GH use started in earnest is a matter for debate, but most agree that the drug didn’t really make an impact on the bodybuilding scene until we entered the 90’s. Now, before someone chimes in and says “they had GH back in Arnold’s day”, keep in mind that its use was so limited prior to the advent of synthetic GH that, for all intents and purposes, it was basically non-existent in the bodybuilding community. If anyone did manage to obtain some, they weren’t able to use very much for very long.

Some claim that cadaveric GH was utilized by certain elite pros prior to this date, although no one has ever stepped forward to confirm the validity of this claim, nor have any names been publicly and reliably indentified as potential users. Despite this lack of confirmation, I find it interesting to note that Fred Hatfield, in his 1982 book titled Anabolic Steroids: What Kind and How Many, stated that GH had become “the state of the art strength and size drug in the free world’.

During the 1980’s the world of AAS continued to evolve, with steroids such as EQ, Finajet, Finaject, and Masteron being added to the ever-growing catalog of available injectables. Synthetic GH made its debut and was growing in popularity, while insulin was being talked about by the more educated BB’rs and was right on the verge of making its big splash. Tim Belknap, pro bodybuilder and mass monster extraordinaire, was one of the first BB’rs to publicly acknowledge the benefits of insulin on growth & recovery. As a Type I diabetic, he was intimately familiar with the effects of insulin on the physique and as a result, became somewhat of an authority on the matter. However, the vast majority of bodybuilders continued to rely on AAS exclusively, as growth hormone was still very much considered a novelty item and the idea of using insulin as an ergogenic aide was still in its infancy. Things were about to change.

The 1990’s marked a turning point in the world of competitive BB’ing, with both GH and insulin use increasing exponentially. Most point to this single change as the primary catalyst for the massive increase in size witnessed in the 90’s. No doubt, this played a substantial role, but we certainly can’t lay all the praise (or blame, depending on how you look at it) at the feet of these two drugs. Neither can we discount the increase in AAS dosage that transpired during this decade, as doses which were once considered unfathomable started to become commonplace. Instead of the 1-1.5 gram cycles used by most of the 80’s pros, we were now seeing 2, 3, and even 4+ gram cycles take up residence in the programs of pro BB’rs everywhere. In combination with a decrease in training volume and frequency, an increased emphasis on recovery, and a renewed focus on progressive resistance, the typical 90’s pro weighed a good 20-30 lbs more than his 1980’s counterpart.

The next big change—the arrival of the UGL—was fostered by the Internet and occurred around the turn of the millennium. Up until this point almost all the PED’s found on the blackmarket were of pharmaceutical origin. Product quality was of little concern, although prices were generally higher—oftentimes much higher. The allure of the UGL was three-fold: instant availability, larger selection, and lower pricing, but along with these incentives BB’rs now had to contend with bunk, under-dosed, and unsterile products—a fair trade-off, depending on your financial situation and connections within the market.

When reflecting on the history of PED’s in bodybuilding, it is a common mistake to focus almost entirely on drugs of prescription/pharmaceutical origin, but we should not forget the role that OTC “supplementation” played in the evolution of the PED world. At around the same time that UGL’s started popping up all over the Net, we began to see various supplement companies release products referred to as “andros”, or simply prohormones. In the beginning, these compounds were poorly formulated and nearly completely worthless at building muscle. Almost all of these hormones required conversion in order to exhibit meaningful anabolic activity, while also lacking a delivery system suitable for oral administration. This meant that the overwhelming percentage of one’s oral dose was destroyed by the liver long before reaching circulation.

But, it didn’t take long for supplement companies to begin addressing the issue. At first, these delivery systems were somewhat crude, but they did significantly increase oral bioavailability beyond the original Andros, allowing for moderate absorption into the bloodstream. However, we were still left with the same basic problem—weak compounds. With the majority of these drugs being inactive in their original state, results were mediocre at best, regardless of how much of the compound was made available to tissues. By 2003 a few ballsy supplement companies blew the door right off the hinges with the release of fully active, unscheduled steroids. While this was a huge step forward, most of these compounds still suffered from inadequate delivery, preventing them from providing results on par with traditional AAS. There is a reason that all orals made by pharmaceutical companies utilize a methyl delivery system—because it is the only way to obtain a near 100% absorption rate.

Well, in 2004 we saw the supplement industry do just that with the release of methyl-1-testosterone. This release marked the beginning of a new era in OTC AAS, in that it was the first legal steroid that not only utilized a fully active steroid with a methyl delivery system, but this particular drug was exceptionally potent, demonstrating greater myotrophic effects than any prescription steroid ever sold! Gains of 20 lbs in 3 weeks were common. OTC designers had arrived and from that day forward the majority of products sold in the OTC marketplace were genuine oral steroids. Many were comparable to, and in some cases more potent than traditional AAS. Drugs such as Superdrol, Desoxymethyltestosterone (Pheraplex), Epistane, Dimethazine, Methylstenbolone, and 1-Alpha are just a few examples.

At the same time that the designer steroid market was flourishing, the peptide industry was also making inroads into the bodybuilding community. Unlike steroids, insulin, or GH, the term “peptide” was not comprised of a single compound or even a single class of compounds. Rather, it is a general term encompassing multiple classes of compounds with a diverse range of physiological effects. At the time, most of these substances were completely unknown to the average bodybuilder, leaving many in the community skeptical regarding their place in the PED world. Given the lack of evidence regarding the effectiveness and safety of most of these compounds, most bodybuilders were reluctant—and understandably so—to accept these drugs into their program. However, most peptides were eventually found to be relatively safe, while providing effects that many found useful for one reason or another. Muscle growth, enhanced appetite, fat loss, self-tanning, and the repair of collagen containing tissues (tendons & ligaments) are just a few of the beneficial effects accessible to bodybuilders through the “peptide” family of drugs.

Up to this point I have focused mainly on chronicling the PED timeline, but there is another area I want to touch on that has had a major impact on the way bodybuilders perceive drug use within the sport. This is the dramatic shift in mentality of recreational PED users over the last 5-7 years, specifically as it pertains to both AAS dosages and insulin use. Oddly, despite insulin’s presence in competitive bodybuilding for the last couple decades, many recreational PED users continued to see it as a sort of taboo until just recently. Most were reluctant to include it as a part of their regimen, believing it was either too dangerous or too advanced for anyone but those who earned a living from the sport. Since then we have come quite far in dismantling the ignorance behind this belief—to the point where it has been rejected by the BB’ing community at large. This is not to say there is no risk with the drug—there most certainly is—but proper, responsible use mitigates the majority of its side effects. These days, most individuals see insulin as just another aide in their quest for physique perfection.

With drugs such as myostatin inhibitors on the horizon (production costs and difficulties have thus far prevented the reliable manufacture and sale of these drugs through peptide companies), as well as genetic engineering shaping up to be a reality, we are likely to see radical changes in our sport in the not so distant future. 20-30 years from now, possibly sooner, I predict that training will no longer be necessary I order to build substantial muscle size. Genetics which govern muscle growth may no longer be a relevant factor in making champion bodybuilders, as science will eventually overcome these limitations, leading to unlimited growth through advanced drug therapies. It is likely that champions will be pre-selected according to those genetic traits not yet able to be modified, such as muscle shape, structure, detail, etc.

Under such circumstances the sport will become nothing more than a science experiment devoid of dedication or hard work. Simply submit yourself to genetic manipulation and decide how far you want to take your development. While this may sound outrageous right now, our current era may very well be one of the last in which champions are still largely determined by the degree of effort they are willing to put into their craft. Soon, science will overtake effort and to be honest I am glad that I probably won’t be around to see it happen. For someone who has earned a living talking about and advising others in the realm of drug use for some time, this may seem an odd position to take, but I don’t think any of us could have predicted where our future would lie when Dr. Butenandt first isolated androsterone way back in 1931. On the other hand, given Humanity’s penchant for never having had enough, maybe it isn’t so surprising after all.

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