6 Signs That Someone Is Taking Steroids (From a Trainer)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: March 26, 2024
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Performance-enhancing substances are commonly linked to professional bodybuilders, yet even every day gym-goers may have experimented with them without considering the potential risks of steroids.

If you want to differentiate between natural vs. drug-enhanced muscle build, we’ve paired up with the top medical experts to provide you with the most common signs of steroid use.

Is there a clear distinction between natural strength and a chemically enhanced physique, or are the signs too subtle to discern?

Read on and find the surprising truth behind the use of steroids.

Quick Summary

  • To spot a steroid user, look for signs like rapid muscle gains, pronounced deltoids, and excessive vascularity.
  • According to the Natural Institute of Drug Abuse, steroids can result in side effects such as reduced sperm production and testicular shrinkage, attributed to elevated testosterone levels exceeding a specific threshold.
  • Surveys indicate that steroid use among community weight trainers attending gyms and health clubs is between 15% and 30%.
  • Having seen the allure of quick results from steroids, I've come to believe that the health risks and ethical concerns make sticking to natural training and a balanced lifestyle a more lasting and principled approach.

6 Signs To Recognize Steroid Users

Steroid users often exhibit certain telltale signs. For those seeking a healthier route, it's advisable to explore natural and legal steroid substitutes, complemented by consistent training and a well-rounded lifestyle. Here's what to watch for:

1. Speed of Muscle Gains

close up image of a man biceps getting measured

A clear sign of steroid use is the unusually rapid rate of significant muscle gains.

I recall my early days of working out, when it took me several months to witness discernible progress. My peak achievement was gaining 20 pounds of muscle over an extended period, followed by only incremental muscle additions.

However, I've observed individuals at the gym who, in just a matter of weeks, expanded in ways that bordered on the supernatural. Initially, their muscle gains mirrored mine, but they consistently added mass, accumulating an impressive 30–50 lbs to their physique in a relatively brief span.

This alludes to how quickly they can put on mass and transform their bodies during the duration of their workout journey.

2. 3D Delts

man showing his back while flexing his biceps

At fitness conventions, I often observe men with shoulders that appear almost unnaturally squared. This is in stark contrast to the physiques of most natural bodybuilders I've encountered, including some of my most accomplished clients.

These pronounced shoulders, often referred to as 'boulder shoulders', are characterized by their distinct 3D deltoid muscles—a strong indicator of steroid use.

This is attributed to the high concentration of androgen receptors in these areas, which leads to pronounced growth when influenced by anabolic-androgenic steroids.

3. Excessive Vascularity

close up image of a man's veiny arms

During my early training days, I was always fascinated by those with prominent veins. But it wasn't until I learned more about steroids that I realized this excessive vascularity might be a telltale sign.

Anabolic steroids have an impact on collagen production in the body, which makes the skin thinner and more susceptible to early aging. As a result of thinner skin, the veins are easier to identify as they are closer to the skin's surface.

This is also why steroid use increases the risk of injuries, as thinner skin means that wounds don’t heal as fast as a person not using steroids.

4. Losing Body Fat and Gaining Muscle Simultaneously

shirtless buff man working out in a gym

In my experience, balancing muscle gain with fat loss has always been a challenge. So, when I see someone achieving both with ease, it does raise an eyebrow.

To gain muscle naturally, you need to increase your calorie intake through bulking, which also leads to an increase in weight.

From there, you lose fat by cutting down on your calories while doing strength training, as your body already has the excess calories needed to provide your muscles with the nutrients they need to grow.

5. Fat-Free Mass Index Ratio

shirtless man showing his abs while using a measuring tape on his chest

When I first learned about FFMI, I was curious about where I stood. It's a great tool, but seeing some individuals with off-the-chart ratios made me wonder about the role of steroids.

An average FFMI falls between 18 and 23, and individuals who exceed this range are suspected of being on steroids.

A FFMI greater than 28 means the person is almost guaranteed to take steroids.

6. Deep Voice

woman's hands covering her mouth in shock

According to a 2019 study published in the Clinical Case Reports journal, sudden deepening of the voice (dysphonia) can be a clear sign of long-term steroid use, especially in women [1].

Anabolic steroids are associated with an increase in excess testosterone production, which results in the lengthening and thickening of vocal cords, which causes a deeper voice.

Related Article: Female Legal Steroids

What Are The Side Effects of Steroid Use?

man holding his stomach in pain, and another man squeezing acne on his nose

In addition to the indicators that reveal steroid use, there are prevalent side effects that further suggest someone might be using steroids, which can be harmful to their health.

Here are some common symptoms to be aware of.

1. Acne

A client of mine claimed it could treat pimples, but do steroids help with acne? Let's check what the scientific literature has to say.

In a study published in the National Library of Medicine (2007), it's noted that acne is present in approximately 50% of AAS users, making it a significant clinical sign of anabolic steroid abuse [2].

Steroids can lead to an enlargement of sebaceous glands, which increases the production of sebum (body oil). In large amounts, this oil can clog up a person’s pores, resulting in the breakout of body acne.

Besides appearing on the face, these acne breakouts may also occur in places uncommon for acne, such as the back, torso regions, and limbs.

Related Article: Female Legal Steroids

2. Bad Breath

guy holding his nose because of a bad smell

Besides creating disgusting-looking muscles, anabolic steroid abuse can also result in disgustingly bad breath.

There are no scientific reasons why this happens, but a couple of theories state that steroids can cause dehydration through increased sweating and a dry mouth, resulting in bad breath.

The best advice for steroid users would be to keep their mouths moist and well-hydrated throughout the day.

3. Dry Muscles

Before a competition, most weightlifters deprive themselves of water to tighten their skin and make their muscles stand out. This practice is known as dry muscle and typically lasts for three days.

However, if you notice someone who constantly walks around with dry muscles and eye-popping veins well-after this period, they're probably on steroids.

4. Enlarged Physique

A man flexing his bicep muscles outside

Testosterone is partly responsible for the size of our physique, which steroids tend to increase.

This results in an enlarged physique, such as a wider face, a defined jaw, a larger forehead, and a bigger Adam’s apple.

If you spot people with larger than normal body parts, it probably means they’re anabolic steroid users.

5. Steroid Gut

Also referred to as a human growth hormone gut, this condition is common in many users due to an increase in HGH and insulin from an anabolic steroid addiction.

HGH is responsible for the growth of tissues and organs. In high amounts, this causes the intestines to grow larger, resulting in a bloated-looking gut (palumboism).

This is why bodybuilders today look as though they’re pregnant, as they pump themselves full of HGH and steroids to look bigger.

6. Flushed Skin

face of a woman with flushed cheeks and forehead

According to a study published in the Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy journal, steroids are known to affect LDL cholesterol levels, which results in a spike in blood pressure [3].

That causes the skin to flush red or pink due to an increase in body temperature.

As a result, if the person sweats often or turns into a tomato at the first signs of aggravation, they are likely on steroids.

7. Bloating

Another side effect of anabolic steroid use is bloating.

As anabolic steroids cause the body to retain water, this can cause bloating in muscles, the face, or the midsection. Comparatively, natural weightlifters will have smooth and defined muscles.

They’ll also look more firm and dense compared to anabolic steroid muscles, which may appear swollen with air.

8. Gynecomastia

man boobs on a shirtless man

Also known as 'man boobs,’ gynecomastia occurs when the breast tissue under a man’s pecs becomes enlarged.

This condition is a result of high estrogen levels, which are commonly found in abundance in females.

As steroid use greatly increases testosterone levels in men, the body tries to balance it out by creating just as many estrogen hormones, leading to man boobs. The more estrogen is produced, the larger the breast tissue and nipples become.

9. Shrunken Testicles

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, one of the most common side effects of steroid abuse is small testicles [4].

It happens as testicles shrink when an individual’s testosterone rises past a certain threshold. When this happens, androgen receptors signal the testicles to stop producing testosterone and semen, which causes the testicles to shrink.

Steroid users on a cycle can see a reversal of these effects within a few weeks. For individuals suffering from steroid abuse, however, it can lead to a permanent condition.

Related: Do Steroids Make You More Sexually Active

10. Stretch Marks

woman holding her leg and showing stretch marks

Individuals who are using anabolic steroids are also prone to developing stretch marks.

This occurs in individuals who grow their muscles too quickly and exceed the speed at which their skin can stretch.

However, natural bodybuilders may also experience stretching; thus, make sure to look out for other symptoms of steroid use as well.

11. The Mental Toll

According to the Cleveland Clinic's medical journal, users frequently report a range of psychological effects, including 'roid rage, characterized by mood swings and increased aggression, as well as more severe conditions like depression [5].

The societal pressure to achieve a certain physique or performance level can exacerbate these psychological effects. The dependency on steroids, coupled with body dysmorphia, can create a vicious cycle that's challenging to break free from.

Stars rumored to be on steroids:


How Common Are Steroids in Gyms?

According to evidence-based studies, surveys in the American field indicate that drug or steroid use among community weight trainers attending gyms and health clubs is 15%-30%.

How Long Can Steroids Stay In Your System?

If taken orally, anabolic steroids can stay in your system for up to 14 days. If taken through injections, they can last for up to a month.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6509898/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17274777/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3342114/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1484557/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17506239/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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