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How Long Does It Take for Anabolic Steroids to Work?

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

My colleagues and I often educate our clients at the gym about steroid use and all the risks associated with them, but the topic continues to surface as they are still curious about them, and just recently, they were asking how long it actually takes for them to work.

I have compiled some of the research I’ve done over the years of my fitness career to give you the facts and caveats about the quick results of steroid use and the significant risks attached to those results.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • One study shows significant muscle gains in just three weeks of steroid use.
  • Anabolic steroid usage is widespread across many demographics in the United States.
  • Steroids may be detectable by a drug test weeks after usage has stopped.

What Are Anabolic Steroids and How Do They Work?

Different types of steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the male sex hormone testosterone, and they work in the body to stimulate muscle growth.

Steroids are legitimate treatment options for specific health conditions like hypogonadism (low testosterone), delayed puberty, and muscle loss caused by some diseases like AIDS and cancer.

Professional athletes turn to these performance-enhancing substances because of the significant effects on lean muscle mass and strength.

The doses taken by athletes tend to be anywhere from 10-100 times the amount medical professionals would prescribe.

Studies suggest the abuse of steroids is not limited to athletes but is more widespread across the United States population, including among fitness buffs, business professionals, and high school students [1].

Because steroids resemble naturally produced testosterone and its role in the body, like stimulating muscle growth in response to training, the exceptionally high doses taken by professional athletes result in dramatic bulking and strength.

How Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids Work

Syringe and oral pills

Steroids as performance-enhancing drugs are usually taken orally or by injection, and some well-known ones are:

Oral steroids

Injections

Once in your body, steroids travel to the muscles’ androgen receptors and stimulate the protein synthesis process, which promotes muscle growth [2]. This activity provides the user with massive gains and ultimately significant bulk.

Steroids can also block cortisol from binding to the muscles’ receptors which slows the breakdown process allowing for less muscle fatigue and quicker recovery [3].

These performance-enhancing effects enable users to work out with more intensity and duration and experience vastly improved recovery from those intense workouts.

Common Steroid Practices

Man injecting a syringe in his arm

Cycling, stacking, pyramiding, and plateauing are techniques often used in steroid abuse to fine-tune the muscle-building results, and we will take a quick look at each now.

  • Cycling is when you take a steroid for a period of time, stop for a time, and then start again, with the typical cycle lasting eight to sixteen weeks depending on the goals.
  • Stacking is combining multiple steroids, even mixing oral and injectable. Stacking, in conjunction with cycling, is standard practice.
  • Pyramiding is done by taking a low dose of the anabolic steroid (you can stack here also) and gradually increasing the amount until you reach a peak, and then you start tapering back down to zero. A pyramid cycle can take anywhere from six to twelve weeks.
  • Plateauing is when different steroids are substituted, overlapped, or staggered to avoid tolerance.

With unsupervised steroid use, wanton 'megadosing' or stacking (using a combination of different steroids), the effects can be irreversible or undetected until it's too late."

- Dr. Gary Wadler, M.D.

How Long Does It Take for Them to Work?

man holding a handful of pills

While anabolic steroids work quickly, in six weeks on average, they will not show their effects in just one dose. How quickly they work is dependent on the type of steroid, use, and dosage.

One study shows that testosterone enanthate, a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency, resulted in significant increases in bench press strength and cycle sprint work in just three weeks [4].

As I pored over countless user testimonials and various online studies and reports, there was no clear-cut time frame for how quickly steroids began to work.

Many indicated that they started noticing effects within ten days, others much longer.

According to users, some steroids seem to act faster than others, including Anadrol, Dianabol, and Winstrol. In contrast, others like Deca-Durabolin and Anavar may take longer before you see the effects.

What Do They Do to the Body?

Pouring pills on hand

The results gained with steroid use are significant, and so are the negative side effects.

Steroids wreak havoc on your body both mentally and physically and can lead to the use of other drugs.

It is also important to note that drug testing can detect steroids for weeks after stopping because of the chemical composition of the steroid; it is not quickly metabolized by the liver or excreted in the urine [5].

Related: How Long Do Steroids Stay In Your System?

Side Effects

Common physical adverse effects of steroid use include decreased sperm count, baldness, testicular shrinkage, acne, baldness, and increased risk of prostate cancer [6]

Steroid use can lead to severe health problems, including liver and kidney damage, high blood pressure, heart attacks, enlarged heart, and increased risk of blood clots [7]

While some users feel powerful and energetic, steroid drug abuse can cause irritability, anxiety, aggression (‘roid rage), paranoia, manic symptoms, and mood swings [8].

Steroids don’t give you the “high” associated with the use of illicit drugs. Still, they can produce similar withdrawal symptoms that include loss of appetite, fatigue, restlessness, cravings, diminished sex drive, insomnia, and severe depression that may lead to suicidal thoughts [9].

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Natural Steroid Alternatives

Muscular and healthy person posing for camera

Several testosterone-boosting substances occur naturally, like vitamin D, zinc, ashwagandha, fenugreek, and d-aspartic acid, and supplements with these substances are becoming more mainstream [10].

Natural testosterone boosters for men don’t come with such a great risk of severe side effects, and many are stacked and cycled similarly to steroids to achieve a particular fitness goal.

Many of the ingredients found in these supplements might improve stamina and energy, enhance cognitive ability, improve athletic performance, and provide other health benefits like immunity support.

Naturally boosting testosterone can decrease body fat, increase muscle strength and mass, improve sperm production, increase sex drive and improve bone density, all without the nasty side effects of steroids like testicular shrinkage and sexual dysfunction.

There are a lot of side effects of steroids; they are not good for you. It is like Russian roulette. Five people may take them and have no long-term problems. The sixth may end up dead."

- Dr. Kenneth Mautner, M.D.

FAQs

How Long Do Testosterone Levels Take To Return to Normal after a Cycle?

After a steroid cycle, it can take testosterone an average of three to eighteen months to return to normal levels. You may be able to expedite the process by a post cycle therapy (PCT) protocol of Clomid PCT (clomiphene), Nolvadex PCT (tamoxifen), or a natural supplement.

Do Steroid Shots Work Immediately?

Steroid shots do not work immediately, but most begin working in a few days, some within a few hours.

So Are The Quick Results From Anabolic Steroids Worth It?

Anabolic steroid use, even at low doses, is simply not worth it, and I would never advise my fitness clients to seek out that route to muscle gain and strength.

There are safe and effective legal steroid options out there that will work with your body to stimulate muscle growth naturally as you maintain a solid exercise and healthy diet routine.

These dietary supplements proved to be effective for most of my clients who’ve tested them in the past couple of years. Did it take a bit longer? Sure, but it worked, and it didn’t wreak havoc on their bodies in the process.


References

  1. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubs/brochures/steroids/professionals/
  2. https://www.livescience.com/3349-steroids-work.html
  3. https://www.sportsci.org/encyc/anabster/anabster.html
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17530941/
  5. https://sites.duke.edu/thepepproject/module-6-steroids-and-athletes-genes-work-overtime/content-background-why-can-anabolic-steroids-be-detected-in-the-body-for-long-periods-of-time/
  6. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20050316/why-steroids-are-bad-for-you
  7. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/anabolic-steroids
  8. https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/steroids
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/are-anabolic-steroids-addictive
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5870326/
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