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Is Testosterone a Steroid? (What Are Their Differences?)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 23, 2023
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Testosterone is a hormone that plays a role in maintaining muscle mass, bone density, and red blood cell levels.

After the age of 30, testosterone production gradually declines. That’s why many gym enthusiasts decide to take steroids in order to increase their levels. However, there is a major difference between these two terms.

Recently, I’ve teamed up with an endocrinologist to determine the distinction between testosterone and steroids so that there’s no confusion about what your body exactly needs.

Here’s what I’ve found out.

Quick Summary

  • Testosterone can be classified as an anabolic steroid, and particularly in the androgen class.
  • Boosting immunity, energy production, and muscle growth are some of the benefits attributed to anabolic steroids.
  • Testosterone boosters can improve your sex drive, boost your energy levels, and also increase your bone density.

Is Testosterone a Steroid?

A person holding a bunch of pills

Testosterone is the primary anabolic steroid hormone that belongs to the androgen class.

The body naturally produces steroids for several vital physiological functions, such as the development of muscle tissue [1].

However, when individuals ask if testosterone is a steroid, they’re most likely wondering if synthetic forms of this hormone, used in testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), are the same as illegal anabolic steroids.

However, there is a major difference between these terms.

Anabolic steroids are prescription-only medications that affect the body by mimicking the effects of the hormone testosterone [2].

When someone begins their anabolic steroid use, they experience strength and muscle size increase.

However, I never recommend using it if it’s not a medical necessity, as it can lead to some serious side effects.

What Is a Steroid?

A stack of syringes on a black cloth

A steroid is a chemical compound with a specific molecular structure. It plays a vital role in many physiological processes, including muscle growth, energy production, and immunity.

Anabolic steroids are taken as medications to treat medical conditions such as asthma, allergies, and chronic hives. However, many gym-goers use illegal steroids to build muscle or improve athletic performance.

Risks of Using Anabolic Steroids

There are many side effects of anabolic steroids misuse:

  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Liver damage
  • Renal failure
  • Severe psychological issues like depression and roid rage
  • Breast tissue shrinking, facial hair, voice deepening, and irregular or absent menstruation in women [3]

Anabolic steroids affect your health on several levels.

That’s why, as a personal trainer, I never recommend anabolic steroids for aesthetic purposes because the risks associated with using them far outweigh any possible rewards. It's not worth taking such an extreme measure just for some temporary gains in muscle mass.

What’s the Difference Between Testosterone and Anabolic Steroids?

A variety of pills and a syringe on a blue table

While TRT and anabolic steroids both rely on the same substance (testosterone), the difference lies in the dose and the reason behind using it.

When used for medical purposes, such as in TRT, testosterone is administered in much smaller doses.

In addition, the process is monitored by a medical expert at all times [4]. As a result, testosterone replacement therapy is legal, safe, and effective, while illegal anabolic steroid use can lead to serious side effects.

Furthermore, TRT is strictly used when your body can’t naturally produce enough testosterone. In contrast, anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) affect lean muscle and may boost athletic performance and are usually bought illegally and used in high doses.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)

A doctor looking at a clipboard

If your T-levels drop, your doctor might prescribe testosterone replacement therapy, also known as androgen replacement therapy.

Men with symptomatic hypogonadism frequently receive injection or gel forms of TRT as treatment.

However, some health experts warn about possible long-term unwanted changes related to testosterone therapy.

Benefits of Low Testosterone Therapy

Research has shown that low testosterone treatment can have a range of benefits for men, some of which are:

  • Boosted energy levels – Testosterone helps increase the number of red blood cells responsible for delivering oxygen to the tissues.
  • Improved sex drive – The primary male sex hormone plays a vital role in developing male reproductive tissues, promoting secondary sexual characteristics, and deepening the voice.
  • Increased bone density – The causes of low testosterone levels are associated with low bone mineral density (BMD); increasing T levels through hormone replacement therapy or the use of anabolic steroids are beneficial to BMD [5].

After beginning testosterone replacement medication, most men experience a reduction in symptoms within four to six weeks, while other effects, such as an increase in muscle mass, may take three to six months [6].

Your doctor might recommend several safe ways to maintain healthy testosterone levels:

  • Skin patches
  • Gels
  • Oral therapy
  • Testosterone injections
  • Pellets.

Possible Side Effects of Low Testosterone Therapy

Research has proven that low testosterone treatment can also have some health risks for men.

Here is what some may experience:

  • Acne – Testosterone increases sebum production, which may cause an acne outbreak  [7].
  • Disordered breathing – Disturbed breathing while sleeping is frequently reported during or after testosterone treatment [8].
  • Breast swelling –  Hormonal changes in the body can cause breast tissue to become enlarged [9].
  • Swelling in the ankles – Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs may emerge because low testosterone treatment causes your body to retain more water (edema).

Do You Need Testosterone Replacement Therapy?

A doctor writing down notes

If you have a total testosterone level of less than 300 ng/dl or a free testosterone level of less than 9.0 ng/dl (for men), you should consider testosterone replacement therapy.

Testosterone replacement therapy doesn't start until after your levels and symptoms have been assessed.

If you have a breast cancer history or prostate problems such as nodules or carcinoma, you might not be a good candidate for TRT.

Due to the potential risks, medical professionals commonly hesitate to administer testosterone to patients who they believe may be at high risk of prostate cancer or may already have the low-grade disease.

Because there is a possibility of polycythemia, men receiving TRT should have a baseline complete blood count (CBC) obtained before starting their treatment.


Is a Testosterone Booster a Steroid?

No, a testosterone booster is not a steroid. While testosterone boosters are man-made supplements produced to boost your body's production of testosterone, steroids are a synthetic version of testosterone.

What Are Testosterone Steroids Used For?

Testosterone steroids are used for promoting and maintaining male sex characteristics such as muscle growth, facial hair, and deep voice.

Is Testosterone a Steroid or Protein?

Testosterone is a steroid hormone belonging to a class of hormones called androgens, which are responsible for the development of male characteristics.

Will Steroids Work Without Training?

Yes, steroids will work without training, but you won't see the same level of muscle strength as you would if you were training. In order to make the most of your steroid cycle, you need to be putting in some serious effort in the weight room.

Are Testosterone and Steroids the Same Thing?

Testosterone is a steroid hormone that is naturally produced by the body. However, synthetic hormones are often referred to as steroids. While chemically similar to natural testosterone, they are not the same thing.

As a personal trainer, I frequently meet people who misuse anabolic steroids and put their health at risk for short-term gains. Because of that, I tested natural alternatives and singled out the recommended legal steroids currently available.

These products can speed up your progress and help you achieve better results in the gym without carrying the risks anabolic steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs have.

Make sure to share your experience if you decide to try out some of these steroid supplements.


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