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Do Steroids Make You Gain Weight? (What You Need to Know)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 9, 2022

Over the years, I have dealt with many clients that have taken steroids both as a medical treatment for injuries and diseases, as well as those taking them for performance gains.

One thing that surprises a lot of people, especially those that don’t take them due to medical advice, is steroid-induced weight gain. In some cases, the increases in body weight are severe and can be difficult to control.

So, I spent some time with a medical doctor to research exactly what happens when people take steroids.

Quick Summary

  • Both anabolic and corticosteroids are commonly used for medical treatments, but one of the side effects is an impact on weight gain.
  • It’s important to understand how these drugs influence your body and metabolism and how to possibly prevent gaining body fat.
  • The impact on your fat storage can also depend on the type of steroids and interactions with other drugs.

Does Taking Steroids Cause Weight Gain?

Holding different pills on hand

Yes, taking steroids can cause weight gain in a few different ways. The two main reasons are the effect steroids have on your fat metabolism and appetite [1].

Firstly, this research has shown that steroids can alter how your metabolism functions leading to fat redistribution around the body rather than burning it during exercise.

Also, systemic corticosteroid therapy can trigger increased appetite [2].

And that increased appetite can develop into cravings for fried foods with saturated fat and significant calorie intake from sugary treats.

The other problem you could encounter is water weight gain. One of the most common side effects of popular steroids is fluid retention [3].

All this means that these drugs could make you eat more, store more fat, and end up with a lot of retained fluid to add to your overall weight.

While there are legitimate reasons to use these drugs to suppress the immune system or relieve joint pain from inflammation, it’s this kind of weight impact that doctors have to carefully monitor.

Monitoring the Weight Gain

Close up image of weighing scale

While certain anabolic steroids can help obese people burn stored fat rather than muscle, there are also impacts on how the body stores fat [4].

This is particularly the case with corticosteroids, where one study revealed that 70% of trial subjects experienced weight gain [5].

These steroids are often prescribed for swollen joints, inflammatory bowel diseases, and muscle stiffness. One of the first areas you might notice is facial weight gain.

It’s so common in steroid therapy that it’s often one of the top priorities for doctors to monitor. Research has also shown that such adverse events increase the longer people take steroids and the higher the dosage is [6].

And when you add risks of high blood pressure and mental health issues into the mix, you get the picture of why it’s so dangerous to self-prescribe steroid therapy.

“Weight gain from prednisone often appears as fat deposits on various parts of your body, such as at the base or back of your neck, around your abdomen, or as what’s called “moon face,” when changes in where fat lies make your face appear rounder and wider.”

- Kareem Sassi, MD at EverydayHealth.com

4 Tips for Preventing This Type of Weight Gain

Taking a picture of a well balanced diet meal

Trying to prevent weight gain is always a better approach than having to deal with the problem when it’s gone out of control. Fortunately, my doctor and dietitian were able to give me some great advice on how to avoid it.

1. Focus on a Low-Calorie Diet

Yes, you’ll likely have some hunger cravings, and your appetite could increase a lot. But if you limit the availability of calories, you should be able to stop fueling the fat gain.

Avoid eating frequent meals, make sure you eat complex carbohydrates and fiber-rich foods and avoid all sugar.

High blood sugar levels are one of the easiest ways to fuel fat storage [7].

Related: How Many Carbs Should You Eat per Day to Lose Weight?

2. Avoid High Sodium Foods

Many processed and canned foods are rich in sodium, but you should also avoid things like soy sauce.

A high-sodium diet can result in retaining even more water on top of the effect of steroids [8].

3. Eat More Potassium Rich Foods

Research has shown that the electrolyte potassium has a direct impact on how your body processes and retains water [9]. By adding more spinach, grapefruit, oranges, bananas, and kiwifruit, you should be able to counteract some water retention.

4. Stick with Healthy Fats

Steroid medications can make you crave fast foods. This source of crappy nutrition can cause metabolic syndrome [10]. The effect is fat redistribution and making it almost impossible to maintain a healthy weight.

Related: Healthy Fats That Are Good for You

FAQs

Can You Lose Weight While on Steroids?

Yes, you can lose weight while on steroids. But this will require counteracting the side effects of weight gain through retaining water and lower energy expenditure than intake.

How Much Weight Do You Gain with Steroids?

How much weight you gain with steroids depends on the dose and the length of the cycle. Factors like your starting weight and metabolic rate also play a significant role.

Avoid Steroid Medication-Related Weight Gain

While the effects of steroids on muscle mass, bone loss, and the immune system may be an important target for taking steroid medications, it’s vital that medical professionals carefully monitor the side effect on weight.

A much better option for athletes is to take the best legal steroids that can boost testosterone production naturally and still allow for targeted weight loss.

These are based on minerals, vitamins, and herbs that all play a key role in testosterone levels and are supported by clinical nutrition experts.


References:

  1. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_steroid-side-effects-how-to-reduce-corticosteroid-side-effects.asp
  2. https://www.everydayhealth.com/ulcerative-colitis/treatment/weight-gain-unwanted-side-effect-prednisone-uc/
  3. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/8-prednisone-side-effects-how-to-minimize-them/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5054608/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3765115/
  6. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/art.21984
  7. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/diet/why-am-i-retaining-water
  9. https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/weight/how-recognize-reduce-water-retention-edema/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4598125/

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