To juice or not to juice...

Chris Bell, middle sibling among three brothers, created a documentary film called Bigger, Stronger, Faster* back in 2008 on the subject of anabolic steroids and their effects in sports. I thoroughly recommend the film; people with access to Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming video should be able to find it quite easily. It explores not only the nature of steroid usage, but also the ways in which modern sports, of all kinds, are affected by the relentless drive for better, tougher, higher-performing athletes at every level.

Chris Bell is uniquely positioned to comment upon such things. His younger brother, Mark Bell, is a champion powerlifter. His older brother, Mike "Mad Dog" Bell, always wanted to be a professional wrestler, but never quite made the big leagues. All three of them were or are serious powerlifters. All three were or are exceptionally strong by most people's standards.

And all three of them have used, or are using, performance-enhancing drugs to make themselves as big and as strong as possible.

Chris Bell quit juicing because he felt extreme guilt about what he felt was cheating. But Mark Bell is quite unrepentant about his usage of steroids, of various kinds, to make himself the best powerlifter he can be. Mike Bell, who died of what appears to have been a drug overdose in late 2008, used PEDs to pump himself up, constantly chasing after his elusive goal of becoming a WWE pro-wrestler.

As the documentary itself points out, this situation is not rare. On the contrary, it is very, very common. Athletes from almost every sport routinely use drugs to make themselves push through normal human boundaries and achieve things that were once considered impossible.

And as the documentary went on, it got me wondering: are we perhaps making much ado about nothing when it comes to PEDs in sports?

Position Papers

At this point, I have to state unequivocally that I do NOT advocate in favour of anyone breaking the law. Certain anabolic steroids are legal to possess in the USA, but they are not legal to sell. The Controlled Substances Act of 1990 plainly states that any coach or trainer who encourages his athletes and trainees to take controlled substances, such as testosterone and its derivatives, will be imprisoned for effectively trafficking drugs. There are plenty of good arguments to be made about whether such a law even makes the slightest bit of sense, but the law is what it is.

So as far as I am concerned, I do not think that you should go out and buy steroids- and not just because that's what the law says.

The reality is that PEDs such as steroids, human growth hormone, cortisone, EPO, and similar anabolic and catabolic drugs, are chemical substances that you will introduce into your body at your own risk. If you do not know what you are doing, if you spend a lot of your time running around on bodybuilding forums trying to figure out what stack is right for you, then you almost certainly will massively overestimate the right quantities and proportions for these things, and you will screw yourself up.

The Natty Argument

On the subject of taking drugs to enhance athletic performance, I speak from the perspective of someone who long ago actively rejected the idea of taking gear. I don't believe in it, and I don't agree with it, for personal and philosophical reasons.

Quite simply, I look at those who use it as cheaters. And with good reason. I see the Captain Upper Body types walking into the gym every week with their severe cases of Invisible Lat Syndrome, putting in absolutely BS workouts that involve zero squats, no deadlifts, and "bench presses" with three wheels on either side where their arms barely go to 90 degrees before re-racking the bar. These guys walk around on legs like toothpicks while their upper bodies fill out massively, pretending as though their bicep curls and lat pulldowns are doing all the work for them.

That sort of thing really sticks in my craw, as it does for anyone who goes into the gym and lifts hard. Guys like me, who gain muscle only very slowly and quite painstakingly, have precisely one avenue open to us: lift hard and lift heavy using big compound exercises. It is the only way that we can become strong. What drugs do is give you a shortcut, a way to get around all of that work and the attendant fatigue and risks of injury and severe curtailment of free time that comes with it.

Added to this is the fact that natties simply last longer than enhanced lifters do. Once you're on gear, you will definitely see gains- no question about that. You will experience significant and rapid progress in very short order. But if you don't have a solid foundation of real experience beneath you, then the moment you go off the juice, you will go all the way back to where you were. It is possible, even likely, that you will regress further than that, depending on how old you are when you get off gear.

The Advocate's Devil

And yet... there is something about the natty position that can, and should, strike you as more than a little holier-than-thou.

Think about what it even means to be a "natural" athlete. Does this mean that any and all synthetic substances, of any kind, are absolutely off-limits? That powerlifters and tennis players and MMA fighters and football players should restrict themselves only to all-natural foods? Are whey protein and creatine and fish oil capsules therefore ruled out because they are not "natural"?

Such an argument is absurd. Yet, if we're going to raise objections to steroids and PEDs on the grounds that they are not "natural", then we have to ask how far the obsession with all-natural performance has to go.

From my perspective, and from the perspective of almost anyone who lives a very active lifestyle that involves heavy weights and a lot of cardio, protein shakes and bars are not "supplements". Whey protein shakes are not "optional extras". To people like me, whey protein is food.

Supplements are not magic pills. They cannot do anything for you other than to plug gaps in your existing diet.

Protein shakes will not magically add pounds of lean muscle to your frame if you do not lift heavy things; the most that they can do is reduce the pain and soreness associated with hard workouts, since the amino acids hit your bloodstream quickly and easily. But if you already eat a lot of lean protein by way of chicken, grass-fed beef, fish, pork, and so on, then protein shakes won't be of significant benefit for you beyond maybe reducing soreness.

Fish oil capsules will have little effect if your diet already includes large amounts of grass-fed beef and deep-sea fish. The major benefit of creatine is that it simply allows you to work out just a little bit longer, by allowing your muscles to keep working just a little harder. But that increase in work capacity is not particularly large; indeed, there are natty lifters out there who argue that creatine monohydrate simply does nothing for them.

You could waste huge amounts of your hard-earned money on supplements. Some 90% of them will have precisely no effect upon you. The supplements that do, will only give you a small, though valuable, benefit.

Given these facts, does that mean that anyone who pops a fish-oil capsule, protein shake, multivitamin pill, or serving of creatine, is suddenly an enhanced athlete, in the same category as steroid users?

All PEDs Are Not Created Equal

Consider the following. The drug dehydroepiandrosterone, better known as DHEA, is an endogenous steroid hormone, produced naturally by the human body. It is the single most abundant steroid hormone produced by humans, and helps you synthesise other androgens. Taken in doses of up to 50mg a day, it appears to have some benefits as an anti-aging substance. It can be used safely at dosages of up to 200mg a day. It is perfectly legal to own and buy in the USA, and is- or at least, was- available in various nutrition stores for dirt-cheap prices.

It also happens to be on the WADA list of banned substances.

I have stated in the past that I took DHEA, which I did from about 2012 to early 2014. Did it have any effect upon me? Honestly, it's hard to tell, because I achieved my best powerlifting numbers months after I stopped taking it. And I only stopped taking it because I couldn't find it at my local supplement store.

Does the fact that I have taken DHEA in the past- which, again, is quite legal in the USA to own, buy, and sell- suddenly make me an "enhanced" lifter? Even though I actually got some of my best results after not taking it, mainly by fixing a few things with my form and putting in a lot of hard work in the gym?

Consider also the case of men who go onto testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). The sad fact for men is that as we age, our testosterone production declines also. Testosterone is, of course, the hormone that literally defines maleness. Without testosterone, our health, our strength, our mental sharpness, our sex drive, and our very identity declines and fades.

With modern biochemistry, though, it is possible to take small and quite conservative amounts of injected or oral testosterone to boost our own levels of the hormone.

The results in men who have done this tend to be startling. Men who had more or less given up on life in their 40s and 50s suddenly find themselves strong and virile again. Their lives are fuller and happier. They are able to live the lives that they want, and that many of us- and all of their ancestors- could only dream of having.

It is all very well and good for young men like me to sit here and sneer at the idea of taking artificial substances to improve our lives. But for men in their late thirties and early forties, such enhancement is the difference between a mediocre lifestyle and an exceptional one.

If you are not a professional athlete, and you are interested in maximising your strength and happiness, who is to argue that it makes no sense for you to take substances- and this can be done perfectly legally, with a doctor's prescription and everything- that will greatly improve your quality of life?

Ultimately, it's your choice. When it comes to older men taking quite small and conservative doses of testosterone to boost their own health and welfare, I really don't have a strong opinion either way on the subject. If you want to do it, hey, go for it, it's your life and your choice.

Hell, the same applies even for younger men. What most people don't realise about steroids is that they are only as dangerous to you as you are to yourself. If you are careful, if you know what you are doing, and if you do not succumb to the temptation to use as much gear as you think you can handle and instead stick to a very carefully regulated approach that is transparent, legally administered, and overseen by a trained medical professional, I really cannot find fault with such a decision. It is not a decision I can take, at least not at this point in my life, but if that is what you want to do, then that is up to you.

Drugs in Sports

So that's the average man dealt with. If you want to use gear, fine. If you don't, also fine. Just be honest with yourself and others about it. But if you use gear of any kind, be honest and open about it. Don't dodge the questions about what you're on, don't try to evade the issue. Own up to it.

And that, ultimately, is where my annoyance with the professional sporting community's rampant, but hidden, use of PEDs comes from. Drug usage in modern sports is rampant- we all know this. We just pretend to believe otherwise because the lie is comforting. Yet we feed the monster every day by buying merchandise that goes to support leagues that push their athletes to ever-greater extremes of professional accomplishment with ever more outlandish prizes and awards.

If you honestly, well and truly, do not want to see sports tainted with PEDs, you know what the fastest way to go about that would be? DON'T WATCH SPORTS! DON'T BUY THE MERCHANDISE!

Of course, that will never happen.

The average American man will no more refuse to go out and support his favourite football team than I will refuse to watch the next big UFC PPV event. But unlike the average American man, I find it much harder to condemn athletes like Vitor Belfort, Anderson Silva, and Yoel Romero who get caught out for usage of banned substances.

Extreme cases, such as Lance Armstrong's epic lies that saw him claim that he won his 7 Tour de France titles completely clean, anger me not because of what men like Lance took to maintain and enhance their performance. They anger me because these men then LIE about it.

And in Mr. Armstrong's case, of course, he lied about it an then secured Federal funding to the tune of something like $15 million, last time I checked, for the US Postal team. That wasn't just lying- that was defrauding of the public.

They are forced to lie about it, as well, because they know that if they are caught, they face fines, censure, and jail time. Yet there is something deeply hypocritical about such a system.

Consider the fact that Tiger Woods got laser eye surgery done in order to correct a vision imbalance. Golf, for those who can be bothered to watch such an utterly pointless "sport", is won or lost based on how well a player can see and gauge distances and correct for environmental factors. At the peak of his powers, Tiger Woods apparently had 20:15 eyesight- better than perfect, by some distance.

Doesn't that count as performance enhancement too?

Tennis players, particularly those struggling with the burdens of age or injury, are given shots of cortisone in order to help them heal faster. This is perfectly legal if prescribed by a doctor. Yet corticosteroids are still steroids. They boost your body's tolerance for pain and suffering far beyond its normal limits, and allow you to push through barriers that would normally destroy you.

Isn't that a performance enhancer?

Maybe, just maybe, it's about damn time that we all stopped being so hypocritical.

A Way Forward

Anyone who is paying attention to such things knows that drug testing doesn't really work. There are ways to game the system, ways to time the tests or circumvent them entirely. We know that testing methodologies vary in consistency and quality from lab to lab. We know that it is possible to explain away discrepancies in things like blood-serum testosterone levels and androgen levels based on external factors or medical prescriptions or whatever.

So instead of lying to ourselves and each other, why not simply let drugs into sports? And why not establish separate but equal leagues- one based on an honours system verified and enforced by rigourous drug testing, the other a complete free-for-all where anyone can use whatever he wants, whenever he wants?

In the drug-tested leagues, if you get caught, you are banned. For life. No ifs, ands, or buts. No excuses will be tolerated. In the open leagues, take whatever the hell you want. If you kill yourself, that's your problem.

What I suspect will happen is that money will rapidly move from the drug-free leagues, to the open ones, in very short order- because the open leagues will be the most interesting and exciting. But that's largely speculation on my part.

This is already the case in a number of sports. There are powerlifting federations that are drug-tested, such as the IPF- and others which are not. There are MMA leagues which are drug-tested, such as the UFC- and many others which are not. In tennis, the ATP and WTA are rigourously drug-tested, but there are doubtless other minor leagues which are not.

If people truly want bigger, stronger, faster, better athletes, then that is what they want and that is where the money will go. All I'm saying is, let's take the lies and deceit out of it all.

I do not pretend to have all of the answers here. I do not even pretend to have given full consideration to all of the problems, on both sides, and all of the well-justified complaints that natties like me have about enhanced athletes. But the plain, hard fact is that Pandora's box was opened long ago, and we have been struggling mightily in vain to shut it closed. We have failed, utterly and completely.

Perhaps it is time to recognise that reality, and act in accordance with reality, not with how we desperately want things to be.


  1. Why are those dudes in the first picture wearing Bikinis? It makes them look kind of gay.

    1. Just wait till you hear them speak. You'll be wondering how the hell you wandered into a transvestite convention by mistake.

    2. I did that once, but they called it a 'Furry Con'. I thought it was about Albedo and AD tank police, but it was more about men having sex with other men dressed as Babs bunny.
      If it weren't for my table, I would have walked out. but I managed to sell about 3500 that weekend, so it wasn't a total loss.


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