Tuesday 14 June 2022

How to Tell if a Lifter or Bodybuilder is Drug-Free

Is He Natty or Not? The internet is full of these arguments and debates. Can you tell if someone is on steroids? While there is hard to say with 100% certainty, there are clues. Let's have a look at how real-world experience and science can help us answer this question. Then, let's look at what approach you should take to build your best body. 

Note: this post is also a video lecture. You can watch it below or click HERE to watch it on YouTube. Below is the text from my slides, links, and references. Enjoy.

Signs of Possible Steroid Use
  • Rapid size/strength gains
  • Acne & backne
  • Water retention
  • Yellow whites of eyes
  • Fluctuation of size/strength
  • Stretch marks
  • Voice changes 
  • Gynecomastia
  • Long-term: broken down, accelerated aging 

Reality Check
There are people with impressive physiques who are 100% lifetime natural. There are people with unimpressive physiques who use drugs

Drug Testing
  • Drug testing is always a game of catch-up. 
  • Chances of being on drugs
  • No testing - very likely competitors are on drugs
  • Just urine test - possibly on drugs
  • Urine + polygraph - less likely to be on drugs. For more information check out FAKE Natural Bodybuilding Shows 
  • Also, consider quality of drug testing: ;ocal bodybuilding show vs. IOC

Internet Hater’s “Science” 
If he is bigger than you – he’s on drugs
If he is stronger than you – he’s on drugs
If he is leaner than you – he’s on drugs
If he looks better than you – he’s definitely on drugs 

Fat Free Mass Index (FFMI)
FFMI Formula = fat free mass [kg]/ (height [m])² 
FFMI Calculator
Note: accuracy depends on accuracy of body composition testing

FFMI Research 
Kouri et al., 1995
157 male athletes: 83 on steroids had FFMI: 25-30+, 74 nonusers had FFMI: limit of 25 
20 Mr. America winners from “pre-steroid era” (1939-1959) with an estimated FFMI: 25.4 (accuracy?)

Research Comments
Blanket statements based on 74 subjects
Internet parrots: “Research proves that you can’t be over 25 FFMI and be natural”
Possibility of outliers?
Testosterone was isolated in 1935 and available for medical use in 1939 

Note: Body Composition Method
Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) 
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA)
BIA Research (Loenneke et al., 2012)
BIA tends to underestimate FFMI (compared to DEXA)
Pretty good: 98% within 2kg

FFMI in Football Players
Trexler at al., 2017
235 football players: Two NCAA Div. 1 teams (78 and 69 players) and one Div. 2 team (88 players)
Used DEXA body composition 
62 athletes had FFMI above 25
Higher in Div. 1 than Div. 2
Highest FFMI: 31.7

Photo by Muyuan Ma on Unsplash

FFMI on Diverse College Athletes
Currier et al., 2019
FFMI on 209 male college athletes from 10, drug-tested sports
Baseball, cross country, football, golf, ice hockey, weightlifting, rugby, swimming, track & field, water polo
Used DEXA body composition 
Average FFMI: 22.8 ± 2.8
Football: 24.28 ± 2.39
Cross Country: 18.73 ± 1.03
Highest Upper limit: Rugby (29.1)  

Comments: Athlete Studies
Best of the best = genetic outliers
Research results give averages
Cannot say: “Research proves you cannot be natural with FFMI > 25”  
Drug use in collegiate sports

Results: Influencing Factors
Drug use
No control: genetics, past environment (mentors, coaching, information)
Some control: leanness, proportions
Total Control: mindset, effort, consistency, environment (e.g. mentors, coaching, info, gym, training partner), organization, tracking, passion, technique, program, lifestyle, nutrition, and sleep

Your Best Approach
  • Stop comparing yourself to other people
  • Stop complaining about things outside of your control
    • Genetics, past environment 
  • Stop wasting time worrying about who is natural and who is not natural 
  • Be careful who you learn from
    • Fake natty
    • Genetic outlier 
    • Who do they coach? E.g. Late John Meadows 
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Seek gradual improvement in the factors under your control 
  • Compare yourself to your previous self
    • Are you stronger?
    • Are you bigger?
    • Are you leaner?
    • Do you have better habits? (training, nutrition, sleep, lifestyle)

To learn how to build muscle without drugs, check out my book: Size for Skinny Guys: A Hardgainer's Guide to Building Drug-Free Muscle

If you have questions or suggestions for future topics, drop them in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading!

Related Reading: 
  1. Currier, B. S., Harty, P. S., Zabriskie, H. A., Stecker, R. A., Moon, J. M., Jagim, A. R., & Kerksick, C. M. (2019). Fat-Free Mass Index in a Diverse Sample of Male Collegiate Athletes. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 33(6), 1474–1479. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003158
  2. Kouri, E. M., Pope, H. G., Jr, Katz, D. L., & Oliva, P. (1995). Fat-free mass index in users and nonusers of anabolic-androgenic steroids. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 5(4), 223–228. https://doi.org/10.1097/00042752-199510000-00003
  3. Loenneke, J. P., Wilson, J. M., Wray, M. E., Barnes, J. T., Kearney, M. L., & Pujol, T. J. (2012). The estimation of the fat free mass index in athletes. Asian journal of sports medicine, 3(3), 200–203. https://doi.org/10.5812/asjsm.34691
  4. Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Blue, M., Schumacher, R. M., Mayhew, J. L., Mann, J. B., Ivey, P. A., Hirsch, K. R., & Mock, M. G. (2017). Fat-Free Mass Index in NCAA Division I and II Collegiate American Football Players. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 31(10), 2719–2727. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001737

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