Everyone knows that steroids can make you bigger, stronger, and faster. But most people are clueless as to how. Here’s our guide to how exactly steroids increase muscle mass.
How Do Steroids Increase Muscle Mass?
Anabolic steroids work by tricking your body into thinking they are the primary hormone associated with muscle growth: testosterone. Testosterone is, in fact, an anabolic steroid. “Anabolic-androgenic steroids” (the technical term for what most of us know as “anabolic steroids”, or just “steroids”) are simply a synthetic version of this famous chemical. Anabolic refers to muscle growth, whereas catabolic refers to the breakdown of muscles.
In general, steroids are chemical compounds that share a common structure. And while there are a number of different kinds of steroids all operating together in the body, anabolic steroids play the most important role when it comes to physiological muscle growth.
Your body can’t immediately utilize anabolic steroids when you first take or inject them. They need to be broken down into small enough molecules to be absorbed into cells. There, the steroid molecules bind to structures called androgen receptors. This is where anabolic steroids really resemble testosterone because usually, only testosterone is able to bind to androgen receptors.
Once absorbed, steroids act to stimulate the androgen receptors into action. Depending on the type of cell the steroids are in, this activation can change how certain genes behave — especially the ones that control the changes that happen during puberty.
How Steroids Affect the Metabolic Process
Steroids affect your normal metabolism in two basic ways, and together they result in greater muscle mass. Your androgen receptors are in charge of determining how much protein your body produces, and they begin producing more when they are stimulated. While you’re on a cycle, the proteins that are involved in building muscle are upregulated, meaning the steroids ‘up’ the number of them being made. Proteins that are involved in breaking down muscle are downregulated, meaning less of them are made.
This metabolic process is known as anabolism, which is where small molecules accumulate and build up into more complex ones and together work to store energy. Your body builds muscle during the metabolic anabolism phase (hence the name anabolic steroids). With the increase in muscle size and mass comes greater strength, agility, and oftentimes energy. All three of these things also contribute to even further muscle growth. Steroids have a compounding effect.
But not all activated androgen receptors cause this reaction. There are some androgen receptors, for example, the glucocorticoids, that can actually decrease muscle growth. Anabolic steroids can work to counteract the effects of glucocorticoids and other androgen receptors that are harmful to muscle growth. By inhibiting glucocorticoids, anabolic steroids shorten the catabolic phase of metabolism. This can dramatically decrease your recovery time in-between workouts, which is why it should come as no surprise that steroids have become increasingly popular in sports.
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