MR. OLYMPIA ANABOLIC STACK: BEYOND STEROIDS
Muscular Development|October 2021
Former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of seven Tour de France wins in 2012 due to evidence of performance-enhancing drug use, and was eventually was banned from sanctioned Olympic sports for life as a result of long-term doping offenses.

Armstrong’s public castigation prior to having his Tour de France titles stripped, and graver punishment of confessing about his doping days and winning ways, revealed one of his self-justifications. He researched the ethics of violating doping regulations, and decided after consulting a dictionary that he was not cheating, as he was not gaining any advantage over his competitors. Resorting to testosterone, EPO, other drugs as well as blood doping was a perceived need for Armstrong, who said, “I viewed it as a level playing field” 1 … the everyone else is doing it defense that stopped working for most of us in kindergarten. [I strongly respect Armstrong’s accomplishments, dedication and commitment. My personal issue is competing in violation of explicit rules and claiming personal gain/glory achieved outside the confines of allowed practices, as well as character attacks on his “whistleblowers.”]

Bodybuilding (other than drug-tested organizations) suffers from the same “level playing field” mentality as cycling, without the apparently ineffective barrier of rules regarding performance-enhancing drug use. At the level of the Mr. Olympia, the perfect combination of genetics, training, diet and drugs is required to excel. The number of contestants has escalated (some of the early Mr. Olympia contests had a single competitor, while today over 30 qualify and approximately 20 compete on stage), and the margin between winning and fading in the ranks narrows every year. It is a given that the vast majority of competitors use anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) dosed far into the supraphysiologic range (generally between 2,000 to 5,000 mg total androgen intake weekly). I would contend that the use of AAS is universal in this population, but acknowledge the slim (naive) possibility that a truly gifted individual might reach these heights unaided.

Rewards and Risks

By the time a bodybuilder acquires his pro card, he has already committed years of training, financial cost and strained relationships. Entering the pro arena, he arrives at a new tier of competition – much like NFL rookies who excelled in college, only to falter at the pro level. The rewards (e.g., fame, prize money, guest posting, endorsements and business opportunities) are tremendous; the level of risk these men accept encourages them to experiment with potentially life-threatening concentrations of potent drugs and hormones, extreme physical stress and adverse conditions. In the quest to find an advantage, many are turning to unproven experimental drugs and biologics, even surgeries. Every time a new standard for definition or size is set, the bar is raised for all competitors. There are rumors of gene therapy or stem cell implants in elite athletes, making it possible that bodybuilders are also submitting to extremely risky and unethical procedures. This is the irresistible “cookie jar” that has arisen from advances in cellular, genomic and metabolomic science.

There are certain anabolic drugs/ hormones that are well established in bodybuilding: insulin, growth hormone and IGF-1 are familiar to many. At the professional level, these drugs have become nearly as ubiquitous as AAS. Some might suggest the beta-2 adrenergic drug clenbuterol as another example, but at the doses used in humans, it fails to promote anabolism reliably over the long term. Clenbuterol, and same-class drugs, are used to promote fat loss.

Insulin is best known as a glucose- (sugar) partitioning hormone secreted from the pancreas in response to a meal, prescribed to treat type 1 diabetes. However, in addition to driving glucose into most tissue (e.g., skeletal muscle), it also activates the uptake of amino acids and stops the breakdown of cellular protein. 2 Insulin also promotes the storage of fatty acids as triglycerides in fat cells. In terms of whole-body growth, insulin is a more potent anabolic than testosterone. Bodybuilders have learned to time insulin injections in conjunction with training and some meals to drive nutrients into recently worked muscle, resulting in greater lean mass gains. The downside is that a miscalculation when preparing an injection or reconstituting a vial could lead to a lethal (life-threatening or life-ending) event. If insulin is overdosed, it can drive circulating glucose (blood sugar) so low that the brain is starved. Unless corrected very rapidly, it can lead to death. Insulin can also increase appetite and resistance to fat loss. It is unclear as to whether insulin or growth hormone first gained widespread use among mass-seeking bodybuilders; combined, they have increased the size and mass of the contestants noticeably. Human growth hormone (HGH) induces a state of insulin resistance that insulin treatments overcome; insulin increases fat storage, which hGH combats.

Mass Gains and GH Excess

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