Believe it or not, by themselves, steroids (technically “anabolic androgenic steroids” – but we will refer to them as “steroids” ) do not make you a better athlete.

Steroids are not a “magic pill” that you take and instantly become bigger and faster.

What are steroids?

As the term is normally used “steroids” are chemically altered derivatives of testosterone. Testosterone is the “male hormone” naturally produced by the testes in males. Females also produce smaller amounts of testosterone in the adrenal glands and ovaries.

How do steroids work?

Steroids are reproducing the functions of testosterone. The most important function of testosterone is to synthesize protein (“build muscle”).

While there are many other factors involved in “strength” – larger muscles are stronger muscles. Your muscles are what allow you to move around, so if you develop stronger muscles then you will be able to “move around” better. Being able to “move around” their bodies very fast is what makes good athletes.

How do they give an unfair advantage?

Just taking steroids will not make a better athlete. It is the fact that steroids allow an athlete to work out harder and longer that gives them a competitive advantage.

Let me say that again, “steroids allow an athlete to work out harder and longer.” The key words there is “work out.” Sheer mass is usually not an advantage. Speed is what matters in most sports (which is why track and field, and the NFL is where steroid use is potentially worst).

Steroids are not going to make you taller or give you better hand eye coordination. In fact one of the documented side effects of steroids is that they can “prematurely arrest longitudinal bone growth” – which means you could end up shorter than you would normally be (so they can make you “shorter”).

Steroids are a “training drug” – used in the “off season.” If organizations are serious about catching athletes using steroids, then unscheduled random drug testing (throughout the year, not just before or after competition) is the only effective deterrent. This of course would be wildly expensive and is unpractical – so I have no real solution (but there is a lot of money on the table is somebody develops an inexpensive and reliable test for steroid use – good luck, and remember to send me a check for giving you the idea).

Of course testing and punishment are another issue. Steroids have legitimate medical uses, should an individual be punished if they use steroids while recovering from an injury? Should they be punished if they unknowingly take them?

Prevention

There are side effects to any drug. There are serious potential side effects to steroid use. However, for me the strongest argument against using steroids has always been the “pride” issue. Is it you succeeding because of your hard work and talent, or is it the drug?

The sad fact is that some athletes are willing to do anything to win. This “if you aren’t cheating – you aren’t trying” belief system is not new. The best way to fight steroid abuse is through education and “proper values.”

Steroids used as “performance enhancers” are unethical and illegal (they are a “controlled substance” in the United States). Drug use is an epidemic, not just in sports but in all of western culture (whether that drug is steroids, alcohol, or crack). But there is no drug you can take that will help you hit (or throw) a curve ball.