Bodybuilding is a global industry with the winners of top competitions likely to become millionaires through endorsements and sponsorships. The prizes are coveted by thousands of hopefuls aiming to make it big in more ways than one.
And it is not just huge in the USA – India, Iran, China and Africa are all producing amazing competitors who are hungry for a world crown.
It’s not one I can see myself winning in the near future as I’m a wee laddie compared to these hulks. But, there is another reason. Something I am not prepared to do. Use steroids.
The rise of cheap gyms in the UK has many young and older guys pumping iron to look good. One only needs to buy a day pass to the likes of PureGym or The Gym and one can see some big weights being flung around.
Muscles ripple within designer gym wear and ripped guys parade around covered in sweat after going for a “pump” – pump meaning they work a muscle group so hard that the blood is racing through the muscles that have been broken down as part of the training. In short, it’s basically inflammation as the body tries to send new oxygenated blood there to heal and repair.
Steroids represent the more sinister side to getting ripped and one that may cause long-term damage to large numbers of those grinding out that beautiful gym body.
Whether a minority or most bodybuilders use steroids to get so big and defined is open to question. But, generally speaking, they tend to promote eating clean and training clean, despite persistent speculation about performance-enhancing drugs.
To become a top bodybuilder, it can take ten years of hard training, gym sessions and ramming protein down your neck. Hours and days in the gym, with massive amounts of eggs, beef, chicken, salmon, rice and broccoli, are required to gain muscle and mass.
My T-shirts have got tighter
But it seems that these days many guys want to circumvent the decade of training for that gorgeous set of guns by sticking needles into their butts. And the evidence is right in front of me every time I train at a gym in the UK.
As I sweat in the gym and I have been now for three months, I can see small gains in my physique.
The T-shirts that I wear get a little bit tighter. I catch myself in the mirror and notice some definition in my shoulders, all these lateral delt raises and rope face pulls are making a small impact. Along with 170g of protein a day, I am genuinely beginning to see results. But, it is a laborious and time-consuming regime that means that my body is in a constant state of repair.
This also requires the right amount of rest and, of course, bucketloads of patience. And this is where the young bucks may be falling into bad habits.
With the quest to look good among the Instagram generation comes the need to be your best as quickly as possible. Hence, lip-fillers, eyebrow painting, Botox injections, highlights, tattoos – and steroids.
Why take ten years to build a good-looking body when it can be done in two years by cheating? It’s very tempting and unfortunately so easy to do.
Buying steroids to boost muscle growth used to be a bit dark, mysterious and underground. One had to be part of the gang in the gym, know who to talk to and be willing to be part of the clandestine charade.
Loss of libido
But, with the internet, these days one can buy almost any anabolic steroid and have it delivered to your home within days, so you don’t have to rely on a “dealer” for your stash.
Of course, they are not cheap to buy and, as I see guys in the gym and wonder how they are getting so big so fast, my question is at what extra cost?
Steroids – known as “droids” or “juice” – may indeed cause rapid muscle growth, but with that comes what I can only describe as blood-curdling side-effects.
Hair loss is a big one. But added to that can be loss of libido, liver damage, acne, kidney disease and high-blood pressure. Many bodybuilders have died young through steroid misuse. As for this younger generation who are chasing that beach-body physique as fast as they can without true and honest effort, who knows what long-term damage they are doing to themselves.
While I drag my sorry ass around the gym and know that it will take another two years just to have a bit of shape, at least I also know that I am not killing my organs in the process.
It makes me feel smug, albeit smaller than some gym-goers. It makes me feel that I have earned every muscle fibre and small gain by hard work and natural growth. It feels good. I just wonder how someone taking steroids actually feels inside. Yes, they are growing faster and becoming more Instagram or Tinder-ready sooner. But, deep down is there a genuine satisfaction that they are clean and honest? I’m not sure. In the meantime, I’ll keep deadlifting and eating egg-white scrambled eggs, knowing my hair won’t fall out anytime soon.