Let me start off with a couple of caveats. First of all, I’d like to make it clear that I personally have never used and would never use steroids. Second of all, I do not condone illegal activity. Lastly, I do believe it is a good show of sportsmanship to follow all rules and regulations in competition, including MMA, of course. I am not endorsing the use of steroids.
However, I do believe there are many myths about steroids out there, and that its use is far more prevalent than most MMA fans believe. I think that the current (over)reaction to fighters testing positive is naive at best. I also think that there are a lot of inaccurate myths out there about steroids itself, which I’d like to address.
Although many people claim that there is tons of research proving the negative long-term health effects of steroid usage, this research is hard to find. I’m still looking for it. Although there are a few studies here and there, I haven’t seen any with a large sample size and long-term use. A large sample size would be needed since different people use different steroids, different amounts of steroids, etc. Small studies on small groups over short periods of time are out there, but are not conclusive.
This is in stark contrast to research done on the negative effects of concussions and even cutting weight. Although I’m not going to claim that a steroid has no negative long-term ramifications, I gather that it really depends on how much is used, how long it is used for and who exactly is using it. It’s interesting to note that the extrapolations being made are not exactly conclusive, and that a lot of the common beliefs about steroid usage are simply based on propaganda.
This is simply a personal anecdote, so cannot be considered conclusive either, but I once knew a group of male athletes (not MMA) who openly used steroids. I never did notice any “roid rage” or negative personality changes in these guys. This is in contrast to being around fighters cutting weight. They definitely had negative personality changes.
I’ve also been around female powerlifters who would use birth control pills to manipulate their menstrual cycle so that their powerlifting meets would be at their most optimal time of the month. This definitely has hormonal ramifications, but is perfectly legal. Although I don’t know if it takes place in women’s MMA, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m not really sure why some chemically-manipulated hormonal changes would be legal and others wouldn’t.
There is far more research on the long-term negative health effects of tobacco and alcohol than there are of steroids. In fact, doctors use steroids for many patients with a variety of health issues. I’m thinking timing, dosage, etc. would determine how harmful the use of steroids would be, if it is harmful at all.
People talk about steroids as if they are a magic pill that instantly gives someone supernatural strength. Although steroids can provide improvements in strength, steroids are primarily effective and coveted because they aid in recovery, allowing athletes to work far harder. There are many other things that can aid in recovery such as fish oil, Wobenzym, acupuncture, adequate sleep, not having a day job, etc. I guess I’m confused as to why we would want athletes to have decreased recovery.
Although no fighter has ever admitted steroid use to me (nor would I ask), I have to wonder whether one can even be competitive at an elite level without using steroids, when steroid use is so incredibly prevalent. There’s a saying in the world of elite athletics: “Everyone’s on steroids, except the guy you’re talking to.”
Who’s On Roids?
As I’ve said before, it is naive at best to assume that only athletes who get caught are on steroids. Cycling off of steroids (all of which have a limited half-life) is certainly possible, making it difficult to get caught. Testing clean simply means you beat the test and it’s easy to pick and choose which steroids to use if you know what day you’ll be tested (i.e. the day of the fight). For example, if a steroid’s half-life is 15 days and usage is stopped 60-90 days before testing, voila, the fighter tests clean.
Even athletes who used steroids many many years ago and tested clean still have a slight percentage gain in muscle mass which they retain permanently. What kind of test will we use to determine what someone did a decade ago, a lie detector test?
Let’s not forget that new drugs are always popping up and each drug must be used before a test is created to determine its use. HGH, for example, is not even tested in Major League baseball. It’s clear that because there aren’t even any tests for it, it’s possible many people are using it.
As I mentioned before, I am not condoning the usage of steroids. It is illegal, and it goes against the rules; but it bugs me when I see people vilifying their former UFC and Strikeforce heroes because of a positive steroid test, assuming that everyone who tested clean is clean and that only those who get caught are “cheaters.” This naive attitude could easily be dropped for a more realistic one. Professional sports are completely dirty, and MMA is no exception.