A topic of frequent debate when it comes to natural bodybuilding competition is whether it’s fair for former juicers to compete against lifetime drug-free athletes. Are guys like Dave Goodin and Skip La Cour at a disadvantage when they step onstage next to guys who cycled steroids for a decade or more and only recently gave up the needle?
My observations at the ’08 NPC Team Universe competition tell me I can offer some insight. Several former steroid users who had competed successfully in nontested events for years were indeed represented in the heavier weight classes. On the whole, they did carry more sheer muscle mass than most of the men they were competing against. Contrary to what some believe, you don’t lose all the extra muscle you build with the assistance of drugs once you stop using them, as long as you continue to train hard, eat well and pay attention to rest and recovery.
Interestingly, however, although those guys were some of the biggest in the show, they were the least impressive overall. Why? They just weren’t in proper contest condition. A guy who’s big and smooth never looks as good as a smaller man who’s shredded to the bone, with deep separations and striations from head to toe.
Having been a natural competitor for several years and competing for a time while on steroids before returning to tested events, I have a unique perspective on diagnosing why those guys at the ’08 NPC event were not in top form. When you compete using steroids, you’re accustomed to maintaining all or at least the vast majority of your muscle. The drugs preserve the mass you have even when you’re following a low-calorie diet and doing increased cardio.
Powerful fat-burning compounds, such as thyroid and asthma medications, also greatly speed up the ripping process. So it’s safe to say that a lot of drug-using bodybuilders are accustomed to dieting for 10 or 12 weeks at most and not losing any size in that time. Once they go natural, they’re in for a rude awakening. The fat doesn’t disappear anywhere near as quickly as they think it will. By trying to lose the same amount of bodyfat in the same time span they used to, they find themselves losing size and fullness as well.
At that point, either they refuse to lose any more mass and put the brakes on the diet—showing up out of shape but still “big”—or they find themselves behind schedule and unable to get in shape by the day of the show.
Another disadvantage many former steroid stackers have is that they’re used to training with a certain volume and frequency that works fine with the aid of drugs but that overtaxes the body’s ability to recover without them. Very often they overtrain and lose precious mass through yet another mechanism.
So if you think that former steroid users have an unfair advantage in tested competitions, think again. The scales may actually tip in favor of those who have learned how to look awesome with nothing more than good food and supplements, hard work and plenty of rest. IM
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.