Building Muscle Without Steroids

A Doctor’s Expert Guide to Bodybuilding Without Steroids

Can you compete in bodybuilding, or get jacked/swole/ripped without steroids?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Check out my recent comments regarding anabolic steroid use in Muscle & Fitness magazine. Whether you’re a skinny kid just starting to lift weights, or a seasoned veteran who has yet to see the fruits of his or her hard work, you CAN build significant amounts of muscle, and if you want to compete and are willing to do the work, it is entirely possible, and to do so without the use of anabolic steroids.

Many people look at pictures in magazines of chemically-assisted bodybuilders and think, I can never look like that without steroids. Frankly, you’re probably (but not definitely) right. However, with careful attention to nutrition, the proper use of supplements, and a science-back approach to lifting and cardio, not only can you compete, but you can do well!

I mean, even with my below-average genetics, using research-proven methods, I was able to win the Men’s Open Overall title in a natural bodybuilding competition. If you want to compete, here is what you need to know.

Are steroids a good way to build muscle?

Steroids work by enhancing muscle protein synthesis and decreasing breakdown of muscle. What that means in practical terms is that a person using steroids will be able to train harder, with higher volume and intensity, and increased frequency versus a non-assisted person. As a result, he or she will be able to progress much faster and farther than someone who is doing it naturally.

There are several side effects and drawbacks to using anabolic steroids. First, they are illegal. Additionally, they can also be toxic to the liver, make your blood thick to the point it raises your likelihood of having a stroke or heart attack, cause fluid retention, acne and gynecomastia (breast tissue growth in a man), amongst other things. In short, you should avoid them.

What about Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)

Testosterone replacement therapy is the medically supervised administration of testosterone (or medications that boost testosterone) to men who have low blood levels of testosterone. The purpose of this therapy is to alleviate the symptoms associated with low levels (like fatigue, decreased muscle mass and sex drive) and to prevent health consequences of low testosterone (like an increased risk of diabetes and osteoporosis).

In contrast, anabolic steroids in the context of this article are performance enhancing interventions used by men and women without underlying hormonal deficiencies. Every medication has risks, and these must be carefully weighed against the benefits (in collaboration with a physician who has knowledge in the area) before deciding.

Can I build muscle and get bigger without steroids?

The answer is yes. However, whereas a steroid user is pretty much going to grow no matter what kind of training he or she does, a natural lifter needs to play much closer attention to how he or she exercises, what supplements to use and how/when to eat.

We know that muscle protein synthesis peaks about 24 hours after a resistance training session, then falls to baseline quickly thereafter. Thus, training a body part once per week (like many enhanced bodybuilders do) is not the best way to gain muscle. Additionally, a calorie surplus is generally necessary to build new muscle, but too many calories will cause undesirable body fat accumulation in addition to muscle. Here are three workout tips to get you started

  • Shoot to train each muscle group three times per week
  • Train with higher volume and lower intensity or lower volume and higher intensity. If you try to train with both intensity and volume, you will likely over train and stop your muscle building efforts in their tracks
  • Follow a structured training plan and keep a training journal. Since the response to different training programs is very individualized, having objective data is invaluable in figuring out what works best for you.

Build Muscle Without Steroids

Supplements to Take as a Natural Bodybuilder

There are several research-backed supplements which can aid the natural bodybuilder in his or her quest for muscle gain. Here are three that you should consider (after discussing with your health care practitioner)

  • Creatine monohydrate: This supplement’s safety and effectiveness is backed by a significant amount of scientific research.
  • Essential Amino Acids: Taken before and during your workouts, there is evidence this will enhance power output, decrease delayed onset muscle soreness, and increase muscle protein synthesis
  • Protein: A protein shake, consumed post workout, will likely help you build muscle. If you plan to eat within an hour or an hour and a half of finishing your workout, whey protein or a blend of whey and casein is ideal. Should you not be able to eat within 90 minutes of finishing your workout, a blended protein (whey and casein) is ideal.

What to Eat to Build Muscle Naturally

To build a significant amount of muscle, you must be in a calorie surplus and be consuming enough protein. Carbohydrates are a natural bodybuilder’s friend and should be concentrated in your pre-workout and nighttime meals.

Everyone’s calorie requirements are different, but a good starting breakdown of macronutrients is 30% protein, 45% carbs, and 25% fat. For a 170-pound bodybuilder consuming 2800 calories per day, this works out to 210 g protein, 78 grams of fat and about 315 grams of carbohydrates.

You should eat a preworkout meal between 90 and 180 minutes before you lift and a post workout meal 60-90 minutes after completing your workout. I also recommend a meal before bed of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Protein should be distributed as evenly as you can throughout the day, and carbs should be consumed predominately preworkout and before bed.

Other tips

  • Be patient. Muscle growth takes a long time. Progress in natural bodybuilding is measured months and years, not days and weeks.
  • Do not let the calorie-surplus part of your plan give you license to eat whatever you want. It doesn’t take a lot of excess calories to build muscle. While a small amount of fat accumulation is normally necessary for muscle building, if you eat the house you will end up putting on too much fat that then will need to be dieted off, often at the expense of some or all your hard-earned muscle
  • Give a plan enough time to work. If you’re constantly changing your program based on the latest article in T-Nation, you will never know what will work best for you. Give a program at least 8 weeks.
  • If you’re getting stronger in the 6-12 rep range, your muscles are almost definitely growing. Make sure you are.
  • Get enough sleep, minimize stress, and don’t over train.
  • Get a workout from your doctor to make sure there is nothing internally which is hindering your muscle building efforts.


You can only assess your genetic potential in retrospect. In other words, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try it. If you are willing to do the work and have the proper plan, you can make significant progress no matter what your limitations are. Set goals, then do everything in your power to achieve them. You will be shocked at what you are able to accomplish.

Do you have more questions about this blog post or Dr. Charlie Seltzer’s weight loss program? Contact Us, and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours. 

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