Among the variety of supplements defined as ergogenic aids, the human growth hormone and steroids are the most frequently used ones for performance enhancement. Many professional and amateur athletes use these agents as a means to become more active and to increase their muscle mass. However, the promising visual gains are often outweighed by the adverse effects caused by these supplements. Thus, steroids substantially differ from the human growth hormone in terms of their structure and impact on the athletic performance, while the medical risks associated with their use have become a matter of public concern.
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The Definition of Ergogenic Aids
Ergogenic aids are usually applied in the field of sports, and they comprise a wide range of substances and devices enhancing one’s athletic performance. Professional and amateur athletes use these supplements to enhance energy production, speed up recovery, and gain competitive advantage. In general, ergogenic aids comprise all kinds of sources that intensify the production of energy and its utilization. Depending on the mechanism of action, ergogenic aids are divided into mechanical aids (involving bicycles and aerodynamic devices), psychological aids (hypnosis, for example), physiologic aids (including the multiplication of red blood cells called “blood doping”), pharmacological aids (anabolic steroids), and nutritional aids (Elsass, 2016). In addition to these categories, the assortment of performance enhancing supplements is regularly complemented by the new products appearing on the market.
Among the abovementioned types of ergogenic aids, anabolic steroids are the most discussed and controversial ones. These supplements are frequently used by bodybuilders and athletes as a means to increase their muscle mass. However, apart from the visible physical changes, the long-time use of anabolic steroids can lead to numerous adverse effects that have led to their prohibition in the professional sport.
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The Effects of Steroid Use on Athletic Performance
The Mechanism of Steroids’ Action
Anabolic steroids are derived from testosterone, and they are commonly characterized by three mechanisms of action. Anticatabolic effects of steroids reverse the actions of glucocorticoids and enhance the metabolism of ingested proteins (Ahrendt, 2001). Consequently, a negative nitrogen balance in the organism is converted into a positive one. In addition, anabolic effects of steroids directly induce skeletal muscle synthesis (Ahrendt, 2001). Lastly, the users of steroids often experience ‘steroid rush’ that manifests itself as a state of euphoria and reduced fatigue, enabling the athlete to train much harder and longer. For the majority of people using steroids, these effects demonstrate their significant potential and make them use these supplements on a regular basis.
The Use of Steroids to Enhance Athletic Performance
With a correct dosage, anabolic steroids make a person feel an extreme burst of energy and strength. These effects are highly appreciated by the athletes who are always involved in long and grueling workouts. Those sportsmen, who take moderate doses of steroids, display gains in muscles, strength, and fat-free mass (Smith & Brenner, 2014). The increments of muscle volume and muscle fiber size may be also provoked by the administration of 125 mg of exogenous testosterone per week (Ostojic, Calleja-Gonzalez, & Stojanovic, 2011). In the field of sports and exercise nutrition, prosteroids are often promoted as fat-burning agents, improving body physique and appearance. Consequently, the use of anabolic steroids has become widespread in the athletic community, especially among the athletes who participate in power events and disciplines such as football, track and field, bodybuilding, and power lifting.
The Differences between Steroids and Human Growth Hormone
The use of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) is commonly treated as the primary option for the improvement of body structure and muscle buildup. At present, even some adolescents, who want to succeed in the field of sports, start using some of these supplements to become bigger and stronger. However, HGH and steroids have different mechanisms of action that result in different effects produced on their users.
Structural Dissimilarities between HGH and Steroids
The differences in HGH and steroid functions are determined primarily by their structural components. The human growth hormones represent the naturally formed supplement enhancing the physical abilities of the human body. The process of HGH synthesis is performed by specific somatotrophs cells located in the pituitary gland (Shaw, 2015). According to their chemical structure, these hormones are protein compounds that constitute of 191 amino acids (Shaw, 2015). These properties make HGH responsible for tissue repair, improved metabolism, release of hormone and enzymes in blood, and cell division. On the contrary, anabolic steroids are testosterone derivatives that are valued mostly for their ergogenic functions, including the performance enhancement, protein synthesis, endurance improvement, physical energy boosting, and stamina recovery (Shaw, 2015). These functions significantly vary from those performed by human growth hormones.
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The Differences Related to the Body Responses
Apart from their structure, HGH and steroids differ in the reactions caused by them in the human organism. The use of an excessive dose of human growth hormone supplements can provoke certain side effects that do not recur after the cessation of their administration. On the contrary, steroids give the more serious side effects that may last for a long time. HGHs are easily incorporated into the normal body cycle, while the reaction of human organism on steroids is different. The administration of anabolic steroids can be performed only by means of injections that often lead to the deterioration of individual’s condition (Shaw, 2015). Finally, the use of HGHs does not result in withdrawal symptoms regardless of the condition of the user and his needs. In contrast, the long-term administration of steroids may lead to withdrawal symptoms that make a person repeat their use. Consequently, although people, who use steroids, display a more rapid muscle mass growth and they do not feel tiredness, they are more likely to experience the negative outcomes related to the use of these supplements and suffer from withdrawal symptoms afterwards.
The Medical Risks of Steroid Use
The administration of anabolic steroids is usually accompanied by a wide range of complications and health risks. The high and multi-doses of steroids used for athletic enhancement can lead to an irreversible or serious organ damage. The other common side effects associated with steroids include atherosclerosis, hypertension, jaundice, blood clotting, hepatic neoplasm and carcinoma, peliosis hepatic, tendon damage, reduced fertility, psychiatric and behavioral disorders, gynecomastia in men, and masculinization in children and women (Hamidi, Shahbazi, & Ashrafi, 2012). In women, steroids may provoke acne, growth of facial hair, and deepening of voice. The administration of anabolic steroids to children may lead to growth stunting. The risks for men lie in the reduction of spermatogenesis after a testosterone treatment for more than six weeks with 25 mg of testosterone per day (Hamidi, Shahbazi, & Ashrafi, 2012). Even within several months after anabolic steroid withdrawal, the former steroid users may still suffer from this problem.
In conclusion, the use of steroids as ergogenic aids is increasingly popular among professional athletes, amateurs, and future sportsmen. To become stronger and more active, many of them use steroids as a supplement to their nutritional and training programs. However, the administration of steroids results not only in visible physical gains but also in various adverse effects provoked by their components. As an alternative, people, who look for performance enhancement, may use the human growth hormone that is more natural and that does not have severe adverse effects as well as withdrawal symptoms.