Why fitness bros taking steroids shouldn’t bother you

Transparency around people’s diets and lifestyles can help us all to feel better

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Transparency around people’s diets and lifestyles can help us all to feel better

By Rhys Thomas21 Aug 2023
7 mins read time
7 mins read time

Is there someone you follow on Instagram who consistently looks incredibly shredded? And another person who is hitting new personal bests at the gym every week? And yet another person, who just seems to constantly always be at their best, training hard, looking great? Does watching them make you feel good? Well, hopefully it does. But for many, watching seemingly impossibly athletic people can have the opposite effect: instead of motivating us to get up and do whatever it is we want to do: be fitter, look a certain way, etc, it can leave us feeling jaded, and like our own slow progress isn’t worth persisting with.

If you’re thinking this way, have you ever considered the people you’re watching might be unhealthy in ways they aren’t showing you on screen? Have you considered that they might be using performance-enhancing drugs?

From an aesthetics perspective, the most influential male body of all time is probably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s circa 1970. The Austrian superstar was a bodybuilder before he became an actor and then politician. He is also on the record as having used performance-enhancing drugs testosterone and the steroid Dianabol, a Class C drug in the UK. World class athletes these days have to follow pretty strict guidelines around what they can and cannot take, but this doesn’t mean they’re not using dubious things to give them an edge.

A disproportionate number of footballers use asthma pumps (legally, prescribed) to help them breathe better in cold weather. Snus - tobacco administered in pouches stuffed under a top or lower lip - is also very popular with elite footballers. While it’s x1,000 healthier than smoking, it’s still tobacco, both addictive and the scientific community is undertaking ongoing research as to whether it can cause cancer. It’s also technically illegal to sell snus in the UK. Players are understood to use a small dose to relax or a stronger dose, for a pick me up. This is all to say that more often than not, those people doing supernatural things, are in fact, going beyond the natural. And that’s absolutely fine. Because just because we watch what they say doesn’t mean we need to follow what they say.

It would be crass to suggest that many of us aren’t influenced by people who look a certain way. Regardless of what aesthetic preferences we have and/or want for ourselves, many of us absolutely do see others as a reference point for their own looks. Within this, there’s always been non-natty influencers who we’ve looked up to, like Arnold and all the others who followed in his heavy footsteps. Many of the people we admire to today are open about cosmetic work they have done, too, which might be regulated a little better than chemical enhancements, but plenty of it involves physical risks.

The reason we need to accept that people are often less natural and healthy than they make out is because these cheat-codes, secret compromises, and hidden procedures, are inevitable. People will always want to utilise something that helps them to achieve something. From nootropics for the mind to ozempic for the waistline. We need to push the discourse beyond discussion as to whether someone is natty or not and then disgust when they don’t fulfil our expectations. We need to consider our relationship to these people in the limelight, and to evaluate whether we really want to be like them, based on their lifestyle, or at least the lifestyle they project online, a lot of the time for followers and for profit. Something critically important to doing that is their transparency.

Liver King was exposed for using steroids and then denying it, he then issued an apology saying “Yes I am on steroids, monitored and managed by a trained hormone clinician”. It is his most viewed video with just under four million views. His second-most viewed video has 1.2 million views. Greg Douchette, an IFBB Pro bodybuilder, published author, influencer, and Guinness World Record holding powerlifter, who has previously used performance-enhancing drugs himself, has amassed a strong YouTube following from trying to debunk fitness claims that are false.

He has an entire series called Natty or Not. What would happen if one day something was exposed about Greg? It would likely ruin his credibility. Thing is, while he spends a lot of time talking about others and not himself, he does often caveat by referring to previous PBs as: “natural, the most I lifted was…”, implying there were times where he was not natural, and perhaps that he is not natural now. But he isn’t specific about himself, either. He does not update his followers on what he’s using and not using. Dawid Olesinski, a popular young fitness influencer, powerlifter, businessman, and model, switched from natty to not a little over a year ago. Initially he was very dismissive, but has publicly announced he is not natural since. Like Greg Douchette, Dawid Olesinski doesn’t want to promote or influence taking these substances either. In one reel he said: “I’m not natty, I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to promote it, I’m not going to tell you what I take”.

There is a safety point in showing that performance enhancing drugs have been used - without giving specifics away. Rich Piana was a popular bodybuilder who regularly and openly used performance enhancing drugs. He died aged 46 from issues that could have been related to or exacerbated by his use of steroids and testosterone. He could be a cautionary tale for those wishing to take steroids too. But there is a risk he will have influenced some into copying him. In some ways, it’s good that people are forced to do their own research based on curiosity and a healthy scepticism towards tight-lipped and bulky fitness influencers who won’t explain exactly how they got that body. But better still is a middle ground for influencers to occupy - somewhere between hiding or denying using substances and telling people that they too can look like this.

Some might look at people like Olesinski and decide that after maxing out their potential (Olesinski’s natural max reps were 270kg for squats, 300kg for deadlift, and 160kg for bench press, he has said in Instagram comments) they need unnatural help to keep pushing themselves. Others might decide that they want to be natty and they’ll have to accept limitations, seek new challenges, and focus on maintenance. We need information to make healthy decisions, and to feel better about ourselves.

Along with that research, we should also consider what it is we’re looking to get from following certain people. Is it literal advice and guidance? Should it be? Often these are young men who aren’t actually qualified to give advice, they are passing on things that work for them personally. Perhaps instead we can just look to be inspired by someone doing well for themselves, and to do our best to get out there and start being who we want to be, when we’re ready to stop watching others, of course.

In other parts of our relationships with the online world, we know this. We know that social media is a highlights reel and that far, far more goes on behind the scenes to bring the results to the screen than we could ever know. Influencers need to do their best to stop lying, to create a safer space for everyone. Of course, that is in itself an incredibly daunting prospect, but often the right thing to do isn’t easy.