Closest Thing to Steroids: Top 5 Alternatives

Dr George TouliatosDisclaimer: The following article is for educational purposes only and does not promote the use of illegal steroids. If you have any questions or concerns, Dr. Touliatos is currently available for consultation.

Anabolic steroids are becoming increasingly popular today; however, they remain taboo in sports and society due to their harsh side effects.

Thus, many gymgoers are looking for something that can mimic the anabolic effects of steroids but with less harsh effects.

Scientists are also looking for this ‘perfect’ compound as they attempt to treat cachexia (muscle wasting) with less toxicity for patients.

Chemically, the potent anabolic (muscle building) and lipolytic (fat burning) effects of anabolic steroids are due to them both being exogenous forms of testosterone.

Thus, in theory, if a supplement could significantly increase testosterone levels to the same degree as steroids, it would also mimic their results.

However, doing so would also yield a similar amount of side effects.

Thus, in order to experience the results of steroids, users need to be willing to endure harsh side effects.

However, if someone is willing to experience fewer gains but with more tolerable side effects, there are certain supplements (or compounds) that can help.

Note: In this article, we will not focus on supplements that produce little to no results but on more powerful supplements and compounds that we have actually seen have an effect.

1. SARMs

S23 sarm
SARMs (selective androgen receptor modulators) are medicine’s attempt to create a superior anabolic compound to steroids.

SARMs work by binding to the androgen receptor and thus increasing testosterone levels, but with unique tissue selectivity.

Thus, in theory, SARMs replicate the anabolic effects of steroids but without the adverse effects, such as hypertrophy of the prostate, hypertension, or liver damage.

Unfortunately, in practice, SARMs can produce harsh side effects that may not only equal anabolic steroids but also surpass their toxicity level.

Dr. Thomas O’Connor, a member of our medical team, has hypothesized that SARMs are more dangerous than anabolic steroids. His verdict is based on 10 years of anecdotal evidence and the analysis of 2,000 patients’ labs.

In medical research, two men experienced SARM-induced hepatocellular-cholestatic injuries (1). This was the consequence of taking LGD-4033 for 9 weeks and RAD-140 for just 4 weeks.

Dr. O’Connor has also observed SARMs to have deleterious effects on HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol while causing moderate damage to the HPTA (hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis), resulting in temporary (yet significant) testosterone suppression.

Furthermore, the positive effects of SARMs may not be as extreme compared to anabolic steroids, with modest increases in muscle hypertrophy being experienced in clinical research (2). In one study, SARM users gained 11.5 kg of lean mass in a 4-6-week period.

In contrast, users taking Testosterone Enanthate gained 57 kg. Thus, SARMs may produce only 20% of the muscle gains of anabolic steroids (but with potentially harsh side effects).

SARMs’ mild positive effects on body composition in research also correlate with our real-life, anecdotal observations of SARM users’ before and after transformations.

rad 140 before and after

Bodybuilders will typically purchase SARMs online or from people they know. The legal status of SARMs is somewhat of a gray area, with them being legal for chemical research, i.e., giving them to mice and monitoring the results. However, they are illegal for humans to administer for bodybuilding purposes.

SARMs Pros

  • Notable increases in muscle mass and fat loss
  • Significant increases in strength

SARMs Cons

  • Illegal to purchase (for non-research purposes)
  • Potentially harsh side effects
  • Many SARM products have been found to be tainted
  • Not as potent as anabolic steroids
  • Bodybuilders will lose their ‘natural’ status

2. Turkesterone

mk677 turkesterone
Turkesterone is an ecdysteroid, which is the natural steroid hormone found in plants and insects.

Thus, it is the plant/insect equivalent of testosterone in humans. As turkesterone can be extracted naturally, bodybuilders do not need to worry about losing their ‘natural status’. It is also 100% legal to purchase and has not been banned by any sporting federation.

In terms of research, turkesterone has been shown to possess exceptional anabolic traits.

The study that got everyone’s attention was conducted by SyrovV. N., in 2000. He was testing the anabolic effects of various phytoecdysteroids and steranabols in male rats, and he found turkesterone produced greater weight gain than Dianabol.

These results were even more impressive when you consider that turkesterone promotes lean weight gain as opposed to Dianabol, which causes notable amounts of water retention.

However, as this study was conducted on rodent models, some remain skeptical of turkesterone until it is found effective in humans.

Turkesterone has not yet been clinically tested in humans; thus, with limited research, it is impossible to know whether turkesterone can produce steroid-like effects in natural bodybuilders.

Anecdotally, we have had bodybuilders report up to 12 lbs of muscle gain (at best), and others experience no visible results (at worst). Thus, the results on turkesterone could be dependent on the quality of the supplement and whether the user is a hyper-responder or not.

Turkesterone does not bind to the androgen receptor, preventing significant decreases in endogenous testosterone. Therefore, we have seen natural testosterone levels remain stable on turkesterone, and the typical side effects of steroids, such as high blood pressure, liver toxicity, gynecomastia, etc., do not occur.

Turkesterone Pros

  • Notable increases in muscle mass, fat loss, and strength (in some users)
  • No side effects
  • 100% legal

Turkesterone Cons

  • There is not enough research yet to confirm any steroid-like effects.

3. Ecdysterone

Ecdysterone is an ecdysteroid, like turkesterone, and the two share very similar chemical structures.

There is more research conducted on ecdysterone, which enables us to have a better understanding of its potential anabolic nature (compared to turkesterone).

The research on ecdysterone is conflicting in both animal and human studies, demonstrating both positive and negative outcomes.

In the 2000 study conducted by SyrovV. N., the data showed that ecdysterone produced significant weight gain in the rodents, albeit less than turkesterone. This indicates that turkesterone is the more potent of the two ecdysteroids.

In 2006, the first human ecdysterone study was published. 45 weight-trained males were split into 4 groups (3).

Three of the groups would take the following potentially anabolic substances:

  • Ecdysterone
  • Methoxyisoflavone
  • Sulfo-polysaccharides

The fourth group took a placebo.

However, the results showed no notable improvements in each of the groups when recording serum testosterone levels, one rep max, or fat-free mass.

However, three years later, in 2019, a second ecdysterone study was published (4).

46 men who had 1 year of weight training experience were split into 3 groups. Group 1 took a moderate dose of ecdysterone (2 x 100mg tablets), Group 2 took a high dose of ecdysterone (8 x 100mg tablets), and Group 3 took a placebo.

The researchers found that the groups taking ecdysterone gained significant amounts of muscle mass compared to the placebo.

Interestingly, the higher-dosed ecdysterone group also gained notably more mass than the moderate-dosed ecdysterone group.

An analysis was conducted on the contents of the ‘ecdysterone’ supplement, and the researchers found no banned substances to be in the pills. However, they found only a fraction of ecdysterone was truly present in each pill (6%).

Only 6mg of ecdysterone was in each capsule, compared to the 100mg listed on the bottle.

Thus, a definitive conclusion about ecdysterone being the culprit for the significant results is dubious. However, such results were still enough for researchers to call for the banning of ecdysterone in sports.

Our results strongly suggest the inclusion of ecdysterone in the list of prohibited substances and methods in sports in class S1.2 “other anabolic agents”.

However, ecdysterone is not currently on the prohibited list of WADA or other sporting federations.

Ecdysterone surely needs further research in order to be viewed as a supplement that has anabolic effects. At this early stage, however, there is some promise.

Ecdysterone Pros

  • 100% natural supplement
  • No side effects
  • One study shows it to be significantly anabolic in humans.

Ecdysterone Cons

  • Not yet proven scientifically (due to little research)
  • Likely to be less effective than turkesterone.

4. HGH (Human Growth Hormone)

HGH is not an anabolic steroid, although it mimics several of steroids’ properties, such as fat loss, muscle hypertrophy and strength, and endurance.

HGH is a peptide hormone often taken by bodybuilders wanting to take their physique to the next level. We observe the proportion of muscle-building and fat loss to be dissimilar to steroids, with HGH having more lipolytic (fat-burning) effects than anabolic (muscle-building).

Thus, HGH may be more effective than anabolic steroids for reductions in fat mass but less effective for muscle hypertrophy.

hgh before after

Typical HGH transformation

Furthermore, HGH does not cause a ‘crash’ post-cycle, so PCT (post-cycle therapy) is unnecessary.

Although exogenous HGH causes temporary declines in endogenous (natural) HGH levels, we have seen these recover in a matter of days post-cycle.

In contrast, we commonly observe damage to the HPTA from a steroid cycle, causing low endogenous testosterone levels for several weeks or months after.

Our patients who have taken HGH still experience several side effects (similar to anabolic steroids), including an increased likelihood of heart disease (left ventricular hypertrophy) and type II diabetes.

HGH may also be carcinogenic (5), with Dr. Thomas O’Connor observing the following cancers transpire in patients that had regularly cycled GH:

  • Melanomas
  • Esophageal cancers
  • Brain cancers
  • Heart tumor (single case)
  • Gastrointestinal tract cancer

It would make sense that HGH could increase a person’s risk of cancer, as it raises IGF-1 levels (a surrogate marker for cancer).

Also, HGH can cause a protruding effect on the abdomen, also known as ‘HGH gut’, due to an increase in visceral fat, causing a bloated look to the midsection.

Anabolic steroids can also cause this same blocky appearance in the abdomen; however, it is less pronounced than HGH. We hypothesize the difference to be attributed to HGH causing greater fluctuations in insulin and blood sugar levels (6).

HGH is not currently approved for cosmetic use, and thus bodybuilders often purchase it via the black market, as prescriptions are only possible if a person has clinically low endogenous levels. 

HGH Pros

  • Significant fat loss
  • Mild muscle gains
  • Anti-aging

HGH Cons

  • HGH gut
  • Illegal (unless medically prescribed)
  • Several adverse side effects
  • Bodybuilders will lose their ‘natural status’

5. Testosterone boosters

testosterone booster
If a bodybuilder wants to stay 100% natural and operate within the confines of the law, testosterone boosters can be used, such as d-aspartic acid, tribulus terrestris, ZMA, and various others.

There is research to suggest such herbs and amino acids have positive effects on testosterone levels (7); however, they are unlikely to cause exceptional elevations.

There may be a rare few hyper-responders to certain testosterone boosters, causing them to gain 10 lbs of lean mass from approximately 4-6 weeks of supplementation. However, this is not typical, and for most users, a fraction of this is likely to be the outcome.

Other natural supplements, such as protein powders, creatine, and BCAAs, are unlikely to yield anything close to steroid-like results. 

Testosterone Booster Pros:

  • Very safe (no side effects)
  • 100% natural
  • Clinically proven to increase testosterone levels

Testosterone Booster Cons:

  • Minimal muscle gains

As testosterone boosters contain natural, FDA-approved ingredients and are 100% legal, they can be easily purchased online or over the counter. 


Anabolic steroids vs. natural supplements: which is better?

The answer to this question is subjective, as it will vary from person to person.

We have patients wanting to be as muscular as possible for cosmetic purposes, and they don’t mind risking their health and living a potentially shorter life. In this case, steroids may be deemed the better option.

However, other patients want to optimize their health and live a long life, in which case we see them having greater happiness and success with natural supplements.

We understand that men and women who aspire to compete in bodybuilding professionally may have little choice, as genetics, training, and diet will only take a person so far (at an elite level).

Equally, there are gifted natural bodybuilders who are happy to compete in low-profile competitions with minimal prize money because they are simply proud of not being enhanced.

Can you safely take steroids?

Doctors prescribe anabolic steroids in medicine to patients with cachexia and osteoporosis; thus, we believe it is possible to take them relatively safely (when under expert medical care and taken in the correct dosages).

However, this only applies to a few anabolic steroids that are FDA-approved and used in medicine (Anavar, Testosterone, Deca Durabolin, and Anadrol), as many anabolic steroids are not prescribed due to high levels of toxicity.


Truthfully, the positive effects of anabolic steroids are unrivaled.

Other articles online may state that natural supplements such as creatine, protein, and amino acids have an effect, but the results are incomparable to those of steroids in our experience.

SARMs and HGH are arguably the closest thing to steroids that we see in our clinic, mimicking muscle-building and fat-burning properties (albeit still with side effects).

Turkesterone and ecdysterone are potentially the best options for those wanting to remain 100% natural.

Anabolic steroids should be discouraged due to their potentially dangerous adverse effects. However, if steroids are to be taken, mild ones may actually be safer than some of the ‘alternative’ compounds mentioned in this article, such as SARMs.

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