3 ‘Safe Steroids’ for Bodybuilders

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


Given the sensitive nature of this article topic, we’d like to clarify that no steroid can be considered 100% safe; especially when bought on the black market for cosmetic purposes.

Anabolic steroids are also illegal, thus unless utilized by a doctor in a strict medical setting; AAS have the potential to cause dangerous side effects to users.

However, certain steroids are safer than others, hence why several AAS are approved by the FDA in medicine (whilst others are not).

It’s worth noting that bodybuilders often consume significantly higher dosages of anabolic steroids, compared to in medical settings; thus increasing the risk of side effects.

Furthermore, bodybuilders often take steroids without having regular check ups with a medical doctor, which is a further risk.

However, below are the most mild and least destructive steroids a bodybuilder can take:

  • Testosterone
  • Anavar
  • Deca durabolin

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Testosterone

Testosterone is an FDA-approved injectable steroid, used to treat millions of men all over the world, who are deficient in natural testosterone.

This is known as testosterone replacement therapy, or TRT.

Testosterone was included in the World Heath Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, regarded as crucial for treating endocrine disorders (1).

In 2017, it was the 132nd most prescribed medication throughout the U.S (2); with over 5 million prescriptions (3).

From 2001 to 2011 testosterone prescriptions have tripled (4), indicating a current low testosterone epidemic.

In bodybuilding, testosterone is predominantly used in bulking cycles to add large amounts of muscle and strength; however it’s also utilized in cutting cycles to retain muscle hypertrophy.

When injected correctly, it can be argued that testosterone is one of the safest steroids available.

Testosterone causes hefty gains in muscle size (20-30lbs) and remains as one of the most popular steroids in bodybuilding; despite coming to market over 80 years ago.

If injected incorrectly, any steroid or medication can be dangerous (or fatal).

However, there is oral testosterone available (undecanoate) for those wanting to avoid needles. Oral testosterone is less commonly used in bodybuilding, compared to injectables, due to its higher market price.

Testosterone Side Effects

Testosterone poses little to no hepatic concern (liver stress), due to it being an injectable and thus entering the blood stream immediately; instead of the liver having to filter it.

Oral testosterone (undecanoate) is also safe for the liver, with it being absorbed via the intestinal lymphatic route; thus preventing hepatic strain. One study gave 2,800mg per week of testosterone undecanoate to male subjects for 21 days (5); yet none of them experienced any hepatotoxic stress, despite such an exceedingly large dose.

Blood Pressure

Testosterone is likely to increase blood pressure, due to a redistribution of HDL/LDL cholesterol levels. However, such cholesterol fluctuations are mild, compared to other anabolic steroids.

There are a couple of reasons why testosterone doesn’t negatively affect blood pressure significantly. Firstly, it converts to estrogen, with the female hormone having a positive effect on blood lipids.

Secondly, testosterone doesn’t pass through the liver, thus failing to stimulate hepatic lipase, an enzyme which can skew cholesterol levels in the wrong direction.

There is evidence oral testosterone may even improve cardiovascular health, when therapeutic doses are administered in overweight men (6). This however is likely to be correlative, with a reduction in fat mass likely being the culprit for such reductions in BP.

For most bodybuilders taking moderate to high dosages of testosterone, blood pressure will rise; with the severity depending on the dose and cycle duration.

In research, 280mg/week of testosterone enanthate had a very slight negative effect on HDL cholesterol, after 12 weeks (7).

300mg/week of testosterone (enanthate), when taken for 20 weeks, caused HDL levels to drop by just 13%.

Meanwhile, 600mg/week caused a reduction of 21%.

Note: Taking an AI (aromatase inhibitor) will further spike blood pressure, by inhibiting testosterone to estrogen conversion, thus further decreasing HDL levels.

Estrogenic Side Effects

Testosterone has the ability to cause gynecomastia and water retention, due to its estrogenic nature; however a SERM (such as nolvadex) significantly reduces the chances of gyno forming.

Incidents of gynecomastia are particularly rare, when combining low doses of testosterone with a SERM.

Androgenic Side Effects

Androgenic side effects, such as: hair loss on the scalp, prostate enlargement and acne are possible on testosterone.

Such side effects inspired Dr Ziegler to create dianabol, after understanding the Soviet strongmen had to use urinary catheters, as a result of cycling testosterone in the Olympic games.

Thus, dianabol was formulated to be less androgenic than testosterone — yet more anabolic.

Therefore, despite testosterone’s mild properties, it may not be suitable for someone with existing prostate issues or someone looking to avoid hair loss.

Testosterone Suppression

As with all anabolic steroids, testosterone will decrease endogenous testosterone levels.

Low testosterone thus can be experienced for several months after, unless a PCT (post cycle therapy) is administered to shorten this recovery period.

HCG, Clomid or/and Nolvadex can be taken post-cycle to resurrect a male’s testosterone production.

Anavar (Oxandrolone)

Anavar is an oral steroid, often used in cutting cycles to enhance fat loss and lean muscle gains.

Anavar is one of the few steroids that is adept at building muscle and burning fat simultaneously.

Muscle gains are not extreme on anavar, however an increase of 10-15lbs is common.

Anavar is a mild steroid, that remains FDA-approved for medicinal purposes. It is commonly prescribed to patients suffering from bone pain due to osteoporosis; and those needing to gain weight quickly (as a consequence of trauma, infection or surgery).

Interestingly, anavar can be prescribed to women and children, without them experiencing any notable negative effects.

This demonstrates anavar’s mild properties, with other steroids causing masculinization in women or/and being too toxic for minors.

In bodybuilding circles, anavar is nicknamed the ‘girl steroid’, due to it being generally safe for women to take (in low to moderate doses). Many AAS in comparison will enlarge the clitoris, shrink the breasts, cause hair growth on the body; as well as deepening the voice.

However, many men also take anavar, not just for bodybuilding purposes; but to dramatically increase muscular strength, power and endurance.

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Anavar Side Effects

Liver toxicity

Oral steroids generally don’t have a positive reputation when it comes to liver health.

This is because orals are c-17 alpha alkylated, meaning they are processed by the liver before entering the blood stream. Consequently, the organ becomes stressed with ALT and AST liver enzymes rising.

However, anavar is one of the few exceptions to this rule, with it posing considerably less liver toxicity (compared to other orals).

It is not entirely known why this is the case, however the kidneys playing more of a role in processing oxandrolone, compared to other compounds, may be a reasonable explanation. Thus, decreasing the liver’s work load.

Cholesterol levels

Cholesterol levels will shift in a negative way, thought to be notably less than other steroids; albeit greater than testosterone.

For an oral steroid, anavar is certainly not the worst compound for the heart; however its effects are notable.

Research has shown that men taking 20mg/day of anavar for 12 weeks, experienced a 30% decrease in HDL cholesterol (8).

A 40mg/day dose of anavar only reduced HDL levels by a further 3% (33% in total).

When taking 80mg/day the reduction was severe, dropping by 50%.

LDL levels also increased in each of the groups, at a similar rate to the drop in HDL. 

The typical bodybuilding dose for men is 20mg of anavar per day. Also is not commonly taken for long periods of time (such as 12 weeks), but more often 6-8 weeks. Thus, a common anavar cycle will likely yield less than a 30% decrease in HDL cholesterol; likely being closer to 20-25%.

This is not an alarming drop, however certainly something to monitor and take precautions against. Taking 4g/day of fish oil can help prevent such rises in BP, offering some level of cardiovascular protection on-cycle.

Virilization in Women

Although anavar is viewed as a ‘female friendly’ steroid, virilization (or masculinization) can still occur in women taking high doses of it.

Doses over 10mg/day will increase the likelihood of undesirable effects, plus a cycle lasting beyond 6 weeks.

Doesn’t Aromatize

Anavar doesn’t convert to estrogen which is a positive in regards to body composition, as there will be no water retention. Consequently, this creates dry and full muscle bellies.

Also there is no risk of gynecomastia on anavar, due to a lack of aromatization activity.

However, low estrogen is one reason why cholesterol levels are worse on anavar, compared to testosterone.

Testosterone Suppression

Significant decreases in natural testosterone production is a certainty when taking any steroid.

However, anavar will not completely shut down users; but instead cause moderate suppression.

One study reported a 45% reduction in testosterone, when male subjects took 20mg and 40mg for 12 weeks (9).

This is a high dose and an excessive period of time, even by bodybuilding standards.

In comparison, a small dose of dianabol (15mg), taken for 8 weeks can cause testosterone to drop by 69% (10).

Users can expect testosterone function to recover within several weeks post-cycle (without a PCT).

However, a PCT may be utilized to speed up this process, which also applies for female-users.

Deca Durabolin

Deca durabolin (nandrolone) is an FDA approved injectable steroid, used in medicine to treat anemia, osteoporosis and those suffering from various muscle-wasting diseases.

Deca durabolin is favoured in medicine and the bodybuilding community, due to its mild nature; yet potent ability to add lean muscle and strength. It is anabolic like testosterone, yet lacks strong estrogenic and androgenic properties.

In a trial in Sydney (Australia), 17 HIV positive men took Deca durabolin for 16 weeks.

They experienced ‘significant increases in weight’ (in the form of lean body mass), whilst ‘no subject experienced toxicity’ (11).

Deca durabolin is one of the most heart-friendly anabolic steroids, with research showing it producing a subtle decrease in HDL cholesterol.

Studies administering 600mg/week of deca for 10 weeks (9), saw a 26% reduction in HDL levels.

This effect is slightly worse than testosterone and similar to a moderate dose of anavar.

Deca durabolin has weak androgenic properties, thus male pattern baldness, prostate enlargement and oily skin/acne are unlikely to trouble users.

Deca Durabolin Side Effects

Although deca durabolin is considered a ‘safer’ steroid in bodybuilding, it can cause some problematic side effects in other areas.

Arguably the most notorious side effect is ‘deca dick’, which essentially is erectile dysfunction or impotence. There are two components affected, which are: inability to get an erection and reduced libido.

One reason why deca durabolin may have a particular negative effect on sexual libido/performance is due to it significantly increasing prolactin levels in the blood stream.

Prolactin inhibits the production of GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), causing less endogenous testosterone production. This naturally leads to less desire for sex.

Due to deca durabolin’s low androgenicity, users can experience less nitric oxide production; which is crucial for optimal blood flow. Thus, erections may become less frequent, or more difficult to attain/sustain.

This is why some bodybuilders stack androgenic compounds with deca durabolin, such as testosterone, helping to keep nitric oxide levels high. Also supplementing with cabergoline can keep prolactin levels stable and thus prevent ‘deca dick’.

Estrogen

Although deca durabolin is not regarded as estrogenic, it converts to estrogen at 20% of testosterone.

Deca however has strong progesterone properties, which can stimulate estrogen receptors in the mammary glands; thus still posing a risk of gynecomastia.

High progesterone can also contribute to water retention, causing the typical smooth look bodybuilders have when taking deca in the off-season.

Testosterone suppression

A common dose of deca is 300-400mg per week, whilst stacked with other steroids.

Research has shown 100mg of deca per week can reduce testosterone by 57% (10).

The same trial also found 300mg per week lowered test by 70%, thus a PCT should be of high priority post-cycle.

FAQ

What is the Safest Oral Steroid?

The safest oral steroid would be oral testosterone (undecanoate). However, anavar and primobolan are also very mild compounds with few side effects.

The most important organs to protect during a steroid cycle are the heart and liver; and these three oral steroids are the least destructive in this regard.

For women, the safest oral is anavar, with it arguably being the most desirable compound for preserving their femininity.

What is the Safest Steroid Cycle?

Generally, the more steroids you stack together in a cycle — the greater the side effects.

Thus, a testosterone-only cycle is believed to be the most mild protocol, hence why it’s used as a first steroid cycle among beginners. Below is a cautiously dosed testosterone cycle, suitable for novices:

testosterone first cycle

The above testosterone cycle would be classed as a bulking one, with users experiencing large increases in muscular strength and hypertrophy.

An anavar-only cycle is another popular option for users prioritizing their safety. Male bodybuilders typically take the following dosages, to keep side effects at bay:

anavar only cycle

This would be seen as a cutting cycle, taken predominantly to enhance fat burning. Anavar is also suitable for users looking to gain small to moderate amounts of muscle simultaneously.

Note: Women on anavar should take no more than 10mg/day. Below is a typical female anavar cycle:

female anavar only cycle

Summary

Although no anabolic steroid is 100% safe, some are classed as essential medicines from leading health organizations. Several steroids are also approved by the FDA, yet remain illegal today in most countries. Steroid-use only becomes legal when they are prescribed by a medical doctor for underlying health problems.