Before getting started it is important to make one thing clear, this article does not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs that have been banned.
There are many medical reasons why steroids are illegal and taking them can cause serious side effects or even death.
It is not coincidental that so many professional bodybuilders die of heart failure in their 60s and 70s and it certainly isn't due to whey protein shakes!
That being said, learning the many ways that bodybuilders and athletes have passed doping tests is fascinating and will give you a better idea of the tightrope they are walking both in terms of legality and their health.
Regular versus Natural Bodybuilding
When we talk about ‘regular‘ bodybuilding we are talking about the professional bodybuilders of this world… You know, the guys who are improbably large.
The guys who tell you that their bodies are down to eating right and training hard whilst selling the magical protein powder that gave them their bodies.
Those guys who are lying through their teeth every time they say that they're clean. They are not, obviously not but such is the state of the world.
They can't admit to buying illegal steroids, nor could they earn a living pushing supplements if they ever admitted what they really used.
That's just being street smart, and nobody seriously believes that they are clean.
For those of you who would prefer to see what is possible naturally there are always natural bodybuilders. These guys get tested before a competition and are therefore clean …. Right?
Well sorry to burst your bubble but actually there are almost as many drugs in natural bodybuilding competitions as there are in unnatural comps.
The testing in these competitions is not on the same level as those of professional athletes (in other words there is unlikely to be re-testing of samples from 8 years ago like the Olympics has), in fact there are many people who would claim that the organisations running the competitions are aware of this.
The amounts of drugs being taken by regular and ‘natural‘ bodybuilders is at a level that has never been seen before, a low level user would be taking an amount of steroids that would have shocked most steroid takers in the 90s.
The drugs are more powerful, more effective, and are being taken by more and more people every year.
Beating the Tests
But how do they manage to beat these doping tests?
Well the interesting thing is that drug tests are not as infallible as they are made out to be. Lance Armstrong got away with it for YEARS. Even Olympic athletes have gotten away with cheating doping tests, at least in the short term.
This was managed whilst being tested by the number one drug testing team in the world WADA. So getting past a drug test administered by a regional ‘natural‘ bodybuilding competition which has no vested interest in actually catching anyone is a piece of cake.
What you have to realise is that the drugs makers are always going to be one or two steps ahead of the drugs testers. Always.
You cannot test for a drug that hasn't been invented yet and this is one of the easiest ways for bodybuilders to cheat the system.
So called designer steroids, are steroids that have been slightly tweaked to create a new compound (this is also how legal highs are created). The maker can then sell their new product until the government gets it together to ban it, by which time the manufacturer has created another variation.
Another common technique is to use drugs that have a fast clearing rate, in other words a drug that can be clear of your system in a short time (without causing you to lose your physique).
For example most injectable Testosterone will only stay in your system for about two weeks.
This means that if you know you have a test at a certain date you can take your drugs all the way up to within a fortnight of the test and then walk away from the test with a pass.
Some other drugs are in the system for even less than two weeks, this is partly why random drug tests are so common in organised sport.
Drugs such as Insulin (which is incidentally one of the most common drugs used in bodybuilding now) and Human Growth Hormone are pretty much undetectable (again, unless you're an Olympic athlete).
Insulin will be impossible to detect even a few hours after it has been administered! Even if it was caught the user could just claim that they required it for Diabetes.
Other drugs like Ephedrine can be taken up to a few weeks before a test as they take a little longer to clear the body, but by then the user will have already received the results that they required.
There are other ways to cheat a drugs test, for example taking a diuretic will mask the drugs or you can just switch urine with a clean person.
Even bribery and lying can help you get past a drugs test. Sadly the competitions that would benefit most from strict drugs testing have the least amount of money to spend on it.
A test for Human Growth Hormone would cost a fortune to do, and there just isn't that much money involved in the sport. Not to mention that strict and thorough drug testing would turn Bodybuilding into a ghost town!
If you have walked away from this article with the opinion that because drug testing is so ineffective it means that the risks of taking these drugs is lessened then you have missed the point.
There is a reason why these drugs are banned, they are dangerous and could cost you your health, your freedom, or even your life.