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When it comes to a discussion on steroid use in sport most people fall into one of two categories.
They either believe that thanks to stringent anti-doping organisations such as USADA and WADA it is borderline impossible to take steroids without getting caught immediately.
Or they believe that every professional athlete is on steroids and the whole thing is a farce.
The truth, as always is probably somewhere in the middle.
Who is Conor McGregor?
Conor McGregor is a UFC fighter and technically the most valuable boxer in the world (based on his earnings per minute spent in the ring). He’s from Dublin, Ireland and is currently second in the UFC’s pound for pound fighter rankings.
He has headlined four of the six biggest selling pay per view events in UFC’s history, and headlined the second biggest pay per view boxing match in history too.
In just a few years Conor McGregor has become one of the biggest sports stars in the world.
McGregor started boxing at the age of 12, but transitioned into mixed martial arts around 17, by 18 he had fought his first amateur fight. He immediately turned pro and fought his first professional fight in 2008. By 2013 he had a contract with UFC president Dana White.
Since that time he has won the featherweight title, and the lightweight title, while also fighting Nate Diaz at welterweight.
His professional boxing record does not make as good reading, he’s lost 100% of his fights.
But to give this proper context, he’s only fought one and that was against the most successful boxer of all time Floyd Mayweather.
Conor is an outspoken, controversial, showman and as such has had a lot to say about steroid use in his sport.
Our job is to determine whether he has ever taken steroids, and whether he is using them now.
What are steroids?
Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) are synthetic hormones that are designed to replicate the effects of the male sex steroid hormone testosterone. They do this by entering the bloodstream, and stimulating steroid receptors.
Anabolic steroids are often taken by bodybuilders, powerlifters, and gym goers because they can increase muscle size, increase strength, and improve recovery. It is this last benefit that makes them popular with athletes.
There are quite a few different types of steroids, firstly you can divide them into oral steroids and injectable steroids.
There are steroids that can help you gain weight, steroids that can help you to lose weight, and steroids that can help with many other goals.
Why would a fighter need steroids?
One theory as to why steroids would be useful for fighters is the way that some such as Clenbuterol can lead to rapid fat loss.
This could be really useful for a fighter who needs to make weight for their next fight.
The ultimate goal for a fighter is to be the correct weight with maximum muscle and minimal body fat, this would give them an advantage when it comes to power.
A steroid (or steroid like substance) such as Clenbuterol would be absolutely perfect for a boxer or MMA fighter.
Steroids can also help you bulk up significantly in a short period of time, for example if you were looking to go up a weight division.
Conor McGregor has now fought at three weight divisions (featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight).
Recovery from intense training is another reason why a fighter would potentially turn to anabolic steroids.
Massive doses of testosterone can allow people to train for longer, recover quicker, and get better results from each session. A fighter who took steroids would have a huge advantage over a fighter who didn’t take steroids.
So clearly there are enough benefits to taking steroids for it to be worthwhile. But what about the risks? How difficult would it be to avoid drug testing while being one of the most famous sportsmen on the planet?
Drug Testing in the UFC
At the moment, Conor McGregor is the most drug tested fighter in the UFC.
On some occasions he was tested by the Nevada Athletic Commission on one day, and USADA the day afterwards.
As the poster boy for his sport, Conor McGregor needs to stay clean in the eyes of the public. But drug tests can be fooled.
According to Chris Leben (a successful MMA fighter) when he was competing a large percentage of fighters were taking steroids. He also claims that the drug tests that they had to take were easy to beat.
The UFC did not bother with random drug tests, only taking them immediately after a big fight. That means that you could time your cycle so that the steroids were clear of your system just in time to be tested.
This is the big problem that affects bodybuilding and most smaller professional sports.
What people don’t realise is that drugs testing is an expensive process, and for a lot of sports it’s not in their interest to find cheats.
It’s different for sports that are in the Olympics, because their tests get much more funding, and are enforced by the Olympic organisers.
For years the UFC was an easy place to get away with taking steroids, and it is notable that the moment more serious testing came about quite a few fighters were caught out.
This does not mean that Conor McGregor was necessarily taking steroids, but it does give us an idea of how he could have got away with it for so long.
Bottom Line: Up until very recently, drug testing in the UFC has been of poor quality. The huge increase in professionalism of the sport has placed UFC fighters under greater spotlight than ever before.
As the most popular fighter, Conor McGregor is tested more than any other fighter. It is unlikely that he is currently taking steroids, as he now takes random drugs tests.
Has Conor’s body shape changed?
One of the most obvious signs that someone is taking anabolic steroids is a change in physique and in size. This is most obvious in bodybuilders, but you can see it to some degree in anyone.
Conor’s physique has definitely improved since he started training. He has a more developed chest, bigger shoulders, and a more defined body.
This occurs when you build a lot of muscle and get your body fat percentage down to the single digits.
In Conor’s defence, he has been training at a high level for 10 years. You’d expect to see quite a bit of a change in physique during that time. At his weight, it’s hard to say how much different a natural and a non-natural athlete would look like with similar diets and training plans.
Could it be possible that Conor took steroids at a younger age but then stopped? Potentially, but there definitely isn’t enough evidence to say definitively.
One theory is that Conor may have been taking steroids up until the introduction of USADA, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, to the UFC.
Suddenly you have a creditable anti-doping agency that have the budget to perform regular drug tests at random times.
They also have the desire to catch out big names. This would have been enough motivation to quit. Remember that any muscle that has been built using steroids won’t just vanish afterwards.
Could Conor’s Injuries have played a part?
In the run up to McGregor’s first title fight against Chad Mendes, he managed to tear his ACL.
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is situated in your knee and this injury can be career ending. But despite this, Conor not only managed to make the fight but he also managed to decisively win it in the second round. A true underdog story.
But let’s back up for a second here, it really needs to be emphasised just how rare it is to recover from an ACL injury in as quick a time as Conor McGregor managed it. We’re not saying it’s impossible, but it is rare.
A study in 1999 by Beiner et al found that anabolic steroid use could significantly speed up recovery from certain injuries .
When Hermes Franca injured his ankle 8 weeks out from his fight in 2007 he tested positive for Drostanolone, a steroid that has been known to speed up injury time.
Dennis Hallman was also caught taking steroids in 2007 in an attempt to heal his neck injury . Thiago Silva also admitted to taking steroids to try and cure a back injury in 2011.
As you can see, there is evidence of multiple MMA fighters taking steroids in an attempt to speed up the healing of serious injuries in time for their fights.
Many people would say that if there was a good reason for taking steroids then accelerating recovery from injury is one of them. Again, this doesn’t mean that Conor McGregor took steroids to heal his ACL injury, it’s just a possibility.
Joe Rogan’s Testimony
Joe Rogan is a legendary commentator in the UFC and is well respected by fans and competitors alike.
While discussing steroid use in MMA he made the following claims :
“The UFC and MMA in general is a steroid epidemic”
While talking about Anderson Silva’s failed drug test he mentioned the likelihood that it was injury related:
“ … and he breaks his leg, you’re looking at a long-ass recovery period. Or you take steroids and recover in nine months instead of 15 months”.
Just like we speculated in the above section, UFC fighters seem to take steroids for faster recovery from injuries rather than for the strength and power increases (though these are obvious additional benefits).
Joe Rogan also mentioned the ridiculous training schedules of fighters and why this could necessitate taking steroids for their ability to improve recovery from exercise.
Is there a steroid problem in the UFC? Yes, absolutely. It seems that there is a bigger percentage of MMA fighters getting caught out than there is in almost any other sport.
Could this be because MMA is uniquely suited to steroid use? Could it be down to the culture of the sport? Or could it just be because there is a greater spotlight on the sport now?
Who knows. What we do know is that there are obviously quite a few big name fighters who have taken steroids, which means that there is a high probability that there are some fighters who are currently taking steroids.
Whether Conor is one of those fighters is up for debate. On the one hand he is the second best pound for pound fighter in the UFC, which means that if he is natural he could well be beating athletes who have a huge advantage over him.
On the other hand, due to his popularity he is under more pressure to stay clean than anyone else.
When Hermes Franca got caught in 2007 it meant almost nothing to the general public, but if Conor McGregor gets caught taking steroids? That’s front page news, that’s an entire career over. Think that this is hyperbole? Ask Lance Armstrong.
Conor is the most tested MMA fighter in history, he is fighting at a time when the UFC is at its strongest in terms of anti doping, and he has the eyes of the world on him.
At this moment it is very likely that Conor is completely steroid free. Whether he has always been steroid free is another matter.
Back when he was fighting in Dublin in front of a hundred people and desperate to succeed it is very easy to imagine that the temptation would have been there.
Back when he injured his ACL a few weeks out from the biggest fight of his career it is easy to imagine that temptation would have emerged again. But this is all speculation, and there is absolutely no real evidence to support it.
Even if Conor has taken steroids you can see why, with a large percentage of fighter already taking it (50-60% according to Joe Rogan), he would have needed to start using just to be able to compete.
Verdict = Clean (at least for the last few years)
How to Gain Muscle Without Steroids
It is certainly possible to both build muscle and strength without using steroids. While not as simple as simply training with more intensity and eating more, this is certainly a good start.
I would also suggest looking at supplementation. They may not be as effective as steroids but there are legal alternatives available that offer various benefits.
Crazy Bulk are a company that offer a number of safe and legal that offer various benefits.
One of their more popular muscle builders is a product called D-Bal. This is an alternative to the banned steroid Dianabol.
D-Bal is made from various ingredients that include numerous BCAAs, Whey Protein Concentrate and Tribulus Terrestris.
When combined they can help to increase nitrogen retention, which will lead to an increase in protein synthesis.
Other benefits on offer include:
- Strength and muscle gains
- Increased endurance
- An increase in nitrogen retention
- Extra blood flow thanks to the additional oxygen sent to muscles
If you have any doubts about the effectiveness of D-Bal, you only need to visit the Crazy Bulk website. They have a number of user testimonials available to back up their claims.