With the rise of female fitness modelling there has been an inevitable raising of standards and of competition. This has brought many benefits to both the sport of fitness modelling and to society, where women are encouraged to get strong rather than get skinny.
One side effect of this though is the rise in steroid and prohormone use among women.
In this article we will examine what prohormones and steroids are, what they do, and the side effects associated with them.
What are Prohormones?
Prohormones are chemical compounds that help increase the effectiveness of hormones that are currently in the body.
They are produced naturally in the body, but can also be taken as a supplement.
Prohormones are not as effective as steroids, as instead of overloading the body with a hormone (most commonly testosterone) they are aimed at promoting more hormone release within the body.
It is for this reason that prohormones aren't as severely regulated, but the authorities are cracking down on them.
What are Steroids?
Anabolic steroids are drugs that are structurally similar to the hormone testosterone. They are beneficial to people looking to build muscle as they have a huge impact on protein synthesis, meaning that they help to build and repair muscle after a workout.
Anabolic steroids are so effective that they can actually increase lean muscle without exercise, a famous study in 1996 found that people who were given testosterone saw significant increases in muscle size compared to the placebo group. Though obviously the exercise group who took testosterone saw the greatest changes .
Benefits to Performance
As both prohormones and anabolic steroids increase testosterone (or in the case of steroids mimic the effects of testosterone), their benefits to performance will be essentially the same. Though steroids will lead to much more powerful changes.
There will be increases in muscle mass, increased strength, lowered body fat, and faster recovery from exercise.
Popular Prohormones for Women
Two of the most popular prohormones that are taken by women are Halodrol and Epistane. They are popular for being effective and for the most part safe.
It is important to note that no prohormone is completely safe – hence the government bans, but there are definitely products that are safer than others.
The benefits have been mentioned before, but these products are particularly effective at lowering body fat, increasing muscle, strength, and improving definition.
The side effects of taking prohormones is essentially the masculinisation of the taker, their vocal cords can deepen, jaw line can strengthen, hair loss, and the usual side effects of acne, increased LDL Cholesterol, and even the possibility of facial hair.
Women who are taking prohormones may also miss their periods as the drugs can interfere with the menstrual cycle.
For the majority of women, these side-effects will only occur if the drugs are abused or if they are on the more powerful end of the spectrum. But are prohormones worth the risk?
Popular Steroids for Women
As with prohormones, steroid use with women is a tightrope walk. On the one hand the correct dosage of anabolic steroids can have a huge beneficial effect on performance and physique.
On the other, overdoing it can lead to women beginning to develop male characteristics.
When it comes to female steroid use, the drugs that are most popular are the ones with the lowest virilisation rate. In other words, the ones with the least chance of producing male characteristics (facial hair, vocal cord deepening etc).
The steroid most used is called Anavar (also known as the girl steroid). This drug can have almost no effect on women in terms of virilisation, so long as it is taken in the correct dose.
Anavar is usually taken as part of a stack with Clenbuterol (which is a fat-loss drug) and Oestrogen blockers – which are used just before a competition.
Drug Use in Female Fitness
The 1990s are responsible for the stereotypical view of the female steroid taker, women such as Denise Rutkowski who took massive doses of performance enhancers until they were unrecognizable from their pre-steroid physiques.
This image did a lot of harm to female fitness, and the industry is only now recovering.
Unfortunately it also led to the belief that steroid use would be obvious as all women would end up looking like men. But steroid use is used by competitors throughout the fitness world. Yes even Instagram fitness personalities, bikini competitors, and fitness models.
That's not to say that all women in the industry are taking prohormones or steroids, but it certainly isn't as rare an occurrence as the public believe.
Whilst the dangers of steroid abuse have been overplayed by the media and uninformed man on the street. It is definitely the case that it is underplayed by the many people who do use them. There are benefits to taking them, but the risks and potential side effects are very real.
Alternative to Prohormones and Steroids for Women
There are safe alternatives to prohormones and steroids, which can be an effective way to boost your own training efforts.
For example, there is a company called Crazy Bulk who sell as variety of steroid alternatives that are available for both men and women. One of the most popular products for women is Anvarol, which is a safe alternative to Anavar.
 Bhasin, S., Storer, T., Berman, N., Callegari, C., Clevenger, B., Phillips, J., Bunnell, T., Tricker, R., Shirazi, A., Casaburi, R. 1996. The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men. The New England Journal of Medicine 335(1): 1-7
 Mind & Muscle. 2014. Women and Prohormones: A Physician’s Opinion. [ONLINE] Available at:http://mindandmuscle.net/articles/women-and-prohormones-a-physicians-opinion/. [Accessed 13 October 2016].
 Strong Supplements. 2016. Women and Prohormones. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.strongsupplementshop.co.uk/prohormones-for-women. [Accessed 13 October 2016].