How Natural Is Natural Bodybuilding?

Our undercover pro exposes the truth about drug-free bodybuilding contests. Yes, it’s as bad as you think.

Here’s what you need to know…

  1. These days, natural bodybuilding simply means “not on steroids and other drugs right now… at least not the kind that can be easily detected.”
  2. There are many ways to beat drug tests, from intelligently timed drug cycles to good old fashioned bribery.
  3. Today’s “drug free” athletes and bodybuilders have a host of favorite drugs, including growth hormone and thyroid meds.

Editor’s Note: T Nation was approached by an IFBB pro bodybuilder who said he had a few things to get off his chest. He wanted to write anonymous articles for us as well as answer questions honestly in our steroid forum. After verifying his identity we decided to give him a platform. “Shadow Pro” was born.

The Real Story

Let’s be real here. Natural bodybuilding isn’t completely natural. Hell, what is natural anyways? The definition of a natural athlete is very vague. Some go as far as to say that someone who takes creatine isn’t “natural.” Some bodybuilding federations approve natural supplements and pro-hormones that contain so-called illegal substances.

That aside, here’s the real story: Men and women can compete in a natural show and come up clean on drug tests just a few months after finishing a hard cycle. “Natural” in this case simply means “not currently on steroids and other drugs at this very moment… as least not the ones that can be detected by a lame drug test at a bodybuilding show.”

Do you really think an athlete who was on drugs for years will lose all of his gains if he comes off steroids for a mere three or four months? Absolutely not! I sometimes look at these guys who claim to be natural and just laugh. They can’t possibly think everyone around them is moronic enough to believe this, can they? And think about this: why do you see signs of gyno in a lot of guys in a natural show? Hmm…

Here are the facts: Olympic athletes are using drugs and passing drug tests with no problem. Lance Armstrong, the most drug tested athlete in history, never failed a drug test and now admits to using performance enhancing drugs. These guys and gals are competing in sports with a whole lot of money and fame on the line, and they’re beating the “gold standard” of drug testing procedures. Now contrast that with so-called natural bodybuilding, a sport where literally no money is involved (at the athletes’ level). Drug tests are very expensive to do and someone needs to pay for them. In this case, either the federation or the promoter of the competition would have to pay for this. It’s doubtful that thorough testing will be conducted or even taken seriously.

Examples of Laughable “Natural” Bodybuilders

To give you an idea of how ridiculous drug-tested bodybuilding is, Dennis Wolf won his pro card in the 2005 IFBB World Championships and finished 4th a few months later in his first Olympia. The World Championship was a drug tested competition. Does anyone believe Dennis Wolf was clean?

Sami al Haddad won the World Amateur Championships three times before turning pro.

And “Big Ramy” won the first ever amateur Olympia. And guess what? It’s a drug tested competition!

Here’s How They Do It

It’s a simple urinalysis, the cheapest one of course. There are many substances that cannot be detected through this – HGH is a good example. You can beat a drug test like this by doing a few little tricks.

  • You can carry a condom filled with clean urine under your balls and pop it into the glass after asking for a bit of extra privacy.
  • Some females will carry the urine in the padding under their suit top.
  • Since some of the tests are very simple, people can get away with taking diuretics, masking everything in the urine.
  • Bribery. A few extra dollars to get them off your back can work wonders.
  • There are experts out there who have mastered exactly when to stop each substance so that it won’t be detected but still be active in their system for long enough to keep gains. Simple research will give you these tools. The improvements you can make on drug cycles will not go away after you come clean. You can technically keep quite a lot of those gains if diet and training are kept on track. I know a lot of European guys who run crazy cycles for six months of the year and then clean up completely before a show. By this time they have nothing detectable in their blood work or urine.
  • There are stories about how a contest organizer will invite certain bodybuilders to compete in their shows. When a bodybuilder says, “Um, that’s a tested show, isn’t it?” the organizer or promoter will basically give them a wink and a smile, encouraging them to enter anyway. “Don’t worry about” in other words. I’ve also heard stories of promoters simply throwing out the urine samples of their friends.
  • Bodybuilders can also use synthol or other non-pharmaceutical site enhancers to improve their look. If they do it intelligently no one will notice and it can give them extra size in lacking areas. These substances don’t show up on drug tests of course because they’re not drugs.

Favorite Drugs of Drug-Free Bodybuilders

Here are a few “ingredients” often used close to a show that would be undetectable in most generic tests.

  • Insulin. It can be used through the whole off season to gain muscle and it has a very short half life. It’s in and out of the body in a matter of 4-6 hours.
  • Growth Hormone. Only very expensive blood tests can detect this and they don’t go to such extensive measures to check HGH in bodybuilding shows.
  • IGF-1 and MGF-1. Can give great permanent gains in muscle size and overall look and fullness. Undetectable in typical bodybuilding drug tests.
  • Ephedrine, T3 and Clenbuterol. Most “natural” athletes will use ephedrine, T3 and clenbuterol to lose fat and drop those substances just a few weeks before the competition to avoid detection.
  • Test Suspension. This one is debatable, but I know a lot of bodybuilders who’ve used it and passed their tests with flying colors.
  • Myostatin Inhibitors. Useful and undetectable.
  • Prescription Drugs. Some athletes have legal prescriptions for drugs which they’re allowed to use because they have a medical condition. This is a little loophole for anti-estrogens or TRT. Some federations won’t allow it, but others will turn a blind eye.

No Fairytales

Sorry if I’m spoiling the fairytale you perhaps very much want to believe, but I’m here to speak the truth. Just so you won’t think I’m a complete asshole, in the amateur level you might find some very good natural guys. But when it comes to the highest level in the world, meaning the pros and top level national competitors, you won’t find anyone natural, even in the tested shows. That’s the truth. If someone wants to prove me wrong, bring me a pro bodybuilder and I’ll pay for their “real” drug test.

In professional sport, you do what you need to do in order to be the best. Every athlete needs a competitive edge and they only have so much natural potential to maximize before having to lean on performance enhancing drugs to reach the top. This is not and should not be everyone’s shortcut, but high level athletes eventually reach a point where they need to step up their game if they want to play on the same field as the big boys.

Accept the facts, stop bitching, move on, and get to work!