steroids vs natural

Steroids Vs Natural: 6 Ways to Spot a Fake Natty

steroids vs natural
This page may reference and describe prescription drugs, steroids, or steroid-like substances that are not available without a prescription from a licensed physician, or sometimes, illegal in the United States. We are not under any circumstances endorsing or recommending you take such substances. We reference such substances for informational purposes or only to compare them with legal nutritional supplements. You can read up on the side effects of steroids to learn more.

So many guys and girls are taking steroids nowadays. But how do we decipher between natty bodybuilders and those on the sauce?

We all like to compare ourselves to our fellow gym rats. But how can we be sure that all of these jacked dudes in our gym and online are actually natural? Below are some signs that can give away whether someone is on the juice or in fact “natty”!

Note: A natural guy in rare cases could have 1 or 2 of these. However, multiple occurrences of several of the below symptoms definitely points to steroid-use (aka a fake natty).

Steroids vs Natural: How to Tell the Difference

The following side effects are caused by steroids. Bodybuilders can lie about their natural status, but certain signs on their body often give them away.

1. Gynecomastia

“Gyno” is an unfortunate side effect of anabolic steroids. Gynecomastia occurs when high levels of the female hormone, estrogen, are present in a male’s body. Consequently, this hormonal imbalance results in the accumulation of breast tissue (as shown in the left picture below).

gyno from steroids

Steroid-use causes testosterone levels to increase to an unnaturally high level. In an attempt to keep in a homeostasis, the body regulates testosterone back within a normal range. It does this by raising estrogen levels, which in turn lowers testosterone.

Why doesn’t every steroid-user have gyno? Gyno essentially is determined by the aromatase enzyme. Aromatase is responsible for converting testosterone into estrogen. Depending on a person’s genetics, this conversion may be high or low.

Those that have more aromatase enzyme activity on average are at risk of developing gyno during a steroid cycle. An anti-estrogen can be used to combat this, however anti estrogen supplements can also lead to a spike in blood pressure (I explain the correlation between testosterone/estrogen and blood pressure in the next steroid symptom – flushed skin).

Such estrogenic steroids which can cause gyno are: testosterone, anadrol and dianabol.

legal steroids

2. Flushed skin

Flushed/reddish skin can be seen in some steroid-users. This indicates a higher than average body temperature. A high body temperature can represent an irregularity in the blood. It is almost certain that steroids will spike an individual’s blood pressure, being the cause for such an irregularity.

But why do steroids raise blood pressure? Steroids enhance testosterone levels (the male hormone) to extremely high levels. When testosterone rises, LDL cholesterol levels also rise. LDL levels are considered the “bad” cholesterol type, because when these go up, so does BP.

This side effect can be particularly noticeable when taking bulking steroids, such as anadrol, dianabol or trenbolone. This is because these compounds are harsh and thus produce significant strain on the heart. However, bodybuilders seldom avoid them, due to their incredible muscle-building properties.

3. Exceptional trapezius muscles

The below image is a good contrast between a bodybuilder on steroids vs a huge natural bodybuilder. On the left is Mr Olympia, Phil Heath (known to be on steroids), and on the right is lifetime natural bodybuilder Shane Raymond.

Shane is a member of Team Grenade and is drug tested at random times each year. His sheer size is a testament to hard work and exceptional genetics.

phil heath traps2

The muscle receptors in the traps are a lot more responsive to growth during a steroid cycle, due to them containing more androgen receptors compared to other muscle groups. Both athletes (in this picture) look to have similar proportions, yet Phil Heath’s traps are considerably bigger.

Steroids like trenbolone will make the traps pop like this. Such a ‘blowing up’ of the traps is very rare in natural bodybuilders.

4. Bloat (Face/Stomach)

Steroid-users with an extremely low body fat % typically have large waists, due to bloating caused by water retention.

Steroids causing water retention is mainly due to high estrogen levels. When this female sex hormone peaks, your absorption of sodium salts increase. This means that after a salty meal, you will retain a lot more water than usual due to this hormone abnormality. A tip to reduce water retention (if any steroid-users are reading) is to increase your water intake and reduce sodium/salt intake on a daily basis.

legal steroids

Despite estrogen being a factor in retaining water, water retention is common for any dangerous compound entering the body. It will process added testosterone/steroids as a potential threat to your system. Thus, to nullify this your body releases cortisol (a stress signal), enabling you to retain water and dilute the threat so it is more easily manageable.

5. Acne

When taking androgenic steroids, they cause the sebaceous glands to release oils in the skin. If the type of androgen is a particularly powerful one (i.e. trenbolone which has an androgen rating 500 times greater than testosterone), then acne can turn quite severe and even result in red blemishes forming.

It is common to see acne on a steroid-user or scarring. This can be especially prevalent on the back, often being referred to as ‘bacne’.

6. Gaining large amounts of muscle mass fast (without fat accumulation)

There was a study done on sumo wrestlers, testing their fat free mass. Researchers concluded that several sumo wrestlers carry as much muscle mass as steroid-induced Mr Olympia’s. Thus it is possible to gain huge muscles naturally in some rare cases, however it is unheard of for a natural athlete to gain such muscle mass without initial fat gain. So, rapid lean muscle gains is a sure sign of a steroid-user.

Note: It is also possible to gain large amounts of muscle mass without fat gain, however this would happen over a long period of time, via the principle of progressive overload.


If a bodybuilder shows multiple signs of steroid-signs (listed in this article), they almost certainly are juicing.

It is extremely rare that a natural bodybuilder will have any signs of steroid-use, however it is possible. Such as acne scars during puberty or gynecomastia developed during their childhood years.

Now you know what to look for when trying to work out if someone built their physique naturally or not.

What’s your thoughts on the steroids vs natural debate? Do you agree with the signs listed in this article? Who do you think are the fake nattys in bodybuilding? Have your say in the comment box below!

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