Once upon a time, aspiring meatheads had limited options for muscle-building advice.
They could read Joe Weider's line of fitness magazines, which mixed useful tips with heavy-handed pitches for Weider products. They could talk to the veteran lifters at their own local gyms, in the hope that they would be given proper instruction about exercise form and performance-enhancing drug use. Or, if they really wanted to commit themselves, they could relocate across the country to a bodybuilding gym, such as Gold's Gym in Venice Beach.
Then came the internet, and everything changed. As the fitness forums on bodybuilding.com and Reddit developed, an increasingly sophisticated user base emerged. Because of them, a community of young lifters who would have previously trained in isolation were now engaged in constant dialogue. And, thanks to the PubMed and other collections of scholarship about drugs and exercise, the bros were doing bro science.
r/steroids is filled to bursting with authoritative-sounding, PubMed-sourced FAQs
Well, sort of. "It's a mess," a competitive powerlifter and underground laboratory distributor (or "UGL," in the Reddit vernacular) told Motherboard. "You can go on r/steroids and they're talking about blood tests, gynecomastia, all the steroids they're using, their crazy ideas about using worthless herbal supplements for post-cycle therapy, talking shit on r/steroidsourcetalk about the sources [i.e., dealers] who scam or allegedly scam them…it's nuts."
That individual, who asked not to be identified, praised these sites for increasing awareness of beneficial training strategies and proper drug use, but cautioned that they can quickly become echo chambers for misinformation.
"Thanks partly to Bitcoin and the dark web, more people are buying and using steroids than ever before, and they're more aware that steroids aren't as dangerous as the so-called experts said, but their thinking about the use of this stuff is still pretty confused. I see them citing real studies, or at least mentioning what other posters had said, but at the same time they discuss bullshit marketing jargon like 'anabolic windows' and 'insulin' resistance."
Marc Sestok, an exercise physiologist in Pittsburgh, echoed these concerns. "On these sites, anyone can throw their two cents in, and with beginners it's usually what you learn first that becomes the foundation for your knowledge."
For example, a recent r/steroids post about the oral steroid turinabol, which was one of the keys to the success of East Germany's Olympic team, quickly devolved into a discussion of heavy-duty "stacking" and the anecdotal effects of various drugs on personal performance. Each drug had its superfans, who enthusiastically attacked skeptics and made wild claims about their own gains.
More than that, r/steroids is filled to bursting with authoritative-sounding, PubMed-sourced FAQs, in which users cite studies showing that testosterone might increase penis size and list innumerable ways to avoid the gynecomastia that afflicts many people who are new to steroids, particularly teenagers.
The line between science and folk wisdom is never quite clear in these documents, as learned prose is frequently coupled with exhortations to "not fuck around" and "if you feel like shit, use more glucose." Nevertheless, thousands of lifters now have access to detailed information that previously was passed down primarily from athlete to athlete at the nation's top bodybuilding gyms.
"The stuff I hear, it goes on and on," said Sestok. "The so-called anabolic window that was touted in the 90s is super bro science-y, people still think creatine is a steroid, they say amphetamine-based fat burners aren't meth because GNC sells them, they come in believing they can do crazy Mr. Olympia workouts that performance-enhanced lifters are doing and thinking that can somehow benefit them."
Even if much of the knowledge in circulation is mixed with gossip and hearsay, it's clear that the latest generation of bros have taken advantage of all this new information to become bigger and better than ever.