You’re giving your workouts everything you’ve got.
You’re spending a small fortune on workout supplements.
And it’s all not enough. The needle just isn’t moving as quickly as you want.
Maybe you’ve thought about turning to steroids. You know they work, but you also know about the side effects and health risks, and you’re not ready to take that plunge (har har har).
And then you stumble upon SARMs, and you can’t help but wonder:
Are these the holy grail of bodybuilding supplements?
Can they really help you gain muscle and lose fat almost as effectively as steroids, but without any of the downsides?
And they’re cheap and legal!?
It beggars belief.
That’s why many people are claiming that SARMs are the ultimate supplements for health-conscious bodybuilders, and why many athletes are singing their praises for performance enhancement and muscle-building purposes.
It definitely sounds too good to be true, but is it? What does the science say?
Well, in this article, we’re going to get to the bottom of all of it.
We’re going to look at what SARMs are, how they work, what research says about how effective and safe they really are.
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SARM stands for selective androgen receptor modulator, and it’s a type of drug that’s chemically similar to anabolic steroids.
There are quite a few SARMs on the market, and some are stronger and have a higher risk of side effects than others.
The more popular ones are . . .
Why the strange alphanumeric names, you wonder?
Well, SARMs haven’t been approved for medical use, so pharmaceutical marketers haven’t bothered naming them yet. Currently, they’re only sold as “research chemicals” intended for scientific use, but more on that in a moment.
Now, to understand how these drugs work, we first need to look at the physiology of hormones.
Hormones are chemical messengers that your body uses to communicate with cells.
You can think of them as outgoing mail that contains important instructions, and when they reach the cells’ “mailboxes”—hormone receptors—the commands are carried out.
Androgens are hormones that produce masculinity (deeper voice, facial hair, more muscle and lower body fat levels, and so forth). The most well-known androgen is testosterone, but there are others as well.
Androgens exert their effects in the body in three primary ways:
Under normal circumstances, your body carefully regulates androgen production, relying on sensitive feedback mechanisms to prevent imbalances.
When you introduce anabolic steroids into the body, though, your cells become flooded with androgens—so many that all available receptors become fully saturated.
This sends an extraordinarily powerful message to all cells that are listening, including muscle cells, which grow rapidly in response.
That sounds like good times to us weightlifters, but then there are the liabilities.
Research shows that some of the side effects of steroid use are reversible and some aren’t. Permanent damage is possible.
For example, reversible changes include testicular atrophy (shrinking), acne, cysts, oily hair and skin, elevated blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol levels, increased aggression, and lowered sperm count.
Another major downside to steroids is the risk of biological and psychological addiction.
One study conducted by scientists at Harvard Medical School found that 30% of steroid users developed a dependence syndrome, and if you speak to enough honest drug users, you’ll hear all about their addictive properties.
Now, for years, scientists have been trying to develop steroids or steroid-like drugs that aren’t as detrimental to people’s health and well-being, and supplement marketers claim that SARMs are just that.
They’re non-steroidal drugs designed to stimulate the androgen receptors in just muscle and bone cells, having little effect on the other cells in the body, and thus the endocrine system as a whole.
In a sense, taking regular ol’ anabolic steroids is like carpet bombing your system with androgens. It gets the job done, but it’s sloppy and results in a lot of collateral damage.
Taking SARMs, though, is like drone striking just the asshole whistleblower journalists…er…I mean, bad guy terrorists.
In other words, SARMs can tell your muscle cells to grow without all the noise and mess caused by anabolic steroids.
Technically speaking, SARMs accomplish this in two ways:
This second point is rather significant.
One key characteristic of SARMs is they’re not easily converted by an enzyme called 5-a reductase into DHT, a driver of many unwanted side effects of steroid use.
SARMs are also resistant to the enzyme aromatase, which converts testosterone into estrogen.
Finally, because SARMs are less powerful than regular steroids, they don’t suppress natural testosterone production as heavily, making them easier to recover from.
SARMs are a synthetic drug that mimics many of the effects of testosterone in muscle and bone tissue, while (hopefully) having a minimal impact on other organs. Thus, the theory is that you can have the perks of steroids with none of the downsides.