After I mentioned performance enhancing drugs in my article ‘8 Tips for Grappling After 30’ I received many emails requesting more information on how to use said agents. In this piece I will give a broad overview of the drugs commonly used to improve your physical and mental attributes, which can in turn improve your jiu jitsu abilities.
Dosages and protocols are beyond the scope this article, as is sourcing (yes, strangers will actually email me asking where they can get steroids – unbelievable!).
Let the record state that I do NOT condone the use of any controlled substances without the requisite prescriptions or legal permissions, nor do I recommend that anyone below the age of 21 even consider the use of drugs of any kind. If you’re young your body is already producing everything you could possibly need. Don’t even think about it. Let the record also state that I’m not a doctor, nor am I qualified to prescribe any of these drugs. I’m just a guy on the internet giving his opinion.
On the whole, I do NOT recommend you take performance enhancing drugs to improve your jiu jitsu. Instead, train smarter, eat cleaner and arrange your lifestyle to allow you to invest more time on your on your conditioning.
“Using steroids is cheating.”
This is a knee-jerk response that is commonly encountered whenever the topic of performance enhancing drugs is brought up. To me, this is a naive statement and usually an indicator of ignorance.
A large portion of elite level jiu jitsu competitors and mma fighters use performance enhancing drugs. I personally know of several mundial and adcc world champions (and it’s not who you think btw) who are consistently doping with many of the substances I outline below.
If you want to compete at the highest level, you are at an immediate disadvantage if you choose to forgo these options. Bigger, stronger guys who recover faster will always have an advantage, especially in a sport like jiu jitsu in which speed and power play a big role. Just accept this. It’s not good or bad – it is what it is. But I’m not saying you cannot become a champion without these things – you definitely can.
I once heard somebody say that if you removed all steroids from sport the same people would still win, and I completely agree. Most of the time, the guys who look to juice do so to allow them to train harder, not to make it easier on themselves. The drugs will not do the work for you. They will just allow you to do more of it.
Despite the importance of physical attributes and increases to them which drugs can provide, they are still superseded by the mental aspect of the game. Willpower and mat-time cannot be injected or swallowed. From my own experience, I remember that the very short period of my competitive career during which I took steroids coincided with my very worst performances. My mind was all over the place due to several difficulties in my life at the time and the fact that I was in great shape (chemically-enhanced albeit) did little to help. In fact I would say they probably hurt, because of the mood swings they caused.
“What about the average guy that doesn’t even compete?”
Consider the following scenario:
Steve Is a 40-year old blue belt who has been training for a couple of years. He works 10 hours a day at a stressful job career and has three kids who take up most of his spare time. He loves jiu jitsu, but he doesn’t have the time to do as much conditioning as he should. He’s tired of getting injured and thrown around in training during the few classes he manages to get to each week, so he turns to pharmacological assistance. He sees an endocrinologist who discovers that he has low testosterone and prescribes him some TRT. After a couple of weeks Steve feels better than he has in years and his motivation for jiu jitsu improves.
Is Steve a bad person? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
“But steroids will cause you to die a slow and painful death.”
I’m so tired of hearing this. If steroids are used responsibly, in moderate to low dosages, the side effects are relatively minimal.
One of my favourite examples is Sylvester Stallone. He’s 65 years old and he’s been using testosterone and growth hormone for years. Here’s a picture of him from one of his recent movies:
Sylvester Stallone has been using Testosterone and Growth Hormone for years
He doesn’t look sick to me. Ok, sure, he works out. But my dad (who is also 65) works out too, and he sure as hell doesn’t look like that.
Everything in life has a trade-off, and these drugs are no exception. While the likelihood of dying from using the substances I list below is relatively low, every one of them has potential side effects, including but not limited to: acne, hair loss, gynecomastia, liver damage, kidney damage, mood swings and long-term heart-failure.
The human body is a complex and finely tuned mechanism, and changing the levels of some hormones within it will have an knock-on effect on others. If you do go down the route of using performance enhancing drugs (hypothetically speaking of course), I would suggest you monitor your health closely, including having blood work done. The technology now exists whereby you can do this with home-testing kits, but it’s a way better idea to see a doctor, preferably an endocrinologist.
It’s been my experience that when it comes to using most substances, less is more. Doubling the dosage does not necessarily double the desired effect, and in many cases reduces it. And again, before you even consider tampering with any of these drugs, I highly recommend that you first maximise your own endogenous (from inside) production by ensuring that the influential lifestyle factors of diet, supplementation, sleep, conditioning and stress management have all been tuned to their optimum levels.
1. Anabolic Steroids & Testosterone
Artificially synthesised steroids are classified into two broad categories, anabolic steroids and corticosteroids. The anabolic variations are the ones that are pertinent to sports performance. Anabolic steroids mimic the effects of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone in the body. They increase protein synthesis within cells, especially those of skeletal muscle tissue. They can also have ‘androgenic’ effects, i.e. promote the development of male sexual characteristics such as increased body hair and the growth of the vocal cords.
There are many different kinds of steroids, of which testosterone is one. Each of them produces different effects and side-effects. If you want to know more about specific ones, do your own research. They are of interest to a jiu-jitsu fighter because besides increasing muscular strength, they can reduce recovery time. They can also increase aggression, which, depending on the individual’s predisposition, could be a positive or negative in a jiu-jitsu context. Some guys could do with being a little more aggressive, wheres some guys are already overly-aggressive douchebags who need to tone it down on the mats.
I have limited experience with steroids, having done only two cycles in my life (Testosterone Cypionate & Anavar). Both times I found that the benefits (increasead strength and aggression) were outweighed by the costs (mood swings).
Best For: Increased Strength & Muscle Mass
Supplement Alternative: Testosterone Boosters
2. Growth Hormone
This is my favourite of all the performance enhancing drugs I’ve experimented with – I’m actually on a cycle as I type this (doctor-prescribed, of course!).
Growth Hormone, often referred to as ‘HGH’ is is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction and regeneration in humans and other animals. It is released by the pituitary gland, mainly during sleep. The amount secreted tapers off sharply after puberty and continues to decline as we age.
If it’s abused it can cause acromegaly (growth of the bones in the hands and face), liver damage and diabetes, but after much research and my own experiences with it, I’m convinced that at low doses it’s therapeutic. In fact, a friend of mine, (who is incidentally a multiple-time, bjj black belt world champion – again, not who you think) takes growth hormone pretty much constantly and has done so for years.
I find that it helps me recover much more quickly after tough sparring sessions, especially now that I’m in my 30′s. It has also been instrumental in healing the cumulative damage 15 years of hard martial arts training has done to my body. It also makes me sleep a lot better. Note, I’m an extreme case – I do 20 hours of jiu jitsu and yoga per week and I travel almost constantly. My body takes a LOT of strain. I don’t take HGH to compete, I take it because it helps me do my job better.
Best For: Recovery & Injury Rehabilitation
Supplement Alternative: Growth Hormone Secretagogues
3. Cognitive Enhancers
These are drugs which purportedly improve mental functioning. Two of the most common and widely used are Modafinil and Adderall. It is my understanding that they both have similar effects but work using different neurobiological mechanisms.
I haven’t used Adderall but I’m a huge fan of Modafinil – I truly believe it’s a wonder drug. I can state categorically that it has immense positive effects on my cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, and concentration. The practical applications of this for jiu-jitsu are far-reaching. When I’m using Modafinal I can drill techniques without losing focus for much longer periods, and I find that I am far more likely to retain what I learn.
You can here me discuss this in further detail on this episode of my podcast, The Journey.
Best For: Drilling and Memorising Techniques
Supplement Alternative: Nootropic Vitamins
‘Diuretic’ refers to anything which causes the body to increase secretion of water, and the strongest ones available are those in drug form. These are not at all performance enhancing (in fact they do nothing but degrade performance), but I have included them in this article because many fighters use them to rapidly drop large amounts of weight before competitions, seeking the advantage of being a bigger guy in a lighter category.
I do NOT recommended them – I feel the negative impact that they have on long-term health and performance exceeds the potential benefit of being in a different category. A close friend and doctor often tells me of the individuals he sees in the emergency room with diuretic-induced kidney-failure. If the stakes are high (i.e. you’re a professional jiu jitsu athlete or you fight in the UFC), then you might want to consider them, but I think they are best avoided.
Best For: Cutting Weight
Supplement Alternative: Vitamin C
Probably the only performance-enhancing drug you can get on just about every street in the western world. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, but most of us don’t realise it because we are so habituated to it. Try cutting it out for a month and then have a cup before training. You’re realise just effective it really is. Caffeine helps your body make use of its fat stores and encourages working muscles to utilise fat as a fuel. This delays the depletion of muscle glycogen and allows for a prolongation of exercise.
Some studies have also shown that caffeine prior to exercise lowers the perceived rate of exertion – i.e. it can make you feel like you’re not working as hard as you really are. Doses of as little as 75mg (less than the average cup of coffee) have been shown to cause significant improvements in attention span. If you treat it with respect and use it infrequently, a cup of coffee before training can make a huge difference to the quality of your session. If you do have it before training, I would suggest you consume it with a high quality fat source like coconut oil or grass-fed butter in the ‘bullet-proof’ style. This will make the energy rush it produces more level as opposed to a large spike and subsequent crash.
Best For: Short Term Energy & Focus
Supplement Alternative: Pre-Workout Formulas
It’s all up to you.
If you’re reading this, it probably means that you’re one of the lucky individuals on this planet for whom this ultimately comes down to your own choice. This means that the risks and potential rewards are yours as well.
If you’re not a competitor and just want to heal more quickly and get stronger, PED’s can, when used responsibly help you to do that. But yoga and a good diet can do that too.
Think long and hard before messing with your body, it’s the only one you’ve got.
If you enjoyed this article you’ll love my new book, ‘The Black Belt Blueprint‘ – a compilation of all the best articles on the site plus all-new material, packaged to form a comprehensive guide to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.