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THE USE OF SUPPLEMENTS AFTER STEROID CYCLES
by Victor Cabot

Men who use anabolic steroids are frequently curious about whether there are good supplements to use when coming off a cycle. They tend to be skeptical about the value of over-the-counter supplements after experiencing the supra-normal effects of steroids. It's important to remember that steroids and ancillary products used with them are powerful and concentrated medications. The benefits, in terms of enhanced muscular development, come with a price. One's endocrine system is thrown pretty far out of its normal range. Testosterone production simply shuts down after a very short period of time into a cycle.

Some men simply decide to never come off steroids, willing to trade what they hope will be unlimited, if not linear, growth for uncertain long-term physical side effects. This is a bad idea, if for no other reason than one's endocrine system is not designed to be permanently shut down in favor of exogenous hormones.

Others look to supplements to help restore their system to a natural state after a cycle or to carry them between cycles while helping them maintain as much of their gains as possible. This second purpose is called bridging.

The goal of OTC supplementation is restore natural hormone production, re-balance the endocrine system, help maintain a good portion of steroid-derived muscle gains and possibly promote a little further progress, and assist in restoring libido, which sometimes declines to an extremely low level. After a cycle, one's own natural testosterone level is virtually at zero while estrogen levels are skyhigh. Estrogen in men is directly derived from testosterone, but in this case, it comes from the exogenous hormones. So, post-cycle supplements should be chosen which address the problem of boosting testosterone while at the same time managing estrogen. Of course, there are a gazillion supplements on the market, but the ones described here are the basic ones most likely to be beneficial because they are well-researched.

Prohormones are often considered for use as post-cycle supplements. The androstenediones, diols, norandros, etc., do, in fact, convert to testosterone and other hormones and raise one's levels. However, prohormones are a bad choice for post-cycle supplementation. They ultimately re-introduce hormones to one's body rather than get the body to restore its natural production of testosterone. The net effect is that endogenous hormone production is stifled and the body continues to be out of kilter.

Probably the most important post-cycle supplement is Tribulus terrestris. Tribulus is an herb with a documented ability to stimulate lutenizing hormone (LH) in men, much the same as clomid. Of course, clomid is much more powerful. Increasing LH has the direct effect of increasing testosterone production. More testosterone helps maintain lean muscle mass, improves mood, and restores sex drive. There are many brands and grades of tribulus in the market. FUZU from Syntrax is designed to be particularly potent.

Another good hormone enhancer is Humanovar from GEN. This is unique product contains certain amino acid chains called oligopeptides. Humanovar has been documented to regulate cell processes, including growth and recovery, and to signal the adrenal glands to produce a variety of natural (endogenous) steroid hormones such as DHEA and testosterone. Moreover, in response to the oligopeptides, the adrenals raise hormonal outputs in balance with each other.

DIM (diindolylmethane) is important to use an estrogen metabolizer and an estrogen-receptor blocker. As mentioned above, right after a steroid cycle ends, one's natural testosterone level is anywhere from low to nonexistent. Estrogen, however, is typically very high. DIM increases the ratio of good to bad estrogen metabolites, resulting in lower bad metabolites, providing a beneficial effect in men (men require some estrogen to be in their system). DIM's effect on estrogen also tells the hypothalamus to produce LH which results in the maintenance or even improvement of natural testosterone levels. Moreover, DIM interferes with the activity of the estrogen receptors - basically blocking them - which raises the testosterone to estrogen ratio. Another action of DIM is that it causes more testosterone to be freed from the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) protein. Another benefit of DIM, though not critically important within the discussion of post-cycle supplementation is that it may also reduce the chance of prostate enlargement due to the presence of estrogen. When buying DIM, be sure to get a soluble, time-released one, such as BioResponse's patented DIM150 (also used by Nature's Way). Other forms of DIM are poorly absorbed and, thus, a waste of money.

Two more very useful herbal supplements are oat straw (Avena sativa) and nettles. Both of those herbs have been proven to unbound testosterone from the SHBG, thus providing more free (or usable) testosterone in the bloodstream. Nettles has the additional property of protecting the prostate. The best way to take oat straw and nettles are as herbal tinctures.

Methoxyisoflavone is a compound that is anabolic with no androgenic effects, yet it is not a steroid. In effect, it raises nitrogen retention, which is critical for muscle repair and and new muscle growth. Methoxyisoflavone is also somewhat anti-catabolic. It partially suppresses cortisol,which is responsible for post training muscle breakdown. Finally, it has the ability to inhibit the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, meaning that using methoxyisoflavone will increase one's testosterone to estrogen ratio. Methoxyisoflavone is effective at a minimum of 1500 mg. per day (in tablet or capsule form). Sometimes it is paired with ECD (ecdysterone, ekdysten, 20-hydroecdysone, etc.) which has some possible effect on promoting protein synthesis. You will rarely find a methoxyisoflavone/ECD combination that provides enough ECD. The ECD research testing was done using 1300 mg. per day and usually you get from 15 to 20 mg. of ECD per serving in typically available commercial supplements.

Deer Antler Velvet is relatively unknown in bodybuilding circles. Yet, it has been used for 20 centuries in traditional oriental medicine and is known to contain IGF-1 and other related factors. IGF-1 is a key protein that causes muscle growth. One of the reasons bodybuilders use human growth hormone is to stimulate IGF-1 production. Many other claims are made for deer antler velvet: strong anti-inflammatory properties, improved immune system functioning, faster post-training muscle recovery, and elevated libido. A minimum of 1500 mg./day (divided into 3 doses per day) seems to be a minimum effective dose of this product. The best deer antler velvet currently comes from New Zealand, where there is a major industry devoted to maintaining strict harvesting and production standards. For further information, visit http://www.deervelvet.org .

Zinc Magnesium Aspartate or ZMA is not a critical supplement for restoring hormone levels after a steroid cycle. Nevertheless, it is worth considering. ZMA has a number of training-related benefits: strength, endurance, healing, recovery, and growth. Zinc is considered to be an anabolic element because it promotes healing, tissue repair, and muscle growth. It also increases the effects of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1), growth hormone, and testosterone. Magnesium increases oxygen delivery to muscle tissue. It also activates enzymes necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids - leading to protein synthesis.

Cholesterol is an overlooked factor, but extremely important. Use of steroids often dramatically elevates LDL (bad) cholesterol while decreasing HDL (good cholesterol). It is a smart idea to have cholesterol levels checked before, during, and right after a cycle.Methoxyisoflavone has some effect on lowering cholesterol and there are two other products that should be used. Guggelsterones cause the liver to metabolize (thus lowering) LDL cholesterol and also lowers blood triglyceride levels while raising HDL cholesterol. Garlic is another effective cholesterol lowering agent. Odorless garlic in capsules is probably the most convenient and least offensive way to get one's garlic.

Bear in mind that supplementation is only one part of a complete post-steroid cycle regimen. One also has to adjust diet and training. It is proper eating, more than anything, that will help one retain gains or improve after discontinuing steroids. Steroids increase metabolic rate and appetite. Many men find they can eat a lot on a cycle, including a great deal of carbohydrates, and not gain much (or any) fat. So, typically, caloric needs decrease after a cycle, due to the removal of the steriods and to the decreased level of training intensity. If one is continuing training, protein requirements remain high, of course. Usually, after a cycle, men tend to put on a little more bodyfat. Thus, coming off a cycle is no excuse for loosening up diet. In fact, it is imperative to pay attention to managing carbohydrate intake. It is carbohydrates that are dietarily responsible for fat, not fats. Glutamine should also be used. It helps maintain a positive nitrogen balance in muscle cells, which improves recovery and repair functions, and it thwarts post-training muscle breakdown. Glutamine also appears to increase night-time growth hormone secretion.

Obviously, post-cycle training must be revised. After a cycle, two major processes occur: workout recuperation time increases and strength slowly, but inevitably, decreases. If one were to continue training with on-cycle intensity, the typical results would be exhaustion, poor recuperation, and injury. One can still make progress after a cycle, but the weights may need to be less and the types and number of exercises may have to be changed. As one transitions from cycle to post-cycle workouts, it is not a bad idea to take a short break of a week or two to let the body rest and "reset".

The supplements mentioned above will help compensate in the training area to a point, but they will not replace the drugs used on a cycle. Nor are they meant to. They are meant to help one's body come back to a more or less natural hormonal balance while helping maintain as much of one's cycle gains as possible or even to improve a little more.

How long should one stay on post-cycle supplementation? A rule of thumb regarding cycles is that one stays off for as many weeks as one was on. In any case, it usually takes a minimum of a month to restore hormone levels and balances. Sometimes it takes much longer. It is a good idea to have one's testosterone levels checked by a doctor. Supplements such as tribulus terrestris will definitely help to elevate testosterone levels over time. The supplements mentioned in this article can actually be used all the time if one is not cycling. If one wants to use prohormones, they are quite compatible with them, as well.