What happens when we mix supraphysiological testosterone levels with weight lifting?
Doping was a hot topic at this year’s Olympic games. There was the USA sprinter who won silver and was booed for his doping history. A USA swimmer criticized a Russian swimmer who has been busted in the past for doping. A Kenyan athletics manager was busted for offering to help athletes beat the testing system. More direct to what we usually discuss here, one gold medal winner in Weightlifting has been banned in the past for doping.
Last time, we discussed the effects of men who supplemented testosterone without any exercise. That study found that high doses (“supraphysiological levels”) of testosterone resulted in some hefty increases in muscle. With the Olympics on our minds, what happens when we do mix supraphysiological levels of testosterone with lifting weights? Let’s find out!
This study lasted 10 weeks and involved all male participants. Everyone was screened to ensure they were healthy to start. They reported to have lifted in the past but were not doing anything consistently for the last year.
There were 4 groups:
- One received a weekly placebo injection by a researcher and did not exercise.
- One received a weekly injection of 600 mg of testosterone and did not exercise.
- One received a weekly placebo injection and did lift weights.
- One received a weekly injection of 600 mg of testosterone and did lift weights.
Neither the participants nor the administering researchers knew whether the injections were a placebo or testosterone. They were all “blind” to that fact.
The lifting groups followed a 3x’s weekly training plan that was supervised by the researchers. They did squats and bench presses every session, using 4 sets of 6 reps. Session 1 of each week used 90% of their 1RM, session 2 used 70% of their 1RM, and session 3 used 80% of their 1RM.
Below are the starting descriptive stats for the groups. As always, they’re group averages and rounded to the nearest whole number for the ease of viewing.
Everyone kept food diaries to give to the researchers and were told to maintain their normal diets.
All participants had pre/post measurements of their body composition, 1RM in the squat and bench press exercises, psychological tests for sexual function/depression & mania/spatial cognition, and blood work. Their body composition was measured via scale and underwater weighing. They also had MRIs taken of their thigh & arm muscles.
Below are the baseline natural levels of testosterone in the participants and the levels following the injections. I noted the range that is considered “normal” in the general population of males of the same ages.
No one made any statistical change in body fat levels, while they did have some striking lean body mass (LBM) changes. Statistically, the only group that made any LBM changes by the end that could be statistically determined was the 600 mg testosterone with lifting. They gained an average of 13lbs of LBM. That said, the placebo with exercise group gained an average of 4 lbs of LBM while the 600 mg testosterone with NO lifting gained 7 lbs of LBM! Below is the breakdown of their changes.
Below are graphs taken from the paper showing the changes in quad and triceps muscle CSA.
Below is a chart showing the changes in squat and bench press strength.
Unlike the study from last time by the same group, they did not determine how much of the change in LBM was the result of a change in water retention. That study, though, does give us some degree of confidence that excess water retention was not likely to be the reason for the LBM changes seen here.
There was no difference in the results of the psychological tests after the testosterone supplementation. No one lost sexual desire, got roid rage, or became Tetris geniuses.
There was no change to blood cholesterol panel for the groups, save a slight decrease in HDL for the placebo and lifting group. There was no change in the endocrine panel for the placebo groups and a decrease in that panel (Luteinizing hormone, Follicle-stimulating hormone, and Sex hormone-binding globulin) for the testosterone groups.
Thoughts & Implications
This study confirms what we saw last time. High doses (“supraphysiological levels”) of testosterone resulted in some increases in muscle. Combining that with some lifting takes the gainz to a whole ‘nother level! Like before, the standard deviations show us that not everyone made the same gainz, but enough lifters with supplemented testosterone made so many gainz that their average LBM gainz was 13 lbs! Beyond that, this study even found that the folks taking testosterone without lifting made just as many gainz as “natty” lifters! The CSA of the quads and triceps of the testosterone without lifting group made more gainz (6% & 10% gainz, respectively) than the lifting with placebo group (5% & 1% gainz, respectively)! Now that’s a hard pill to swallow for any natty lifter out there. How did the overachieving testosterone and lifting group do? They gained 12% in their quad and 13% in their triceps CSAs.
We saw those muscle gainz translate into strength gainz, too. The no-lifting testosterone group made the same gain in bench press 1RM strength as the natty pressers, 9%. The natty lifters fared better in the squat (20% gainz) than the non-lifting testosterone group (12%). Given the nature of the squat, I hypothesize that the difference can be accounted for by the effect of practicing the movement more. The testosterone and lifting group blew all the others out with their results, gaining 23% in their bench press and 47% in their squat 1RM strength.
Plain & Simply
As I said before, we cannot confuse these gainz with the sudden ability to be a proficient athlete or competitive bodybuilder. However, taking extra testosterone will give you bigger muscles (and not just from bloating up) while you just sit around, and it will give you much bigger muscles if you do hit the gym. Couple that with the additional benefits to strength and we can see a situation in which the results of someone “doping” are just not comparable to a “natural” person. This is just testosterone, too! The authors of the study even noted the well-known circumstance that athletes who dope will often “stack” their drugs. They don’t often use just one performance enhancing drug (PED). They will use multiple types of PEDs and anabolic steroids. This study demonstrates in just one way how doping in athletics does create an imbalance among competitors. How you parse and that moralize it is up to you.
If you have any questions about this study or anything I said, please feel free to leave a comment. I will get back to you and others may have insight to offer, too. If you have any questions or topic suggestions that you would like answered as a post, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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