Steroids are some of the most widely used yet widely misunderstood drugs worldwide.
On one hand, you hear about athletes who use these substances to gain a competitive edge. On the other hand, doctors prescribe corticosteroids to people suffering from arthritis and immune disorders.
Anabolic steroids and corticosteroids are not one and the same, but they both put stress on your liver and may affect overall health. That's why it's crucial to have a balanced meal plan while on steroids and eat foods that support liver function and restore your hormonal balance.
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Corticosteroids vs. Anabolic Steroids
Most people associate steroids with bodybuilding and other sports. But did you know that your body produces steroid hormones on its own? These compounds are secreted by the adrenal cortex, ovaries and testes; the placenta releases steroid hormones during pregnancy. Cortisol, testosterone and estrogen are all examples of steroid hormones; what they have in common is the fact that they're derived from cholesterol.
Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) and corticosteroids, on the other hand, are made in the lab. Athletes take anabolic steroids to build mass faster and speed up recovery from training. Some drugs that fall into this category make it easier to lose fat and preserve lean mass. Anavar, one of the most popular weight-loss steroids, may help improve muscle strength and power while reducing body fat, according to a 2015 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone and hydrocortisone, fight inflammation and suppress immune function. These drugs are used in the treatment of lupus, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and other ailments. They contain synthetic compounds that resemble the stress hormone cortisol.
What's a Steroid Diet?
Both types of drugs come with serious side effects, ranging from weight gain to acne, mood swings and high blood pressure. A 2017 review featured in Sports Medicine indicates that anabolic androgenic steroids affect reproductive health for weeks or even months after withdrawal. These substances decrease testosterone and gonadotropin levels, leading to hypogonadism in the long run. When used in large doses, they may have adverse effects on the liver and cause hepatotoxicity.
Prednisone and other corticosteroids can affect your health too. Hydrocortisone, for example, has been linked to osteoporosis, glaucoma and digestive problems. About 30 percent of users experience an increase in appetite. Fluid retention and weight gain are common side effects of prednisone.
A steroid diet can make it easier to manage these symptoms and offset their impact. Prescription anabolic steroid cycles last several weeks; without a proper meal plan, you risk gaining weight and messing up your hormones after the cycle ends. According to a 2016 study published in PLOS ONE, former steroid abusers exhibit borderline low testosterone levels years after withdrawal. Diet alone may not be enough to keep your hormones in balance, but it can minimize the damage and improve your well-being.
Eat High-Protein Foods
Anabolic steroids increase protein synthesis, which in turn, promotes muscle growth and repair.
Your muscles act as a sponge and soak up the protein, carbs and other nutrients you consume. That's why it's important to prioritize high-protein foods in your meal plan while on steroids.
Eat plenty of fish and lean meat as well as eggs, cottage cheese and low-fat dairy.
To protect your liver, avoid red and processed meat. A new study, published in the Journal of Hepatology in 2018, indicates a strong link between these foods, insulin resistance and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Processed meat may also raise your cholesterol levels and increase heart disease risk due to its high content of trans fats. Anabolic steroids reduce good cholesterol and elevate bad cholesterol, leading to a higher risk of cardiovascular events.
Corticosteroids may have similar effects, causing changes in lipid serum levels. A diet rich in trans fats only makes things worse.
Whole Grains Fuel Your Gains
Anabolic steroids boost your strength and endurance, allowing you to work out harder for longer. This puts stress on your body and central nervous system — even if you don't feel it right away. Carbs help restore muscle and liver glycogen stores, fueling your performance. A high-carb diet increases your energy levels and allows you to recover faster from exercise.
Not all carbs are created equal, though.
Simple sugars and refined carbs can be just as harmful as trans fats. A 2016 review published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases has found that high-sugar diets may cause a three-fold increased risk of death from heart disease and affect blood lipids.
Choose complex carbs over simple carbs and added sugars.
Whole grains, such as oats, barley, brown rice and wheat, are packed with fiber and complex carbohydrates that are slowly released into your bloodstream. These foods have been shown to lower triglycerides and bad cholesterol levels, leading to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Oats seem to be the most beneficial.
Fill Up on Greens
There's a reason why bodybuilders and fitness models fill up on greens at most meals.
These veggies are high in water and low in calories, making it easier to stay lean.
If you're on a steroid cycle, you want to build mass and keep fat gain to a minimum. Watercress, kale, arugula and other greens keep you full longer and suppress appetite, thanks to their high fiber content.
These foods are good for your heart too. Dill and kale, for example, exhibit cholesterol-lowering properties. Rich in phenolic acids and flavonoids, they support cardiovascular health.
Most vegetables are low in calories, so you can enjoy them in large amounts without the guilt. Kale has only 33.5 calories per cup, but provides 206 percent of the DV of vitamin A and 684 percent of the DV of vitamin K. Cabbage boasts 22 calories per cup and provides more than half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C. The same amount of iceberg lettuce has 10 calories, which is next to nothing.
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Keep Your Liver Healthy
As mentioned earlier, both AAS and corticosteroids can damage the liver in the long run.
As the National Institutes of Health points out, methylprednisolone and other corticosteroids may lead to acute liver injury, worsen chronic viral hepatitis and cause hepatic enlargement, especially when administered in large doses. Anabolic steroids are not safer, either.
Considering these facts, it makes sense to eat foods that support liver health. Beta-glucan, a fiber that occurs naturally in yeast, barley, oats and other plant-based foods, protects your liver from oxidative stress and may reduce liver damage.
Black garlic is rich in antioxidants and organosulfur compounds with hepatoprotective, anti-obesity and anti-inflammatory properties. Grapefruit, grapes and berries possess hepatoprotective effects too, according to the World Journal of Gastroenterology.
Make sure you know what foods to avoid while on anabolic steroids.
Cut back on sugar, trans fats and junk food to protect your liver and keep your cholesterol levels within normal limits. Grill, steam, boil or bake your food instead of frying it. Avoid alcohol at all costs, because it promotes weight gain and may cause liver inflammation.