It’s not uncommon to read the comments on baseball and realize that many, many people have a gross misunderstanding of what anabolic steroids are, what they do, and how they help athletes (try) reaching the heights of their game. They say things like, “of course he was good at baseball—he was on steroids!” or “the only reason he hit all those homeruns is because he was on steroids.” I even just read a comment that said, “baseball players like to take steroids because it develops the eye muscles, helping them see the pitch better and that means more homeruns.”
Hence, this article.
What are steroids?
Anabolic androgenic steroid compounds can be natural or synthetic androgen compounds. Simply put, we produce testosterone (an androgenic hormone) and it’s responsible for any number of things (like secondary sex characteristics), but for our interests it’s an improvement in muscle building capacity through many different of pathways, like better overall protein utilization. Men have a significantly higher proportion of testosterone than females due to the nature of our production sites (gonads for men, ovaries for women—aside from adrenal glands).
There are synthetic anabolic hormones chemically constructed for different purposes, with some known to improve joint durability, or for building muscle mass, or for providing benefit but leaving your system quickly to help pass drug tests.
So in response to the logic Steroids = Success, I’d prefer some other formulas:
Effort + Recovery = Higher Work Capacity
In the field of sports conditioning, there’s such a thing called a Macrocycle of training—several months with a hierarchy of needs/goals fluidly displaced throughout.
Example: off-season goals, pre-season goals, intra-season goals, and post-season recovery.
One of the biggest challenges is how to reach peak performance before the season starts, and maintaining this performance level despite the extreme demands of travel schedules, playing schedules, injury potential, etc.
All athletes put effort in. The amount of effort they can put in is determined by how much they can rest and recover. Naturally, this will improve an athlete’s work capacity. However, the body can only naturally withstand so much “work” before rest can’t keep up. It why, in the midst of a season, an athlete’s performance may dip, or a coach will elect to give them less playing time to save them for later in the season.
*Skill + Higher Work Capacity = Higher Quality Athlete*
The athletes who can compete at a higher level, longer, will be more successful for the team/sport. They will also improve their skills, because they can spend more time honing them and less time benched.
But, what if we adjust this equation?
2x Effort + 2x Recovery = Highest Work Capacity
If a player can improve the speed in which they can recover from high-intensity workloads, they can subsequently train with more frequency and will progress to higher workloads very quickly. By this combination of recovery and increased work capacity, they will create a more pronounced physiological response, and by training at such a high capacity, will become stronger and more powerful.
By taking anabolic hormones, athletes can recover more efficiently. Which implies, they can put more effort in. By reaching a level of work capacity that their natural peers cannot reach, they will also improve markers like power, strength, and durability. What will that equal?
*Skill + Highest Work Capacity = Hall-of-Fame, Records, Immortalization*
If we understand what anabolic hormones can provide an athlete, we can look at different sports demands and understand why their athletes would elect to take these hormones:
Baseball, American Football, Track: Power. Recovery.
American Football players who express the most powerful attributes, theoretically perform better. It’s why they have a combine with the 40-yard sprint test, or the Bench-Press test.
Baseball players need to move powerfully, always. Swinging a bat in less than 3/10s of a second and hitting a projectile 400 feet is not a weak-person’s job.
Track athletes who need to perform at peak effort for 20 or less seconds need to be extraordinarily powerful.
*We can apply this to Barry Bonds, Shawne Merriman, and Marion Jones*
Soccer, Boxing: Recovery. Power.
Soccer players have less “power” demands in their sport than they do “recovery” demands. If a soccer player can maintain his recovery and intra-season conditioning longer than his peers, he will outperform them in the last half of the season.
That’s the 90th minute pull-aways that lead to winning goals.
Boxers need to be strong, but they need to be durable and last for 8-15 rounds of repetitive, explosive activity. A natural boxer will not be able to train as often, or as hard, and recover as much, as their enhanced peer. An enhanced boxer does not take steroids to improve their endurance; they take steroids to recover from workouts that improve endurance.
*The above idea is why Lance Armstrong doped; and for those who think it’s not in soccer or boxing, read this and this.*
We need to understand something extremely pivotal in this discussion:
Steroids do not improve skill
In baseball, hitting the ball well has less to do with one’s muscularity, and more to do with their efficiency as a hitter. In soccer, kicking a ball in the top-most corner of the net less about leg power, and more about kicking skill. In basketball, shooting three-pointers… you get the idea.
Improving a skill takes time and effort. Theoretically, pre- and post-steroid use, a player’s skill is equivalent.
Athletes get paid lots of money to win. They got paid lots of money to sell tickets. They get paid lots of money to perform at their best, always. They cannot afford to dip in performance in any way, otherwise the powers-that-be will find someone else who will perform better.
Unfortunately, there are those that believe a baseball player taking steroids will hit more homeruns. This player may hit the ball harder, and farther, but it won’t equate to more homeruns if they can’t hit the ball to begin with.
Barry Bonds, a once-in-a-lifetime baseball player, took steroids to improve his performance. But it piggybacked off his elite playing status-- and this playing status is why we know who he is, why he’s filthy rich, and has nothing to do with his eye muscles.