Updated May 2023
While it is possible to train hard and get the physique you want, the eye-popping physiques of professional bodybuilders are rarely the result of eating zillions of calories and spending hours pumping iron in the gym. Those bulging muscles need a helping hand beyond the natural capability of any human, and that is where performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) like anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) come in.
If you are considering trying performance-enhancing drugs, you probably have questions about post cycle therapy (PCT), a pharmaceutical-based protocol that steroid users follow. When taking anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), the synthetic form of testosterone, the body’s natural hormone production is suppressed. PCT helps to restore the hormonal balance of the user, reduce oestrogen levels, and reach a natural level of endogenous testosterone.
Though we don’t advocate the use of steroids for non-medical use, we believe it is important to share the information you need to stay safe if you use anabolic steroids for training or bodybuilding and mitigate the risks involved. PCT is an anabolic harm reduction protocol we suggest following with a professional if you are taking steroids. Our comprehensive guide to post cycle therapy should answer your questions and help you decide if it is worth doing and why it’s necessary.
When you take exogenous testosterone (the synthetic anabolic hormones known as steroids), your natural hormone production is suppressed because your body is getting plenty of testosterone. It is not advised to take steroids habitually because of their many side effects, which we talk about below. So when you go off the steroids, your body’s natural ability to produce testosterone is compromised.
Most bodybuilders and athletes use steroids in “cycles” to prevent building a tolerance but also to allow the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis (HPTA) — the system that regulates hormone production — time to increase testosterone production after use. But with any steroid use, the flood of synthetic hormones throws your body off balance. Once the user ceases anabolic steroid use, the body is slow to recover to normal levels of testosterone.
Aside from ill health, if you are a post-steroid user, you are vulnerable to muscle mass loss and increased oestrogen levels. Other side effects of using steroids can cause a deeper voice, loss of libido, mood swings, depression, fatigue, water retention and even increased breast size. To mitigate the negative side effects, some use post cycle therapy, which can help speed up the transition to normal testosterone levels while lowering the side effects.
Under the care of a qualified physician, post cycle therapy is used to mitigate the negative side effects. A comprehensive post cycle therapy cycle can help to reduce oestrogen levels, and reach a natural level of endogenous testosterone, to restore the hormonal balance of the user.
This method, with its regulated healing of the hormone system, is a real no-brainer if you are a steroid user. If you don’t plan to use post cycle therapy after steroid use, you’ll find it’s much harder for your natural testosterone to bounce back, and you may lose the muscle gains you worked so hard to achieve.
If you use any anabolic steroids or any drugs that suppress your natural testosterone production, we recommend starting a post cycle therapy cycle. You can start right after you stop taking selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) and prohormones. For steroids, it is advisable to wait for a week before starting PCT.
Ideally, you would seek the guidance of a qualified doctor to outline a treatment and track your progress. Dr Tan is a GMC registered doctor, happy to help with your post cycle therapy whether you are using prohormones, SARMs, human growth hormones, or anabolic steroids. If you use any type of performance-enhancing drugs, we are here to give you the most objective advice and the best medical care without judgement.
Starting when the body is completely free of anabolic steroids, the post cycle therapy cycle usually lasts for around one month to six weeks, depending on individual circumstances. If necessary, post cycle therapy can be extended for several weeks.
However, this is dependent upon your circumstances, such as the kind of drugs and the dosage taken — and for how long. If necessary, this therapeutic period can be extended for several weeks. Naturally, slow-release steroids will take longer to leave the body, so it could be several weeks after the last injection was administered until the body is free of artificial testosterone.
The drugs you need to carry out the post cycle therapy protocol can vary depending on individual circumstances. There are over-the-counter products available for some cases, like testosterone boosters and oestrogen blockers, but generally, these are not powerful enough for steroid users. We can’t give recommendations here, but the following medications are commonly used in post cycle therapy and require a prescription:
Clomiphene (brand name: Clomid)
Tamoxifen (brand name: Nolvadex).
Clomid and Nolvadex are SERMs (Selective Oestrogen Receptor Modulators) — not to be confused with SARMs — that regulate post cycle oestrogen production and block the negative effects that it has on the body.
When you come off anabolic steroids, your body can experience a surge of oestrogen, leading to hormonal chaos. This is where PCT comes in, using drugs like Clomid and Nolvadex are used as part of anabolic harm reduction treatment to restore natural hormone balance.
Clomid works by targeting the oestrogen receptors in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which can help release luteinising hormones (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) — two hormones crucial to fertility and healthy sperm production. Nolvadex, on the other hand, is great at reducing oestrogen levels and preventing oestrogen surges that can lead to serious health issues like stroke, prostate disease, and heart problems.
But PCT isn’t just about controlling oestrogen levels. Supplements like phosphatidylserine and acetyl-l-carnitine can also be used to help lower cortisol levels, which can lead to unwanted catabolism — the breakdown of essential body tissues and compounds. This can help to protect you from unhealthy post cycle catabolism, helping to avoid excess fat and loss of muscle mass.
All in all, PCT is a crucial part of the post-steroid cycle healing process. It not only helps restore your natural hormone levels but also helps you avoid potential health complications down the line. So if you’re considering a steroid cycle, be sure to plan for a proper PCT cycle as well.
It is generally recommended to continue training during post cycle therapy, as exercise can help preserve muscle mass and strength gains that were achieved during the steroid cycle. However, it is important to listen to your body and adjust your training intensity as needed, as post cycle therapy can be a challenging time for your body.
During PCT, your hormone levels are in a state of flux, and you may experience fatigue, mood swings, and other symptoms. It’s important to prioritise rest and recovery, as well as good nutrition to support your body during this time. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein and micronutrients to support your recovery.
As for training, it’s generally recommended to continue lifting weights but at a slightly reduced intensity and volume compared to your steroid cycle. This can help you maintain muscle mass and strength gains while avoiding overtraining or injury. Focus on compound lifts that work multiple muscle groups at once, and consider adding in some cardio or other forms of aerobic exercise to support your overall health and fitness.
Overtraining should be avoided during your PCT cycle as your body needs time to recalibrate and restore itself to where it was before synthetic hormones were introduced. Ultimately, the key is to listen to your body and adjust your training and recovery strategies as needed during your PCT cycle. You shouldn’t stop working out completely, but consider cutting back on reps, don’t add extra weight onto usual lifts or undertake heavy-weight training.
Essentially, while your body is recuperating, your training needs to settle down and find its level during PCT. Not too little, not too much — it’s all about finding the right balance. With the right approach, you can maintain your gains and support your overall health and well-being during this critical time.
Be gentle with yourself and realise that many of the negative side effects you are feeling are normal. The body needs time to heal and return to normality. During your post cycle therapy, it’s especially important to prioritise rest and recovery, which includes getting enough sleep each night. Getting enough sleep is important for overall health and well-being, and it becomes even more critical during post cycle therapy when your body is recovering from the stress of a steroid cycle.
Adequate sleep can help support your body’s natural hormone production, as well as enhance muscle recovery and repair. Additionally, lack of sleep can increase stress levels and exacerbate mood swings, which are common during PCT. While individual sleep needs can vary, you should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health and functioning.
If you’re having trouble sleeping during PCT, there are a few things you can try. First, establish a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. This can help regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Other strategies for improving sleep during PCT include creating a comfortable sleep environment, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and limiting screen time in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Along with sleep, nutrition is, as always, a key part of healing. Eat sensible, nutrient-rich, high-fibre food and hydrate the body with plenty of water. Any supplements could affect the hormonal balance of the body — so again, the doctor overseeing the PCT should be consulted beforehand.
In summary, while we do not advocate the use of steroids for non-medical use, a PCT cycle helps restore hormonal balance, reduce oestrogen levels, and aids in reaching a natural level of endogenous testosterone. If you are using anabolic steroids without a prescription, using post cycle therapy to mitigate the negative side effects, which is an easy decision for many.