When the question becomes “what are the strongest natural supplements on the market”, there can be only one answer: Prohormones. While only on the market since 1996, prohormones have nevertheless been the subject of considerable controversy and FDA crackdowns. Controversy because many bodybuilders and potential users question how safe and “natural” they really are, and FDA crackdowns because, well, in the eyes of the FDA (and the media) all supplements are “evil”, especially the ones, such as prohormones, that work the best.
Prohormones were first introduced to the supplement market way back in 1996 by the well-known chemist and ErgoPharm founder Patrick Arnold, who developed the original androstenedione. I can still remember the original product and the attention it received, it took the bodybuilding world by storm! At that time, there was nothing else even close to Andro. By 1998, Andro made it to mainstream headlines when baseball great Mark McGwire’s admitted use of the supplement unleashed a storm of negative media attention (those evil supplements again!) while he was attempting to break the home run record. The success of Andro opened the door for other prohormones such as androstenediol, norandrostenediol, 1-4-androstadienedione and 5 alpha androstenediol. In time, ErogPharm, the supplement company founded by Patrick Arnold, introduced 1-AD, which converted into a hormone known as 1-testosterone. This was really the first prohormone that was considered comparable to real steroids such as Winstrol or Primobolan. In fact, at the time it was considered to be a milder version of Trenbolone Acetate. The introduction of 1-AD brought prohormones to a new, higher level of effectiveness and popularity, in fact a number of supplement companies followed the lead of Patrick Arnold and ErgoPharm and began to market products such as 1-testosterone (the hormone which 1-AD would convert to) and, eventually, the famous methyl-1-testosterone (M1T), which was a methylated hormone. This meant that the liver could not break it down, and it produced rapid muscle and strength gains, making it at the time the strongest prohormone on the market. However, it also had the potential of causing such negative side effects as high blood pressure and liver toxicity.
It was at this time that many people in the supplement industry, including Patrick Arnold, argued that the increase of products as powerful as M1T, and others that were similarly as powerful, would eventually lead to significant negative publicity for the supplement industry and considered these products were borderline steroids and therefore, should not be sold on the supplement market. Of course, eventually, Congress got involved and passed into law the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 which effectively classed all prohormones on the market at that time as illegal drugs on virtually the same level as anabolic steroids. By early 2005 they were gone from the shelves of every supplement retailer in the United States. In fact, I worked in retail at the time, managing a supplement chain store and I can remember the push to try and get petitions signed, hoping to block the ban. I also remember having to pull all these products off the shelf. If you were hardcore and a fan of prohormones, this was a sad time. This began a cycle of supplement companies finding loopholes so they could get a form of prohormones back on the market until the government caught on and closed the loophole, and so on until 2014, when the Designer Anabolic Control Act was passed. What is left on the market here in 2017 are primarily derivatives of DHEA that offer comparatively milder results and are generally considered to be safe with minimal to no liver toxicity or estrogen conversion. That being said, it makes sense to invest the time to research what you are using and the best way to use it.
Definition and Mechanism of Action
With that in mind, let’s define prohormones. A prohormone can be defined as “a precursor of a hormone, such as a polypeptide that is cleaved to form a shorter polypeptide hormone or a steroid that is converted to an active hormone by peripheral metabolism” (1). Or, put another way, a prohormone is a compound that undergoes an enzymatic process that allows it to convert into an anabolic hormone in the human body. They will promote a similar but much milder effect as anabolic steroids, such as rapid muscle gains, rapid strength gains and with some products, accelerated fat loss. The effects are milder because of a rate limiting effect that’s caused by the enzyme conversion, this limits how many you can effectively take each day due to the fact that the body has to replenish its levels of natural enzymes before the conversion process can take place.
It’s important to realize that prohormones should not be taken lightly and can cause negative side effects if you don’t do your research and understand how to run them properly.
Benefits and Side Effects of Prohormones
- Rapid increases in lean muscle
- Rapid Increases in strength
- Faster recovery
- Accelerated fat loss
- Improved sex drive
Since the prohormones available in 2017 are mainly DHEA derivatives, the side effects are in most cases extremely low but may still be possible:
- Liver stress
- Hair loss
- Gynecomastia (or “gyno”, also known as“bitch tits”)
- Swollen prostate gland
- Higher blood pressure levels
- Sore joints
- Gastric discomfort
It should be noted that any possible sides can be controlled with proper on cycle and post cycle support.
This approach gives you the best results with prohormones, and it’s important to have these safeguards in place before you begin your prohormone cycle.
Cycling with Prohormones
Be sure you follow the recommended doses when using prohormones to not only get the results you want but to limit any potential negative side effects. A typical prohormone cycle is run for about 6-8 weeks and can include more than one prohormone as well as an on-cycle support product, followed by a 4-week Post Cycle Therapy phase. There are two basic types of cycles, a bulking cycle ad a cutting cycle.
Prohormones and Post Cycle Therapy (PCT)
Much like anabolic steroids, when you end a prohormone cycle, your own natural hormonal balance is out of line. This hormonal imbalance happens because the body thinks that it doesn’t have to produce and release testosterone because the levels of this hormone basically surge when you are on a prohormone cycle. When you’ve finished your cycle, your testosterone levels tend to be very low while the estrogen in your body is very high. To control the catabolic effects of cortisol, the water retention and fat gain of estrogen and keep your gains by stimulating your own natural testosterone production, a PCT program must be run immediately when you end your cycle.
The Available Prohormones in 2017
Let me start off this section by saying that I would not expect anything currently on the market and labeled as a “prohormone” to be safe from our trusty government, so it’s possible that by the time you read this, the list of available products may have changed. Let me also say that it is not my intention to present an in-depth technical explanation of what everything is, rather, I want this to be clear and easy to understand as I would like this section to be a great resource for those new to bodybuilding who are trying to understand how it all works, something I wish I had when I started way back in 1980.
1-Andro – Also known as 1-DHEA or 1-Androsterone, this is a legal prohormone that will convert in the body to the active steroid 1-Testosterone, this compound is comparable to the steroid boldenone. 1-Andro is actually a precursor to a precursor, which is how companies are getting around the most recent FDA ban. What does that mean? Thinking back to the old 1-AD by ErgoPharm, we remember that it converted to 1-testosterone in the body. It was considered a precursor to 1-testosterone and converted into that compound by undergoing one chemical “step” in the body (through an enzyme pathway). 1-Andro is a form of the hormone DHEA that converts in the body to 1-Testosterone by a two-step conversion process, in other words, it converts through two enzymatic pathways. At this point, let’s define DHEA: DHEA, or Dehydroepiandrosterone “is a hormone that comes from the adrenal gland. It is also made in the brain. DHEA leads to the production of androgens and estrogens (male and female sex hormones). DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30” (2). So, 1-Andro goes through two steps to become 1-Testosterone – what kind of results can you expect? On average, you can expect lean gains of 4-8 lbs. of mass over the course of a cycle, some users may gain more and some could gain less. The gains are considered “dry” gains, which means that there’s virtually no water retention and the side effects, such as conversion to estrogen or DHT, are very mild.
4-Andro – Also known as 4-DHEA or 4-Androstenediol, this is a compound that undergoes a two-step conversion process to testosterone and in fact is often used as a testosterone base as part of a prohormone stack in a typical advanced cycle. It promotes good gains in mass and strength, it can help combat the lethargy that can be caused by some compounds and it can keep your sex drive elevated. This is a “wet” compound which means it can cause water retention and convert to estrogen, so it has greater side effects than 1-Andro. This is why using a good on-cycle support product that can inhibit estrogen is a good idea.
Epi-Andro – Also known as epiandrosterone, this compound is a precursor to dihydrotestosterone (or, DHT), which is known increase strength, hardness and increase sex drive. This compound is naturally occurring in pine pollen, one of the reasons it’s still legal. Epiandro does not convert to estrogen, which means very mild side-effects. Epiandro is a great stacking compound and works well in either a cutting stack, because it helps maintain mass and strength while on a reduced calorie diet, or a bulking stack, because it promotes strength increases. Additionally, it improves focus and in-the-gym aggression.
19-NorAndro – Also known as 19-Nor-DHEA and NorAndrost-4-ene-3b-ol, 17-one, this compound converts to nandrolone (similar to the popular steroid deca durabolin). This is a “dry” compound produces mild side effects because it does not convert to estrogen or DHT. Expect solid mass and strength gains with this.
Trenavol – A play on the name “Trenbolone”, one of the most effective and popular steroids ever produced. Tren-style prohormones are considered a progestin, which means it increases sex drive while lowering estrogen. Also considered a “wet” compound with the potential for good mass gains.
Arimistane – Also known as Androst 3,5 dien-7, 17 dione, this is not technically a prohormone but instead is one of the best non-prescription estrogen blockers and cortisol inhibitors on the market and should be a part of every cycle.
What About Training and Nutrition?
Since prohormones usually increase strength, the first reaction by most users is to go for it and get those poundage’s up there. However, since your strength will fall when you come off your cycle, meaning you won’t be able to hold onto your new PRs, it may be best to increase your volume and frequency instead. Once your cycle is over, I suggest using a lower volume strength-based program to help maintain your mass and strength.
As far as nutrition, eat a clean, higher calorie, higher protein diet if mass is your goal, however, if you are on a cutting cycle, I advocate a carb cycling approach, with carbs taken in around your workouts, and a high protein intake, in fact I advocate 1 gram per pound of protein, no matter what.
Who Should Use Prohormones
Whether or not you choose to take prohormones is entirely up to you. It’s a choice you should make based on your goals, your progress and your research of these products. I will say, if you are under 21, a beginner, or have less than 1 year of training experience, I would not even think about using prohormones. Beginners tend to rush everything and almost always jump way too quickly into the super-advanced routines typically used by steroid using Pro Bodybuilders – and then wonder why they aren’t progressing or are getting burnt out. While I understand the excitement and desire of the beginner, most of them rush headlong into advanced techniques and never really gain the foundational knowledge and experience they should have before they take the next step and use prohormones (or even steroids for that matter). Having said that, the choice is yours and yours alone to make.
Glossary – Some Terms to Know! (3).
Anabolic- Promotes growth of muscle tissue with little or no masculinization (deepening of the voice, facial hair, etc).
Androgenic- Pertains to the development of male aging sex hormones and is responsible for things such as body hair and muscle mass.
Aromatase- Aromatase is an enzyme that converts an androgen into an estrogen. When the body has an excessive level of testosterone in the body, it can also raise its estrogen to balance out its high hormone levels. This can sometimes lead to the development of gynecomastia. Please note that not all prohormones convert to estrogen(1-andro) and there are some that can reduce estrogen(epi-andro), so don’t let the fear of side effects scare you away from a cycle. Just do your research and understand what would be best for you as an individual. There are also supplements known as an AI or aromatase inhibitors which will reduce the amount estrogen in your body.
Bulk- The process of being in caloric surplus to gain as much quality mass as possible. This process includes intense weight lifting sessions.
Cut- The process of being in a caloric deficit to lose as much body fat as possible while also holding on to as much muscle tissue as possible. Burning calories through cardio and weight training, as well as strict dieting, will be the focus through this period.
Cycle- A set amount of time that you plan to use a compound.
Cycle Support- A combination of ingredients taken during the cycle to counteract potential negative effects of and protect bodily organs.
Dry- A compound which typically results in lean gains, causes very little to no water retention/bloat and has a minimal conversion to estrogen. Typically, these are more anabolic than androgenic.
PCT, Post Cycle Therapy - This is a protocol that is used to return your body back to homeostasis and normal hormone production after running a cycle of prohormones.
Recomp- Body recomposition is the often-difficult process of burning fat and building muscle at the same time.
Shutdown- When you give your body an exogenous form of testosterone, it sends a signal to your testicles to temporarily stop production. This is why you need to use a program to bring your hormones back into balance after a cycle.
Stacking – The use of two or more compounds taken within a cycle.
Wet- A compound which has some conversion to estrogen and can cause some water retention. Typically, these are more androgenic than anabolic and usually serve as a base compound within a stack.
- Prohormone. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/prohormone
- DHEA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/dhea/background/HRB-20059173
- Prohormone Guide. (2017, January 02). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://leavingweakness.com/prohormone-guide/