There are several possible reasons for the large differences between experimental findings and empirical observations. An incredible mystique has arisen around these substances, providing fertile ground for the placebo effect. Male hormones, principally testosterone, are partially responsible for the tremendous developmental changes that occur during puberty and adolescence. Male hormones have androgenic and anabolic effects. Androgenic effects are changes in primary and secondary sexual characteristics. These include enlargement of the penis and testes, voice changes, hair growth on the face, axilla, and genital areas, and increased aggressiveness.
However, no steroid has eliminated the androgenic effects because the so-called androgenic effects are really anabolic effects in sex-linked tissues. The effects of male hormones on accessory sex glands, genital hair growth, and oiliness of the skin are anabolic processes in those tissues. Heavy resistance training seems to be necessary for anabolic steroids to exert any beneficial effect on physical performance. Most research studies that have demonstrated improved performance with anabolic steroids used experienced weight lifters who were capable of training with heavier weights and producing relatively greater muscle tension during exercise than novice subjects. The effectiveness of anabolic steroids is dependent upon unbound receptor sites in muscle. Many athletes have said that anabolic steroids help them train harder and recover faster. Anabolic steroids may have an anti-catabolic effect.
This means that the drugs may prevent muscle catabolism that often accompanies intense exercise training. Presently, this hypothesis has not been fully proven. Anabolic steroids may block the effects of hormones such as cortisol involved in tissue breakdown during and after exercise. Anabolic steroids may prevent tissue from breaking down following of an intense work-out. Cortisol and related hormones, secreted by the adrenal cortex, also has receptor sites within skeletal muscle cells. Anabolic steroids may block the binding of cortisol to its receptor sites, which would prevent muscle breakdown and enhances recovery. While this is beneficial while the athlete is taking the drug, the effect backfires when he stops taking it.
Hormonal adaptations occur in response to the abnormal amount of male hormone present in the athlete’s body. Cortisol receptor sites and cortisol secretion from the adrenal cortex increase. Anabolic steroid use decreases testosterone secretion. People who stop taking steroids are also hampered with less male hormone than usual during the “off” periods. The catabolic effects of cortisol are enhanced when the athlete stops taking the drugs and strength and muscle size are lost at a rapid rate.