Anabolic Steroids For MMA Fighters
Setting The Record Straight For Mixed Martial Artists
It has been well documented in both the medical literature and from athletes’ first-hand experiences that anabolic steroids can increase strength and power in a short period. It also has been well documented that non-medical use of anabolic steroids can produce harmful side effects.
Ironically, attempts at emphasizing the dangers of non-medical steroid use have shown to increase its use amongst young athletes. To compound the problem, public reporting of drug use violations (as we have recently heard in the UFC) paradoxically serves to promote the perceived performance-enhancing benefits of anabolic steroids (1).
Mixed martial arts is one of the most fascinating and challenging sports in the world today. In no other sport must an athlete be so well-rounded in speed, power, strength, endurance, balance, skill/technique, and mental toughness.
In one-dimensional sports such as sprinting or power-lifting, anabolic steroids have shown to be a great advantage, however, in mixed martial arts, they may no longer be crucial to success.
For the record, there are world champions in mixed martial arts, including the UFC, that do not take anabolic steroids. This suggests that you do not need anabolic steroids to compete against the best or even to be the best, in this sport. So, why do so many mixed martial artists take anabolic steroids? Mixed martial artists may turn to anabolic steroid use in an attempt to cover up their deficiencies in technique or skill.
To better understand the importance of anabolic steroids, the mixed martial artist needs to understand the specific attributes. Speaking with coaches and mixed martial artists themselves, surprisingly there is a unifying agreement regarding the most important attributes of anabolic steroid use.
# 1. Mental Focus:
Consistently coaches and athletes rank mental toughness as contributing between 50 to 70% of the reasons for an athlete’s success. However, young athletes pay little to no attention to training their minds (see “Performance Training for the Mind“). If you could put mental toughness in a pill, it would easily out-sell all supplements combined.
# 2. Skill / Technique:
Skill and technique contribute between 40 to 50% of an athlete’s success. Regardless of which discipline(s) you are proficient in, it is essential to constantly try to improve your technique. Again, you can not put “skill” into a pill.
# 3. Strength / Power:
Strength and Power can contribute approximately 20% of an athlete’s success. We have all seen athletes win on pure strength. However, we have also seen a better-skilled athlete defeat a stronger athlete.
Endurance appears to contribute approximately 20% to the success of an athlete. If a very strong athlete fatigues, he suddenly becomes weak and, thus, subject to an easy defeat. This occurs very often in mixed martial arts. It appears that mixed martial artists find strength and endurance to be almost equally important.
Now that we have a general idea of what makes up a successful mixed martial artist, let’s take a closer look to see if the advantages of anabolic steroid use outweigh the disadvantages.
Advantages of Anabolic Steroid Use:
It is well-documented that the use of anabolic steroids can make an athlete stronger in a short period. This is probably the largest attraction to users because it is often the perception that strength is the most important attribute in mixed martial arts. Since it is not, its importance is overrated.
Enhanced Recovery Time
It also has been reported that anabolic steroids can recover an athlete quickly from various injuries. This obviously can be a great advantage when trying to stay healthy for upcoming competitions. Ironically, users of anabolic steroids tend to injure themselves with greater frequency due to an increase in training intensity.
Disadvantages Of Steroid Use:
Loss of Respect / Money / Fame / Fans
Everyone loves a winner, but no one likes a cheater. It is the public’s general perception that users of anabolic steroids are cheaters. Interestingly, the fans of MMA generally want to turn a blind eye to ‘suspected’ anabolic steroid users.
However, once they know an athlete uses them, the fan base may drop off. Since this sport is as much about building a fan following as it is about actually winning, getting caught can quickly end years of dedication, hard work, and, more importantly, fans.
Psychological Dependency and Withdrawal
Once you start taking anabolic steroids for competition, you will not be able to stop. Anabolic steroid withdrawal and dependency disorders are frequently reported (2). Users of anabolic steroids begin to feel dependent on them for success.
Without them, they feel they are missing the key element physically and mentally, which has artificially created their success. Since mental toughness is the most important attribute in mixed martial arts, it is very scary to rely on artificial confidence produced by an illegal drug.
It could be devastating to an athlete to one day stop taking anabolic steroids and not experience the physical and psychological effects they have been so accustomed to. The athlete may have a difficult time finding the self-confidence necessary to compete again.
Loss of Endurance
An increase in muscle mass with anabolic steroid use has also contributed to a decrease in endurance. Many matches have been lost simply due to a lack of endurance. Users of anabolic steroids typically neglect, or have a difficult time, getting their endurance to an adequate level. Some fighters consider endurance more important than strength.
Non-medical use of anabolic steroids is dangerous. It is a drug and must be respected as such. Advocates of steroid use argue there are “safer” ways to ‘cycle on and off’ with few complications. This may be true, however, in the sport of mixed martial arts, the advantage in strength gains relative to the importance of strength is not worth the health risks.
Finally, it is important to note there are champions in mixed martial arts who do not use steroids. They are champions because they have put the time and energy into training the mind, developing the skill, strength, and endurance using sound training and nutritional principles.
They have done this by training each attribute proportionately as it applies to the sport of MMA. The need for anabolic steroid use in MMA is overrated. Though strength is important, it appears that time and energy can be better spent developing other attributes of MMA.
Training naturally may take you longer, but fans will respect you for it. More importantly, you can have self-respect.
Start paying attention to your body, notice subtle signs in your training, start asking questions, seek experienced answers, and, most importantly, don’t settle on your performance, there is always room for improvement.
Dr. Paul Biondich, B.Sc.Kin., D.C., treats many athletes including UFC/Pride’s Carlos Newton. He is also a member of the Everton McEwan Team. For more information: www.fourseasonschiroractic.ca
1. Marshal E. “The drug of champions”. Science. 1988; 242: 183-184
2. Kashkin KB, Kleber HD. “Hooked on Hormones? An anabolic steroid addiction hypothesis”. JAMA. 1989; 262: 3166-3170
3. Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids: A Subject Review (RE9720). Pediatrics vol. 99. no. 6. June 1997