Veteran Consensus Statement on the age of initiation of Anabolic use.
Anabolic steroids promote strength gain, muscle synthesis, and increased metabolic capacity. Their responsible, moderate use improves athletic performance, cosmetic appearance, and perceived social opportunity and self-esteem. However, anabolics achieve their effects by perturbing the human endocrine system, a complex feedback mechanism of glands and organs that are, in healthy and youthful persons, in an exquisite state of natural balance. Compounds like anabolic steroids that alter this balance are appropriate for use only by mature, well-trained athletes who understand these drugs, their risks and their benefits. Except in the case of prospective users of clear promise for national or international ranking in a sport, realistically hopeful for the kinds of benefits such ranking confers, the following should be characteristic of anyone, of any age, prior to the addition of anabolic steroids to a training regime:
1. PHYSICAL MATURITY. Anabolics can, through either direct or indirect effects, cause premature closure of the epiphyseal plates (“growth plates”) at the end of bone, an irreversible effect that may result in permanently shorter stature than the athlete would otherwise achieve. Therefore, the athlete should have reached full physical stature and maturity of the skeleton before contemplating anabolic use. In most cases, full stature is not reached until the very late teens and, in many cases, development of both long skeletal bones and joint assemblies (hips and shoulders) continues into the early 20's, development of the larynx (“voicebox”) into the mid-20’s.
2. SIGNIFICANT MATURE MUSCULARITY. Anabolics have poor effect, or transitory effect, on athletes in mediocre condition; in addition, their tendency to boost muscle strength ahead of the strength of supporting tendons and ligaments can lead to debilitating injury in athletes without substantial prior training. Therefore, the athlete should have accumulated a significant amount of mature muscle mass and tendon strength through a dedicated program of resistance training prior to beginning anabolic use. Recognizing that there is substantial individual variability in training efficiency and effects, a minimum of 3 years, perhaps as many as 7, of dedicated weight training is required to achieve this necessary physical foundation, on which anabolics can be used safely and to best effect.
3. THOROUGH KNOWLEDGE. Anabolics are not a substitute for proper technique or applied knowledge of the basics of exercise physiology. Therefore, the athlete considering the use of anabolics should have a very thorough and detailed knowledge of lifting technique, dietary practice, recuperative processes, and hormonal and nonhormonal supplementation, and should if possible prepare for the use of anabolics under the guidance of a trusted mentor who has mastered these issues. In particular, the athlete should have an excellent understanding of the uses, effects, and risk profiles of anabolics, and should be thoroughly conversant with the kinds of ancillary agents that minimize side-effects and speed post-cycle recovery. Recognizing that there is substantial individual variability in the pace at which this knowledge is acquired, at least a year of arduous study and reading is necessary to understand anabolics and post-cycle recovery, and at least 4 years of practice is required to establish the requisite knowledge base of lifting technique, recuperation, and diet.
4. PSYCHOLOGICAL MATURITY. Anabolic steroids can have marked effect on mood and disposition, either during the cycle of active use, or its aftermath. Therefore, the athlete considering the use of anabolics should have the psychological health and maturity that will enable him or her to use anabolics with minimal social, psychological, and legal risk to both him/herself and his/her network of partners and collaborators. In addition, the athlete should be firm enough in purpose and balanced enough in approach to understand not only how and when to initiate use of anabolics, but how and when to curtail or abandon use safely should that need arise.
The use of anabolic steroids is unwise for persons who have not satisfied these prerequisites, though exceptions may be made in cases of very unusual athletic promise. While not a function of mere calendar age per se, it is unarguable that, on average, the likelihood that these conditions will have been met increases as the age of the prospective anabolic user increases.
For the reasons adduced above, the following statement of consensus opinion is made:
Allowing for substantial individual variability, and with the exception of cases of truly outstanding athletic promise, the athlete considering the use of anabolics should be socially and physically mature, psychologically healthy, and should have completed 4 to 7 years of dedicated, mentored training in strength/endurance athletics and study in lifting technique, dietary practices, recuperation skills and supplementation. In most cases, the athlete will have reached the age of 21 before these prerequisites are in place, recognizing that many athletes will not have achieved the necessary experience, physical maturity, and psychic balance until their mid-20's or even later.