Technical Definition
Prohormones are compounds which, technically speaking, are converted via an enzymatic process to anabolic hormones in the body. As such they have similar effects in the body to anabolic steroids, causing rapid muscle and strength gains, but of a lesser magnitude due to the rate limiting effect caused by the enzyme conversion. However, this technical definition is considered somewhat out of date due to the advances which have occurred in supplement science since the introduction of the first prohormone androstenedione. Instead, nowadays the term prohormones commonly covers not just precursors to steroid hormones but also covers compounds active in their own right and which require no conversion to a different hormone to engender an anabolic effect. The term which is commonly used to cover the legal products which are not strictly prohormones is over-the-counter (OTC) steroids; however this isn’t strictly a correct term as in pharmacology OTC refers to those products which you have to ask your pharmacist for. Off-the-shelf (OTS) steroids is arguably a better term, though less commonly used, because you can simply pick up these products or buy them over the internet form on-line stores. In this article the terms ‘prohormone’ and ‘OTS steroids’ will be used as appropriate to cover all products which work via a hormonal mechanism to cause anabolic effects.

First Base
Prohormones were introduced into the supplement market in 1996 by Patrick Arnold who brought the prohormone androstenedione to the market. Androstenedione certainly generated a lot of excitement in the athletic world and is heavily linked in the popular press with baseball players such as Mark McGwire whose use of the supplement first brought notoriety both to that sport and garnered the attention of lawmakers in the USA. Androstenedione was rapidly followed by a number of compounds – androstenediol, norandrostenediol, 1-4-androstadienedione and 5 alpha androstenediol to name a few. These all had different effects profiles, some being converted to testosterone in the body after their ingestion, while others were converted in the body to target hormones such as nandrolone, boldenone, and dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Eventually, Arnold introduced the prohormone 1-ad, which converted into a hormone called 1-testosterone. This was the first prohormone considered to be of comparable effectiveness to illegal steroids such as Winstrol or Primobolan. At this time prohormones had advanced considerably since the introduction of androstenedione (widely considered within bodybuilding to be pretty worthless). Following the introduction of 1-ad, the prohormone market changed dramatically. Realising that the process of enzymatic conversion meant that prohormones were necessarily weaker than taking an equal amount of the target hormone they converted into, some supplement companies began to avoid the use of hormone precursors, and began introducing onto the market products such as 1-testosterone (the hormone which 1-ad would convert to) and, eventually, methyl-1-testosterone (M1T), which was a 17-alpha alkylated or methylated hormone. In layman’s terms this meant that it was highly resistant to breakdown in the liver, and was the most powerful product on the market, causing rapid strength and muscle gains even for long-time steroid users, as well as causing a host of deleterious side effects such as high blood pressure, and elevation of liver enzymes.

The End of the Beginning
Many in the supplement industry argued that the proliferation of powerful products such as M1T would eventually cause negative publicity to attach itself to the supplement industry. They were proven right and eventually the US congress passed into law the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 which effectively classed all the products then on the market as illegal drugs on a par with anabolic steroids. By early 2005 they had been removed from the market.

Prohormone Characteristics
A breakdown of the actions of individual prohormones and OTS steroids follows so this section will only encompass actions attributable to all classes of prohormone/OTS steroid products. This in itself could be an article in its own right so here is the condensed version.

Prohormones and OTS steroids exert their effects through multiple pathways but the ones that are most important to people are their actions via their effects on the body’s androgenic, oestrogenic and progestogenic receptors. It is through these that their effects are largely mediated and their interaction with other pathways is of secondary importance. Most prohormones, like anabolic steroids, are androgen agonists meaning they work via their effect on the androgen receptor. A strong androgen receptor agonist will mean effects related to the male hormone testosterone will be particularly prominent – notably increased aggression, sex drive, increased risk of hair loss and acne. Linked to these is large increases in muscle strength, strong muscle gains of a dry nature, and a hardening effect on the muscles. Oestrogenic and progestogenic effects tend to be similar – prohormones that convert to oestrogen and progesterone can cause large increases in mass and strength but much of the mass is of a poor quality visually and such gains often disappear rapidly as they are associated with water retention more than anything else. Oestrogenic side effects are feared by bodybuilders and include increased water weight, increased susceptibility to fat gain in the presence of high oestrogen and worst of all, from a cosmetic standpoint, gynecomastia.

It should be stated that while there are some products which are almost exclusively androgenic in nature with little to no risk of oestrogenic/progestogenic side effects, the reverse is not true, in that compounds with high affinity for oestrogen and progesterone receptors will still have an impact on the androgen receptor. You will often hear of prohormones and OTS steroids being called androgenic or oestrogenic or even both, but it should be stated this is often based on their primary method of action and that all will have an androgenic effect at some level. Apart from this, prohormones will differ in their impact on other variables. Typically strong androgens are useful for promoting strength gains via the central nervous system (CNS) stimulation, independent of their anabolic or muscle building effects. All OTS steroids will promote enhanced red blood cell production which is why users of prohormones and OTS steroids typically experience great pumps and vascularity. Generally speaking, liver toxicity is a concern only for methylated, oral compounds, which is most OTS steroids nowadays but even then, as the list below shows, they can differ by a wide degree in magnitude of effect.

Prohormones and OTS Steroids Today
Since the removal of the first generation of prohormones, supplement companies have worked hard to create products which could provide an anabolic effect while complying with the requirements of the 2004 law. One of the most important considerations was to ensure that not only did they manufacture a product that was effective and legal, but also safe, as the slew of methylated prohormones released in the wake of M1T were certainly of doubtful safety given their noted negative effects on a range of body tissues.

Today we have a number of products on the market which have been around for some time and in favour with bodybuilders and athletes alike. To make things easy we will refer to the compounds by their brand names:

Halodrol- 50 (4-chloro-17a-methyl-1,4-diene-3,17 diol)
Halodrol-50 was introduced to the bodybuilding world by Gaspari Nutrition and is a prosteroid of Turinabol, the banned East German designer steroid. Although Halodrol is no longer available, there are generic equivalents today such as Competitive Edge Labs H-Drol or EST Hemadrol. The typical dose for products such as H-Drol is 50mg a day, which equates to one tablet daily.
Effects: solid gains in muscle and strength, often taken while dieting to aid preservation of muscle mass.
Side effects: considered stressful on the liver and can raise blood pressure significantly in users.

Havoc/Epistane (2a-3a-epithio-17a-methyl-5a-androstan-17b-ol)
RPN’s product Havoc and IBE’s Epistane were introduced at practically the same time and considered interchangeable by many. However, it should be noted that even when two products are identical, users can experience different effects depending on the quality of the isomer, manufacturing process and so on. With Havoc and Epistane they are chemically very slightly different 2a,3a-epithio-17a-methyl-5a-androstan-17b-ol 2 (Havoc), and 2, 3a-epithio-17a-methyletioallo cholan-17b-ol (Epistane). Dosages are usually in the 20-50mg range.
Effects: useful for promoting solid, lean muscle gains with a concomitant reduction in oestrogen leading to a drier physique, and significant strength gains. This will contribute to the vascularity users typically report. Havoc and Epistane are also sometimes used purely to combat gynecomastia as they act in the body as an anti oestrogen, so that endogenous testosterone levels are less suppressed by this compound than other prohormones.
Side effects: less hepatoxic and damaging to lipid levels than other orals but the usual androgenic and oestrogenic side effects associated with prohormones remain a possibility.

Pheraplex (17a-methyl-etioallocholan-2-ene-17b-ol)
Pheraplex is a brand name of Anabolic Xtreme (AX). This product is also sold by Competitive Edge Labs as P-Plex as well as Phera-Vol by EST. Typically dosed at 20-30mg a day.
Effects: gains with this product tend to be of a ‘wet’ nature, in other words, you will see some weight gain due to water retention.
Side effects: it is a risk for anyone with gynecomastia due to the fact it aromatizes to oestrogen and is considered to be both hepatoxic and bad on lipid levels.

Methoxy-TST (17b-methoxytrienosterone)
This product was brought to the market by Bioscience Technologies and is usually dosed at 6-12mg to see results.
Effects: not a strong bulking product unless doses are pushed high despite its androgenic profile. In this respect it is not dissimilar to AAS such as Masteron and Proviron which are not efficient for bulking.
Side effects: androgenic side effects such as hair loss are reported quite frequently and many users report a damaging effect on libido.

Ergomax LMG (17-methyl-delta-2-etioallocholane & 17-methyl-delta-3-etioallocholane)
Introduced by ALRI, this is another ‘wet’ prohormone dosed at 20-40mg usually.
Effects: this compound is quite similar to Pheraplex so is useful for someone wanting to gain mass quite quickly of indeterminate quality.
Side effects: can cause gynecomastia, and has a detrimental effect on liver and lipid values, cycles should be kept short.

M-1,4ADD (17a-methyl-1,4-androstadiene-3,17diol)
This compound has recently been reintroduced by Competitive Edge Labs among others and is from the old school of prohormones – a classic wet bulker which converts into Dianabol.
Effects: this is a good choice for rapid mass and strength gains but the gains will tend to cause smoothness due to the water retention it causes.
Side effects: this compound can promote both androgenic and oestrogenic side effects so anyone with a predisposition to hair loss or gynecomastia should probably avoid this.

11-Oxo (andrenosterone, 11-oxo-androstenedione)
11-Oxo was developed by Ergopharm, whose founder Patrick Arnold first brought prohormones to the bodybuilding market. 11-Oxo is noted for its ability to lower cortisol levels. It is dosed at between 300-600mg a day with 450mg typical.
Effects: used mainly as a recomposition agent and to promote fat loss.
Side effects: although it can cause the same side effects as other prohormones, it is considered very mild in this regard so a good choice for people looking to diet with minimal side effects.

Propadrol (12-ethyl-3-methoxy-gona-diene)
This was formulated by EST Nutrition. It is usually dosed at 90mg a day.
Effects: noted to be good for reducing body fat and for promoting rapid strength and muscle gains.
Side effects: relatively mild with this compound, although those who worry about gyno or androgenic side effects should exercise caution.

Methoxy-TRN (17b-Methoxy-Trienbolone)
ALRI introduced this compound and this is dosed at 3-6mg typically.
Effects: Reviews are mixed on this product but those who like it often experience very good muscle and strength gains allied to a reduction in body fat.
Side effects: Being both quite androgenic and estrogenic it should be used with caution and remedies to combat hair loss and gyno are worth considering.

Max LMG (13-ethyl-3methoxygona-2, 5(10)-dien-17-one)
Another ALRI product. This is usually dosed at around 100mg a day.
Effects: rapid gains in bulk of a wet nature due to its progestogenic nature are possible. Great for those needing fast weight gain.
Side effects: one to avoid for anyone worried about a quality looking physique, gyno, or hair loss.

3-AD (2-androstenol acetate)
Anabolic Xtreme introduced this product into the bodybuilding world. Usually dosed at around 4-6 capsules a day, 3-AD also contains other products but the active prohormone is 2-androstenol acetate.
Effects: good overall mass gainer. Gains are a little wet but not too bad for those worried about oestrogen.
Side effects: it is not the worst but oestrogenic and androgenic side effects remain a possibility.

What is best for me?
So here we come to the part where readers ask ‘which is the best prohormone/OTS steroid to take and when?’ It is not possible, nor advisable, to offer specific advice on such a subject. People need to consider their own objectives and risk factors before taking any prohormone. Generally speaking, all we can say is that it is advisable to start with a mild steroid first and keep doses low, typically for 3-4 weeks. For a novice this will still lead to excellent gains. It is critical in our opinion, that an oestrogen blocking product should be held ready at the start of a prohormone cycle. Users unworried about oestrogen can take it for 3-4 weeks after the end of their cycle. Those concerned about oestrogen, should employ it both during and after. In this respect, Havoc and Epistane make good choices as they negate the need for an anti-oestrogen during the cycle, due to the fact they are inherently anti-oestrogenic. Still, even with them, an oestrogen blocker should be applied after all cycles with prohormones.

Dietary and Supplement Advice
Assuming a good clean diet is eaten, normally the only advice we would recommend is to increase protein intake to at least 2g of protein per pound of bodyweight. So for a 200lb individual, 400g of protein a day. Given the fact prohormones and OTS steroids are all oral in nature, we recommend increasing water intake also and employing the use of a liver protectant such as silymarin and N-acetyl cysteine, along with fish oil dosed at 6g a day. Those who are particularly anal may want to consider taking their prohormones with grapefruit juice. In theory, this will help increase their gains via inhibition of enzymes that break down drugs leading to enhanced absorption.

Training Advice
As you are taking a powerful prohormone or OTS steroid which will rapidly boost muscle mass, training volume should be increased but we recommend limiting the increase in weights. Instead, after your cycle has concluded, given the catabolic environment present post cycle, it is an excellent time to reduce volume and increase the weight which will help preserve your muscle and strength gains whilst keeping cortisol (a hormone indicated in the breaking down of muscle) levels low. A good rule of thumb is to double your normal training volume on cycle and then reducing it to a half of your normal training volume in the first few weeks post cycle while your body gets back to a homeostatic state (normal hormonal environment). So, if you do 10 sets a session normally, go to 20 on prohormones, and then reduce to 5 until your post cycle oestrogen blocker has finished its job.

Prohormones and OTS steroids are powerful compounds with the ability to impart significant gains in muscle and strength mass. We hope this article has provided some useful information for you to help understand their benefits, applications and how to structure their use within your overall training and dietary plan.

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