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Performance-enhancing drugs are a touchy subject (just ask Lance Armstrong). Many people consider them cheating, and the most infamous varieties can be seriously dangerous – steroids come to mind.
The last ten years have given rise to an exciting new class of performance-enhancing drug. It’s a collection of compounds called selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs). The limited research on SARMs looks promising so far. They appear to build muscle and burn fat at a level comparable to steroids, but without the ball-shrinking, liver-destroying, unsightly body hair-growing effects. They act on your hormones, but in a very targeted way, and they show potential if you want to rapidly build muscle and shed fat.
That said, many SARMs studies are in rats, and there haven’t been any long-term human experiments looking at the safety of SARMs. There could be side effects we don’t know about yet. Playing with your hormones is risky. At the very least, though, SARMs are interesting compounds that merit discussion.
SARMs fall firmly into the realm of experimental biohacking. These are riskier than most of the hacks I talk about. This article presents both the good and bad sides of SARMs. I hope it helps you make an informed decision about whether or not to try them.
Disclaimer: SARMs are on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances for athletic competition. If you’re a competitive athlete, you shouldn’t take these. If you’re a curious self-experimenter looking to upgrade your physical performance, though, SARMs may be worth considering.
How SARMs work (and why they may be better than steroids)
Using steroids to boost your hormones is like trying to tweak a microchip with a sledgehammer. Steroids help you build muscle by increasing testosterone, which then increases protein synthesis in your cells, building muscle and burning fat. That’s considered the anabolic side of steroids, and it’s great.
But steroids also interact with your liver, your prostate, your heart, your sex organs (which leads to ball shrinkage in men and clitoral enlargement in women), and your secondary sex characteristics (voice depth, body hair growth, man boobs, acne, etc.). All these side effects are the androgenic part of steroids.
The issue with steroids is that they have an anabolic-to-androgenic ratio of 1:1. That means they are just as likely to, say, shrink your balls or enlarge your clitoris as they are to build muscle – unless you’re taking bioidentical testosterone to maintain optimal hormone levels, with a doctor’s careful supervision (I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve never had side effects. You can read about hacking testosterone here).
This is where SARMs innovate. They’re far more selective than steroids, boasting anabolic-to-androgenic ratios starting at 3:1 and going as high as 90:1. That means you can still get muscle growth and fat loss, but SARMs won’t give you man boobs or turn you into the bearded lady. You can also take SARMs orally. No need for injections.
SARMs are also legal, as long as you buy them “for research purposes only.” You’ll notice SARMs retailers include disclaimers like “for lab research purposes only” and “not for human consumption.” They do this in case laws change, so they don’t get in trouble with the government.
There are about a dozen SARMs in either clinical (human) trials or pre-clinical (animal) trials. This article will cover pros and cons of the most popular ones. Again, this is a little more out there than most of the biohacking I discuss. Proceed at your own risk.