T NATION addresses the current state of steroid science, this time addressing off-season drug cycles, scar tissue from injections, the overblown dangers of oral steroids, and a one-shot-a-month cruise.

Off-Season Cycling for Bodybuilders

T Nation: What does a typical off-season cycle look like for some of the bigger competitive bodybuilders (heavyweight or super heavyweight)?

Admittedly, things vary a bit from guy to guy, but once you reach a certain level of development there are a few constants.

Most of the big guys will run a Testosterone base — since we're talking offseason, usually enanthate or cypionate — at around 1200-2000 mg per week.

Testosterone (T) is the bread and butter of any cycle; I rarely work with anyone that doesn't run a decent dose. Sometimes I'll have a guy that likes to keep his anabolics (boldenone, nandrolone) higher than his T dose, but that's rare.

Next up would be the anabolic, and most bigger dudes will run 600-1000 mg per week of either Equipoise (boldenone) or Deca-Durabolin (nandrolone). Sometimes they'll use Primobolan or trenbelone, but that's not typical in the offseason; most stick with just boldenone and nandrolone and alternate back and forth between the two, say 8-10 week periods of each.

After that, you're looking at a daily growth hormone dose (4-10 IUs/day). I personally don't think there's any need to go higher than that, though some will run more if they can afford it.

Most guys (not all, mind you, but most) will use insulin too, usually Humulin-R or Humalog at around 10-20 units per day. Again, this is something that some will use more of, but I don't think that's wise from a health standpoint — or even needed, from a growth standpoint.

After that, some might run the odd oral steroid here and there, such as a 4-week cycle of Dianabol or Anadrol every couple months or so, but again, that's not really necessary — some guys just like the quick boost in strength and water bloat.

Oh, and most will run some sort of anti-estrogen year round too, like Arimidex at 1 mg every other day or thereabouts.

That pretty much covers the basics.

Injection Site Scarring

T Nation: Say I've started my first serious off-season cycle: 2-3 grams a week of gear, not including orals. I gotta say, it's a lot of injections — way more than my poor glutes and delts are used to. How do the guys at the top level deal with things like scar tissue?

Well, first off, nobody in their right mind uses large gauge needles anymore; long gone are the days of 18g-22g harpoons or those "classic" Sustanon redi-jects.

Nowadays, most guys are using 23-25 gauge pins, which are much smaller and don't create near as much damage. Still, they're doing a lot of shots per week, so they're forced to rotate sites often. Standard body parts like glutes, quads, and delts are just part of the rotation — they also hit lats (lats can easily take 3 cc's), biceps, triceps, traps, rear delts and even chest — that one always gives me the heebie-jeebies though; I suppose I've seen Pulp Fictiontoo many times to give that site an honest go.

You also have to remember that there's a bit of a benefit to scar tissue in certain areas — when it builds up, it basically provides a cosmetic effect, not too unlike Synthol. If you build up enough scar tissue in your rear delts, they're going to look bigger (and not stupid, if you do it right); same thing for parts like the outer lats.

But if the real issue is you simply hate pinning yourself, that's another matter entirely. Either get over it or quit — no one's forcing you to be a bodybuilder, right?

Chinese GH

T Nation: Everyone is using generic Chinese growth hormone these days. How good is this stuff, really? Is it made in a Beijing bathtub? I keep seeing news stories about toys from China being recalled for containing lead and whatnot, and that's not even the black market!

When the generics first hit the market a few years back, I too, was skeptical, but the results I've seen (and experienced) so far have been good, for the most part.

The cost of Chinese GH is so much cheaper than domestic pharmacy grade GH (under $2 per IU when purchased in bulk, as opposed to at least $6-8 per IU for the pharmaceutical grade stuff) that you can't help but wonder about the quality of it, but it's no big mystery: we all know the Chinese can produce a shit ton of stuff for next to nothing, and without rigid pharmaceutical standards to adhere to — or other pesky ethical roadblocks like labor standards — their overhead can be significantly lower.

That obviously brings issues like quality and potency into question. I know some guys that have a hookup with a lab and for the past year have been testing Chinese GH for quality and quantity per vial. Quantity-wise, the results haven't exactly been consistent — some of the 10 IU vials have registered at only 4 IUs, while others have checked out at 9-9.5 IUs. There even was an 8 IU vial that actually checked out at 9 IUs per vial — what a deal!

Quality wise, it's a better story. I've never seen one come back positive for lead or arsenic, so as far as I can tell I think we're all good on that front. It appears it's just a matter of getting the quantity you think you're paying for. Quite honestly, even if it's slightly less potent than the label claims it to be, in my mind the cost reduction more than makes up for it.

But I suppose it goes without saying that you should always be confident in what you're putting into your body, so trusting your source is of the utmost importance. I know the black market is always shady, and suffice it to say, regular business rules don't always apply, but at least try to get to know your source so that you can develop a sense of trust in whatever you're getting.

Here's what I suggest — let them know that you're aware of testing to determine the potency and quality — if they know you're going to be checking on them, they'll be less likely to pass along a shoddy product.

Steroid Hepatotoxicity

T Nation: We've heard that the negative effects of oral steroids are grossly overstated, and taking something as benign as a Tylenol a day is more harmful to the liver. What gives?

I will admit, the hepatotoxicity of steroids (especially orals) is overstated. Ask anyone who works in an ER and they will tell you that Tylenol causes far more liver failures than oral steroids — and yes, I realize that there are many more Tylenol-users than there are admitted oral steroid-users — but steroid use has increased exponentially since the 1970s while liver failure has not. You do the math.

That's not to say oral steroids or any steroids are "safe," by any means, but I would be much more concerned about their effects on blood pressure and hemoglobin/hematocrit than the liver.

That said, some of my guys will limit their oral use to pre-contest only, when it's pretty much mandatory, and stick to injectables in the offseason. I do, however, still have quite a few guys who will run orals in the offseason as well, and so far none have had any issues (we keep tabs on things with blood work every 3 months or so).

Speaking of blood work, here's something to note: everyone focuses on ALT (alanine transaminase) and AST (aspartate aminotransferase) levels as being the main indicators of liver health, but there are many things that can throw those numbers off like training, possessing higher amounts of muscle mass, or having a higher BMI.

If you can, make sure you get GGT (gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase) included with your bloodwork — it's a much better indicator of liver health. I've seen many bodybuilders with elevated AST and ALT levels, but have yet to see any with an elevated GGT. Still, I have all my guys take liver supplements like Milk Thistle and Liv-52, year round.

Testosterone Undecanoate

T Nation: We've heard that some guys between "blast" phases are "cruising" with a really long-estered Testosterone, something like a once-a-month shot? What's this all about?

What you're referring to is Testosterone undecanoate, in injectable form. You may have heard of TU before — it was originally produced in an oral form called "Andriol," that supposedly worked by way of the lymphatic system but never really panned out, results-wise.

The injectable form is a different story. Known by its pharmaceutical name "Nebido," it's been prescribed for years in Europe and other countries around the world. It comes in a 4 ml. amp that contains a total of 1,000 mg of TU, and is usually injected in 6-14 week intervals. For many bodybuilders, this is obviously much less of a hassle than taking a shot of cypionate or enanthate every 3 to 7 days.

The FDA has yet to approve Nebido for use in the US, but UGLs (underground laboratories) can easily obtain TU in powder form and manufacture it themselves, so it's readily available to those in the know. Some guys like "cruising" with it between cycles, and some even run it year round, as a "backdrop" to their bigger cycles.

I can't say that it offers much benefit to the user other than the reduced injection frequency, but like I discussed above in the scar tissue question, the fewer shots you can do, especially at the pro level, the better.