Why would someone who once fervently rallied the industry against steroids eventually succumb to their call? Why would a man who was proud to be 100 % drug-free for life give up this hallowed status? "Joe Natural" appeared in magazines throughout the 1990's and was one of a handful of well-known natural bodybuilders who did their best to convince magazine readers that steroids were deadly, and that using them branded you as a lazy cheater.
Somewhere along the way he slipped off the 'righteous' path, and began to use steroids. Why did he do it? What did he discover about using steroids? Does he harbor any regrets? What would he say to his fans and natural bodybuilders now? These were a few of the answers I was looking for when I sat down to talk to a man who betrayed his former ideals.
Testosterone: Let's kick this right off with the brutal questions. How could you use steroids after being such a crusader for years?
Joe Natural: It definitely wasn't an easy decision. As you said, a lot of natural guys looked up to me for getting the anti-drug message out there, and I took a lot of pride in being natural. Maybe I took too much pride. A lot of the pro's and amateurs who were 'enhanced' didn't take kindly to my holier-than-thou attitude. Some of them teased me about it. I knew that once I took that first pill or shot, I would be letting down a lot of people and setting myself up to be lambasted as a hypocrite. But at that point – I guess it was a little over four years ago – I had pretty much hit the genetic ceiling. I had been training naturally for twelve years, and new gains were so few and far between that training was starting to lose its luster for me. Another influencing factor was that I had watched a lot of guys on drugs over the years around me, and I had yet to see one drop dead or needing a new liver.
It became clear that steroids were not as dangerous as I had believed, and that I had been blowing the dangers out of proportion while warning people. I was really talking out of my ass, just repeating a lot of what I had read and heard. And not that I had any plans of entering the Mr. Olympia, but I felt there was still a lot more I wanted to do with my physique in terms of size and shape. If I stayed natural, most of that would never be realized. That's not defeatist, that's just how it is.
T: What was your first cycle?
JN: Let me preface all the dosage stuff by saying that I've never used extreme amounts of anabolics. If any of your readers are hoping for something out of 'The Dead Pool," they're not going to get it from me. One, I do believe that the risks involved with steroids are amplified when you use grams and grams of gear a week. Two, I have a family, and I could never justify spending a ton of money when I could be spoiling my wife and kids instead. For instance, I would never buy GH or something that expensive. A couple cycles of that and you could've taken your family to the Bahamas for a week. Three, I'm not trying to weigh 300 pounds. Nothing against those guys who do. That's their prerogative, and if they want to compete in the big shows, they have no choice but to use anything and everything. I admire a lot of those physiques, but the reality is that without the right genetics few of us could ever look like them, even with the very best drugs and training.
My first cycle was a single Sustanon-250 a week, plus 300 or 400 mg. of Norandren, one of the Mexican vet decas, for eight weeks. Nothing major, but I got bigger and stronger. I think my weight only went up ten pounds, but it looked like twenty. My strength started getting ridiculous. My muscles finally got that really full look that I had never had.
T: Who knew you were using at that point?
JN: Aside from me and my wife, it's tough to say. Nobody ever came up and said anything to my face except for snide, veiled remarks. I'm sure a lot of people at my gym knew. I had always been able to tell when guys were on or off stuff, so I probably wasn't fooling too many people.
T: How long did you wait before you went on again?
JN: Not long at all. In fact, that first year I was a little over-eager. I did something like five different cycles of 6-10 weeks. I was probably on about 3/4ths of the time or more.
T: What other kinds of drugs did you try?
JN: I went with what was relatively cheap and available. I tried various types of test with different vet decas, usually about 500 grams of each a week. Those always seemed to work well, but using those 50 mg. per ml. vet decas means you have to put a lot of damned oil in your ass. At one point I did a cycle that was nothing but 1000 mg. of Steris cypionate a week, because I had read that you might as well just use a lot of test instead of stacking. One thing I got out of that year was to stay away from test. For me, it caused too much acne and water retention. That cypionate stack was the last one I did for two years.
T: Why did you stop again?
JN: I was getting frustrated with getting so big and strong, then losing it all when I came off. Plus my gut was getting bigger, and I was looking older when I was on. My wife didn't even want to touch my back anymore, it disgusted her so much. After nearly a solid year of being on, I cleaned out again.
T: Surely after all that time, everybody must have known you weren't natural anymore.
JN: I would imagine so. It's one of those things where everyone talks behind your back. Only a few people had the nerve to come out and ask me, although some of them did it without any tact.
T: What was your response? Did you deck 'em?
JN: If there were other people around, I would brush them off without answering. A question posed that rudely doesn't deserve the dignity of an answer. If we were alone or a group of people wasn't hovering around, I would explain that yes, I had tried some anabolics. I certainly was never proud of it. Some of my friends who were natural were disappointed, but they didn't pass judgement – at least not that I know of. I felt pretty bad about them.
One guy who is the president of a natural organization I used to compete in saw a picture of me in a magazine with my new size and never talked to me again. That hurt, because he was one of my mentors in the very beginning when I was just a confused little teenager looking for direction. Another time I showed up at a well-known physique photographer's studio for a photo shoot, and he immediately knew. I was 20 pounds heavier than the last time he had shot me two years before. That was when I was using all that test, and the acne on my back was a dead giveaway. I felt bad that he knew, but he wasn't too shocked. He had seen his fair share of natural guys who had gone the other way. I think he made some joke about how great my training must be going lately.
T: What happened after the two years that made you start up again?
JN: During that time I had read up a lot more and saw that I had been doing some things wrong. I did a cycle of Reforvit-B and Equipose while I was dieting for some photo shoots and a series of TV commercials I had been cast in. To my surprise, I didn't get any acne, or hold any water. I also was able to hold onto a bit more of the size than I ever had before. A few months later I tried D-bol tabs and Deca, and came away from that cycle with a little bit more mass. My shape was getting better as well. Most recently I did another cycle of D-bol and Deca, and finally did the Clomid and HCG at the end. What a difference! Instead of losing 85 % of what I had gained, I only lost maybe 50 %. Three steps forward and two steps back still puts you ahead of where you started from.
T: What do you have to say to other natural guys who might be pondering the same decision about trying?
JN: It all comes down to what you want to look like, and whether you're willing to take a little risk to get there. For instance, there are some natural guys who would be morons to start using steroids. Tito Raymond is a good example. He looks incredible clean, and even manages to make the top three in non-tested national shows. Why would he ever need to use drugs? Then again, with him and others like Skip LaCour, you're talking about genetic freaks. Some guys just luck out with tiny joints and long, full muscle bellies. They can look awesome even at fairly light bodyweights. Once in a while you get guys like Skip who can be just as big or bigger than most guys on drugs. If I could have looked like them naturally, I would never have popped that 'roid cherry. Most of us can never be that impressive without a little help. Then again, it takes at least five to ten years of heavy training and good nutrition before you have any idea what your genetic potential really is. Most guys on drugs never tried to take their bodies to the ultimate level that they could naturally.
T: So you're still moralizing, but now it's against other guys on drugs?
JN: That's not exactly it. I'm saying that if you are going to use steroids, you should at least have learned how to train and eat properly and built some kind of solid base. I've seen little 100-pound brats walk into the gym for the first time looking for a dealer. That just pisses me off. To me that's like trying to drive a tank without even knowing how to drive a car. You're trying to jump way ahead of where you should be at that stage.
T: Now that you've done all these cycles, are you planning to compete again? And will it be in a natural show?
JN: I haven't in years, but I'm sure I will again. I really have two options. I could load up and do a non-tested show, but I wouldn't be able to win anything above the local level unless I had some dumb luck and didn't have any genetic superiors to face. I look good on drugs, but there are a lot of guys who look better in terms of size and shape. I'm 5-9, and I would be about 205 pounds with all those nasty striations. Guys my height at the NPC Nationals average 220-240 pounds.
If I did one of the natural shows where you have to be clean for a year, like Team Universe or Musclemania, I could do pretty well. But I attribute that to the drugs I took before. If I had never done any, I wouldn't have a chance against these black guys with the 19-inch arms and 25-inch waists that dominate the natural shows. It probably sounds racist, but I think a lot of white guys need to have some cycles behind them to be able to compete against black guys on a fair level in natural contests. I actually think the non-tested shows are more fair to non-blacks. The drugs help even out the playing field.
T: How many of those guys in natural shows do you think are really clean?
JN: I think nearly all of them are clean, as interpreted by the rules of that particular organization. On the East Coast, there's the ANBC, where everyone needs to be drug-free for life to compete. Then you have the NPC natural shows, where it's always one year. You have guys like Todd Smith, who used to be a big 260-pound freak, coming into shows like the Ironman Natural at 220 and kicking ass over the guys who never took any drugs. But you can't fault Todd for it. He's following the rules as they stand. There are a few guys who will try to sneak through while on drugs. I consider them lower than dog shit.
T: What would you say, from your experience, are the best and worst things about steroids?
JN: The best thing is definitely the fact that when you're on, you know with absolute certainty that if you train your ass off, you'll make gains. When I was clean all those years, I would do everything right with training, eating, and rest, and still there would be long stretches where I wouldn't gain an ounce. It gives you so much more confidence to train brutally hard when you know there will be a payoff. You can't wait for your next workout. Another thing is that you don't have to worry about overtraining as much. A few extra sets when you're on gear won't hurt your progress, and it probably helps.
The worst things are for me, not being able to hold that nice full look without the drugs and losing some of that crazy strength. Another hassle is getting the drugs. I've had experiences where I was burned with fake crap; frightening moments smuggling stuff in across the border; and long delays in ordering through the mail. I've never particularly liked the shots, either. My wife has to do them for me, and she's usually less than thrilled to help out.
T: Are you concerned about your health?
JN: Maybe a tad, but it doesn't keep me up at night. The cycles I do these days don't even add up to a gram a week, and I stay away from the really toxic stuff like Anadrol. Plus I take plenty of time off, sometimes up to six months between cycles, but always at least two months. I'm just trying to add about five pounds of permanent quality muscle a year. I'm sure a lot of readers who aspire to be 300 pounds will laugh at that, but five pounds is a big difference when you've been training for sixteen years. Without the drugs, it might take me three or four years to get those five pounds at this point. The longer you've been training and the closer you get to your genetic potential, the harder it is to make any further gains.
T: What about morals? Do you feel guilty about using steroids when you had been a role model for a lot of young natural bodybuilders?
JN: Like I said, I do feel bad about some of the guys who felt that I let them down, but a lot of that is the "us versus them" mentality that many natural guys have. The disdain they feel for bodybuilders who choose to use anabolics borders on hate. I confess that I used to be like that. If someone was on drugs, they were a bad person, and I was morally superior to them. Over the years I saw how ridiculous that was. Sure, steroids are illegal, but so are a lot of things people do. I know some natural bodybuilders who smoke pot on a regular basis, yet they still sneer at those "frigging juicehead assholes." Legally, anyone can walk into a liquor store and buy a half-gallon of vodka and a carton of cigarettes, both of which kill millions of Americans every year. But if a dedicated athlete wants to take something in reasonable doses to enhance his physique and performance, he's a bad guy. To me that's ludicrous.
T: If you could do it all over again, would you have gone on drugs earlier?
JN: I really don't think so. All those years of training naturally taught me a lot about my body and how to train and eat for the best results. If I had started in my early twenties, like a lot of guys, I would never have reached the level of expertise that I have now. I wouldn't have had to. Another thing is that I like to say that I built the majority of my physique without any drugs. I give the 'roids credit for the last 15 % or so. Sometimes I wonder where I'd be if I had never taken the plunge four years ago. All I would really have is the pride of having accomplished whatever I would have naturally, and I feel like that pride was a bit overblown and pompous anyway.
T: Now that you've been on both sides, what would you like to say to the two camps?
JN: For the natural guys, they need to get off the moral high horse. Nobody is keeping them from using drugs. It's a decision they made, so they shouldn't fault someone else for making a different choice. They also need to get the bullshit idea out of their heads that guys on drugs don't work hard. The majority of guys on drugs, especially when you're talking about guys who compete, work their asses off. With the help of the chemicals, they just get much better results. Bodybuilders on drugs aren't the enemy. They are comrades who do something different.
For the guys who use drugs, they should give a lot of respect to natural bodybuilders. They have to be so spot on with their training, nutrition, and rest to make any kind of gains. Even then, the gains come so slow that natural bodybuilders have to be some of the most patient people on earth. Dieting is also much harder on natural athletes, because in addition to the misery of all the cardio and low carbs, they have to sit and watch a lot of their size and fullness disappear as they get in shape. I was there many times, and it sucked ass. Basically both sides need to have a little more tolerance and respect for the other. We're all bodybuilders, and it's a small enough sport as it is.
T: Will you ever come out and admit all this, or is this anonymous interview as close as you'll get?
JN: I haven't made any claims about being natural since I started using. All the people close to me know. But as far as going on record in a magazine, I don't see what purpose that would serve. The bottom line is that steroids are illegal, and the media has portrayed them in such a way that users are reviled as criminals. I don't see anything positive coming out of a tell-all confession of that sort. I don't want to come off as being proud of using steroids, because I'm not. I'm not really ashamed either, but I think some people would be quick to pass judgement. Who wants that? I don't need all that negativity.
T: Well, thanks for being as candid as you were.
JN: You're welcome. I hope I was able to convey some of what I learned from my experiences across to the readers.