It isn’t uncommon for bodybuilders, and those serious about their fitness, to take PEDs, especially anabolic-androgenic steroids, to help give them faster gains. In fact, using PEDs can often give people gains that would be almost impossible through natural means.
We’re not going to talk about the pros and cons of using these steroids here. There’s plenty of information online about that. Instead, we want to discuss what happens when you finish taking anabolic-androgenic steroids (which you must do every so often).
You’re going to go through a process known as post-cycle therapy, or PCT, for short.
What is Post cycle therapy (PCT)?
As you can probably remember from your biology classes, your body produces a lot of different hormones (including testosterone). When you take steroids (and a few other PEDs), the natural production of your hormones will stop. Steroids will replace these hormones.
You don’t really need to know how (as it would be an in-depth discussion of steroid synthesis in the body), just know that the steroids will work as a replacement for the hormone production that has now shut down.
Now, the problem is that when you take steroids long-term, you will end up with a hormonal imbalance. This can cause both short-term and long-term impacts on the body. Again, you don’t need us to go into this, because there are plenty of warning guides about the long-term use of steroids (which is never recommended). All you need to know is that you need to restore hormonal balance.
When you stop taking your PEDs, the testosterone production in your body will have been shut down for a while. Your body won’t have needed to tap into those processes, so it doesn’t. As the steroids slowly remove themselves from your body, the body will try to start testosterone production again, but it is going to struggle. This can cause a huge hormonal imbalance in your body and that hormonal balance is going to continue until testosterone production is ramped up again. This is where PCT comes into play.
The job of PCT is to give testosterone production a bit of a helping hand. At the same time, the PCT may also have the aim of suppressing estrogen in the body (which will have elevated amounts after the end of steroid use, hence the hormonal imbalance).
So, what does a post cycle therapy protocol involve? Well, it is, mostly, taking a combination of drugs and supplements that can help to restore hormonal balance in the body. Nowadays, unless a person has been on steroids for a while, people will use over-the-counter supplements to restore that balance.
Let’s tell you how the process works.
How Does a PCT Work?
As you may know, there are several different types of PCT out there. You have several drugs, lots of supplements, and some people even try to do PCT the natural way through their diet (not recommended at all). The outcome is the same, though – hormonal balance. This is accomplished in one of two ways.
Note: the exact science will be dependent on the PCT method being used. It would be impossible for us to detail how absolutely every option on the market works when it comes to PCT. We’re just going to give you an overview of the science here.
Block Estrogen Production
When you finish a steroid cycle, estrogen production will be elevated. It is the elevation of estrogen, and the low testosterone, that causes the hormonal imbalance. High estrogen can cause all sorts of issues including mood swings, thinning hair, breast enlargement (even in men), and more. Not to mention sexual health issues, headaches, aggression, and more. Basically, it isn’t good.
Many PCT products (including supplements) will contain ingredients that suppress estrogen production. In other cases, the products will have ingredients that bind to the estrogen receptors in your body. This will limit the impact that estrogen has on your system.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that estrogen levels will fall right away (this takes a while to happen), but a person shouldn’t really feel the effects of the higher estrogen levels – remember, you do still need some estrogen in your body!
Stimulate Testosterone Production
The main goal of any PCT is to get testosterone levels back on track. The quicker they are back on track, the faster the hormonal imbalance is corrected. Once again, how testosterone production is restarted will depend on the method of PCT that is being used.
Most of the time, the product will have ingredients that will trigger both the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to produce FSH and LH. When these hormones are increased, testosterone is also increased.
Remember – your body will likely start natural testosterone production eventually without needing PCT, but it takes a while, and you’ll be suffering some serious side effects from the hormonal imbalance until that point. If you have been taking steroids for a long time, then you’ll have no choice but to use PCT, and you’ll probably need to be prescribed drugs rather than using OTC supplements.
What Happens During PCT?
During the early stages of your PCT, the body is going through a massive period of change. The hormonal imbalance needs to be healed, and it won’t be comfortable to get through the process. You’ll experience mood swings, tiredness, hunger, and all sorts of awful side effects.
However, these should start to correct themselves as time goes on. As your hormonal balance is restored (estrogen goes down, testosterone goes up), you’ll feel like yourself again.
It is important that rest takes priority during your PCT, but you should also ensure that you continue to work out a little. This way, you can keep the gains. It will also help to stimulate testosterone balance a little. Don’t forget to continue with a decent diet too, again helping with testosterone production.
The Bottom line
If you take anabolic-androgenic steroids, then testosterone production will stop. The longer you take the steroids, the harder it is for your body to restore testosterone production when you stop taking them. This is why a PCT is important. A PCT will be a combination of drugs or supplements that can help to restore natural hormonal balance in your body.
This will involve lowering estrogen while increasing testosterone. The exact science will vary from product to product, but the goal is the same – block estrogen effects and increase testosterone effects. It is a process that takes weeks, sometimes months, but is essential when you finish taking steroids to ensure that you do not deal with any long-term effects.