Mixed Martial Arts & Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)

Success in any sporting event is determined primarily by genetic endowment in combination with a training regime aimed at maximising trait potential.

Therefore, an individual’s athletic realisation and success is determined by the interaction of innate ability and environmental factors including training structure and nutritional strategies.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of the most demanding sports on the planet in terms of the mental and the physical toughness and ability required to compete at any level. Every competitor requires an extremely high level of physical and psychological conditioning. 

As the sport has evolved into a serious profession; training regimes have become increasingly more challenging and demanding on athletes’ muscles, joints, and both mental and physical powers of recovery.

Back when I really started to get into the UFC, top MMA fighters such as Tito Ortiz claim to train for up to eight hours a day, seven days a week (Tito claimed this on one of the videos that was made about his training fight-camp). Although good genetics, sound nutritional strategies and training periodisation will help, this would only be possible with an extremely low training intensity and freakish genetics; or with the assistance of illegal ergogenic aids. 

Today USADA has made it much more difficult to get away with taking PEDs, as Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar have found out! Back in the day, it’s claimed by many that all Pride & UFC fighters were on the ‘Mexican supplements’ (as Joe Rogan likes to call them!). However, it is claimed that many BJJ competitors are ‘juiced up to the eyeballs’.

As a consequence of this, many athletes have either chosen or been pushed in the direction of performance enhancing drugs, simply to maintain their ability to compete. Anabolic steroids, amphetamines and insulin are but a few of the cocktail of drugs that appear to have taken a strong hold within the realms of professional Mixed Martial Arts.

MMA, like many forms of sport; has become a mainstream form of entertainment. Millions of fans follow the sport and demand to see the highest quality of performance, athleticism and skill each time fighters enter the cage.

MMA fighters are under increasing pressure to be leaner, faster and stronger, for longer periods of time. It has come to a point at which this is only possible when athletes are assisted via illegal ergogenic aids. The drug problem is heightened by the fact that sports governing bodies either can not afford to drug test their athletes, or do not want to through fear of impairing athletic performance and entertainment.

It is believed by many that drugs are a big part of sport, and the recent scandals with THG and American baseball are only the tip of a substantial iceberg. MMA is certainly no different, as highlighted by the positive drug tests of Tim Sylvia and Josh Barnett. 

One of the most difficult aspects of MMA is its demands on all aspects of fitness and human athletic performance. Not only does a fighter have to be strong and powerful, but he has to be fit enough to maintain this power and strength for up to five rounds of five minutes.

This becomes problematic when one considers the fact that endurance training hinders adaptation to strength training and vice versa. It is extremely difficult to train and improve every aspect of fitness; recovery becomes extremely hard and muscles and energy systems struggle to adapt to several overloads at once.

This can be overcome to a certain extent by using periodisation, however using performance enhancing drugs can be seen as a much easier way overcome the problem. 

Anabolic Steroids in MMA

Anabolic steroids come in dozens of forms, each with its own specific properties that vary according to type and manufacturer.

All steroids have different side effects, or at least differing degrees of side effects and also different performance enhancing properties. Steroids can be distinguished, to some extent, by placing them into groups according to their effect upon the body. Very roughly speaking Androgens exert some kind of masculinising physical effect on the body.

This includes muscle growth, but often results in side effects such as increased aggression, water retention and hair growth. Anabolics primarily promote muscle growth, but can cause other side effects such as joint pain due to reduced water content in the joint capsule, and a reduced sex drive. Most steroids have both properties but the anabolic/androgenic ratio differs significantly. 

Which ever steroid/s a fighter will take will be, or at least should be very specific. A fighter’s physical and psychological profile, along with his/her goals and competitive schedule should be taken into account when contemplating a steroid cycle. Many MMA fighters will want to gain muscle mass, where as many others will want to increase strength as much as possible, without adding any body weight, or improve their cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Each steroid cycle undertaken by a user, takes into account a fighter’s periodisation of training.

For example, if a fighter has set aside six weeks to increase endurance while maintaining strength and power, then he/she may choose to undertake a cycle that includes Equipoise (EQ) whilst avoiding heavy androgenic steroids such as Dianabol which elevates blood pressure dramatically. 

As mentioned earlier each steroid has different potential benefits and different side effects. One of the biggest considerations for a person taking these drugs will be whether to use injectable or oral steroids. 

Oral steroids, are often used simply because they are easier to administer. However, these steroids, especially 17aa steroids, are extremely liver toxic (hepatotoxic).

After the tablet is consumed it travels through the body, to the liver. The liver detoxifies substances that the body takes in, and artificial hormones are no exception. This detoxifying process places undue stress upon the liver, which can result in cysts and tumors.

For this reason alone, fighters usually do not use oral steroids for longer than five weeks at a time. If a fighter insists on taking tablet form steroids, then there are several precautions that should be taken. Supplements such as alpha lipoic acid, milk thistle, selenium and green tea extract can help reduce any toxic damage caused by steroid consumption. However, drinking large amounts of water remains the most important factor in protecting the liver whilst taking oral steroids. Refraining from alcohol consumption, goes without saying. 

Due to liver toxicity and also because of the greater choice, most fighters who choose performance enhancing drugs will tend to use injectable steroids. Obviously, the dangerous aspect of using these drugs is the actual administration. If any oil gets into a person’s blood stream it can result in stroke, heart attack or brain embolism. In addition if the injection procedure is not sterile then infection can occur; an abscess will form and amputation of muscle may be necessary if it is not treated in time.

The danger of infection is heightened greatly with water based steroids such as Winstrol. Drug enhanced fighters, also have take care to not to let any air travel into the blood stream from the barrel of the syringe. This is also a potentially fatal occurrence. It is because of these dangers, that it is crucial that a fighter has done a lot of research before considering any steroids or any performance enhancing drugs. 

Probably the most well known and popular injectable steroid is Deca Durabolin or Deca Nandrolone; having reached fame thanks to the famous athletes that have been caught taking it. This drug may be favored by some MMA fighters because of its ability to reduce joint pain.

The drug causes additional synovial fluid to be secreted within the joint capsule, which reduces pain and gives lubrication to injured joints. This is of massive importance to all athletes, but especially in MMA where injuries are so frequent and training is so intense. 

On the downside however, the water retention that aids synovial fluid production also causes extra weight gain and increased blood pressure, leading to reduced endurance. This steroid is one of the few that does not convert to the hormone DHT and therefore does not cause hair loss, not important in fighting, but something drug using fighters may still want to consider.

Like most steroids there is a risk of gynaecomastia (development of breast tissue). However, Deca causes a proportional increase in (aromatises) progesterone (female hormone), so drugs such as Proviron or Armidex are required to prevent the side effects that a rise in progesterone can cause. Gynaecomastia is more often caused by the increased levels of oestrogen in the blood stream following the administration of androgenic steroids, and Nolvadex can be used to treat or prevent it.

Armidex and Proviron are also strong anti-oestrogens but are also very effective at combating progesterone induced gyno’. The use of Winstrol is also an effective method of controlling progesterone-induced gyno, as it is an anti-progestagenic. 

Heightened progesterone levels can also have a negative effect upon sexual function. ‘Deca-dick’ is frequently reported by steroid users. This can again be combated, to some extent by using the drug Proviron, although drug using fighters often choose to take Deca with Testosterone in order to maintain sex drive. Finally, Deca is also renowned for being extremely suppressive of endogenous testosterone production.

Therefore it is not something to be used without due consideration and research. This steroid could be used by a MMA fighter when he/she is looking to gain mass and strength, and is months away from a fight. Users should also consider that the drug can be detected from a urine test for up to two years following a cycle. 

One of the most popular drugs amongst MMA fighters is Trenbolone (Tren). This drug has a reputation for being very effective in increasing strength, power and aggression without a massive increase in bodyweight. When taken correctly, Tren is capable of producing small, easily-maintainable, quality gains. Because this steroid is highly anabolic, very little of the mass gained is due to water retention. Therefore a large portion of the gained mass is retained after discontinuation of the product. 

Tren can be taken alongside several strong androgenic steroids for mass gains. A fighter could stack it with drugs such as testosterone or Dianabol. These androgenic steroids help to produce gains in mass, where as Trenbolone acts synergistically causing severe strength gains maximise the overall increase in muscle mass and strength. 

Some MMA fighters may use Tren as it can help to reduce body fat, very important when trying to make weight. Body-fat percentage when cutting would drop regardless, simply because of the lean mass gain made while no extra body-fat is deposited. However studies have shown that Trenbolone can help reduce body fat independently of this. If taken alongside Clenbuterol body fat drops rapidly thanks to the increase in metabolic rate and the solid muscle mass gains. This results in a significant strength gain in relation to body weight, a crucial aspect of conditioning for fighting in the cage. 

Despite the fact that Tren is up to four times as anabolic as most testosterone esters, some users who inject it will still experience androgen related side effects such as increased acne and prostrate hypertrophy. Tren still activates the androgen receptor and therefore fighters who take it should anticipate a number of problems. Tren also enhances strength and muscle size by increasing satellite cell sensitivity to an increase in Insulin-like growth factor and Fibroblast growth factor. This results in much greater protein synthesis allowing larger amounts of nitrogen to be retained by the body, thus creating a more anabolic environment. 

The Trenbolone that circulates within the black market today is very different from the veterinary steroid Finajet, which was popular amongst body builders in the 1980s. Finajet contained Trenbolone acetate, which was a very fast acting form of this drug. The Tren that is used today by some MMA fighters, contains a much different ester which extends the activity of the drug for more than two weeks. This is an advantage to drug enhanced fighters, in that injections are less frequent, however, it is also a disadvantage as the drug can be detected in the body for longer after the last injection. 

Tren is a favorite amongst some MMA fighters because it produces massive strength gains, with minimal increases in body mass. However, other androgenic steroids such as Dianabol may be used by MMA fighters due to its short half life (can not be detected after a few days) and because of the mass gains it can produce. This steroid has been around for many decades and was used to great effect by Russian weight lifters back in the 1970s.

Dianabol, has a very strong anabolic and androgenic effect which manifests itself in an enormous buildup of strength and muscle mass in its users. The additional body weight consists of a true increase in tissue (hyper-trophy of muscle fibers) and, in particular, in a noticeable retention of fluids. 

Because Dianabol’s half life time is only four hours (approximately), dosages are split up throughout the day. Tablets normally come as 5mg, and it is normal to take two of these three or four times a day. Fighters usually take this drug during meal times as well, in order to avoid any stomach pains that have been associated with its administration. Dianabol is normally out of the blood stream and beyond detection after three days, but this depends on the manufacturer. The fighter, however, should not proceed under the assumption that a urine test will be negative since the elimination of the metabolites of the substance Methandrostenolone through the urine continues much longer. 

The reason why Dianabol works well for MMA fighters is that endogenous cortisone production is reduced by 50-70%. Thus, Dianabol considerably slows down the rate at which protein is broken down in the muscle cell and enhances recovery greatly. Recovery is a massive problem for MMA fighters who train for many intense hours. Any drug that can enhance recovery is a massive advantage in the cage-fighting game. 

Unfortunately however, Dianabol has many side effects and so dosages are often kept relatively low (less than 25mg a day). Since Dianabol is 17-alpha alkylated it causes a considerable strain on the liver, even if a small dosage is consumed. Fighters who take these drugs need to be aware of this and should have liver enzyme values checked at regular intervals. Another problem with Dianabol, is that it causes a rapid increase in body weight due to high water retention. High blood pressure and a faster heartbeat can also occur. Fighters may consume Nolvadex and Proviron to reduce water retention further, but the problem can not be eliminated completely. 

Dianabol is often taken at the start of a cycle since it is so fast acting. It is combined with injectable drugs, and Dianabol is simply the kick-start to get the cycle working as quickly as possible, whilst the injectable is taking effect. This drug promotes drastic protein synthesis, enhances glycogenolysis and stimulates strength in a very direct and fast-acting way. However, Dianabol is not ideal for MMA fighters in that it can actually reduce endurance due to increased bodyweight and blood pressure. Like Deca, Dianabol is usually taken during a strength or bulking stage of training and away from a competition. 

Testosterone – is another steroid that is popular amongst some MMA fighters. There are many different types or esters – prop, cyp, suspension and enanthate are just a few. They all have slightly different properties. Prop for example is very fast acting and as such would be useful for drug tested fighters as it does not remain detectable for long. However, one disadvantage for the user of this is that more frequent injections are required, and painful injection sites are not ideal during training. Another product called Sustanon tends to incorporate a number of different testosterone esters and therefore has the properties of all. 

Each Sostanon 250 ampule contains the following: 
Testosterone propionate 30 mg 
Testosterone phenylpropionate 60 mg 
Testosterone isocaproate 60 mg 
Testosterone decanoate 100 mg 

250 mgs. / 1 cc. vials or preloads. Sostanon 250 is one of the most widely used steroids and for good reason. It is precisely set up to give the fighter results for up to a month after injection because each of the testosterones that make up Sostanon 250 stay active in the body for differing time periods. It gives the fighter almost instant results that they can feel since it will hit \them about three hours after the first injection. The reason for this is the fast acting properties of the testosterone propionate that is in it. The testosterone phenylpropionate and Testosterone Isocaproate will typically stay active for about two to three weeks each and the Testosterone Decanoate stays active in the body for upto a month. 

Sostanon is highly anabolic as well as highly androgenic. This makes it a favorite of those trying to bulk up and gain size and weight. The typical side effects can include acne, water retention, excitation or increased aggressiveness, sleeplessness, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, hypertension, prolonged blood clotting time, increased libido. Females have reported: menstrual irregularities, post-menopausal bleeding, swelling of the breasts, hoarseness or deepening of the voice, enlargement of the clitoris, and water retention. Men have reported: cases of impotence, chronic priapism, epididymitis, inhibition of testicular function, oligospermia, and bladder irritability. 

TRT stands for Testosterone Replacement Therapy. TRT is basically a smaller dose of a steroid, such as Testosterone Enanthate, that raises testosterone levels to those seen in a healthy 20-30 year old male. Many people who are on TRT now, need it because they abused steroids in the past.

If you take steroids for extended periods of time, or on a regular basis – you will be unable to produce testosterone yourself as soon as you stop – or at least, you will produce significantly less than you should. This will mean you will have to take some kind of steroid for the rest of your life, unless you want the testosterone levels of a 5 year old!

This down-regulation of natural-testosterone production, and the very real risk of infection from injecting steroids from ‘underground labs’ (usually someone’s garage), are the 2 main reasons to stay away from steroids – unless you can afford a private doctor!

Anabolic Steroids Side Effects

The main problems however tend to be acne, hair loss, prostrate enlargement and testicular atrophy. Vitamin B5 is effective in acne treatment, DHT inhibitors will help with hair loss, Saw Palmetto (a herbal remedy) will help prevent prostrate trouble and HCG can be used to maintain testicle size. It is important to remember however that these supplements can help reduce side effects, but do not eliminate them completely. In addition, drugs such as HCG carry their own serious side effects, and it is not advisable to take one prescription drug to enhance performance, but three or four is even more dangerous! Some individuals have report flu like symptoms at the start of a cycle. These symptoms include a higher than normal fever, stomach aches, being tired, etc. however, these side effects tend to go away after a few days . 

Other effective steroids that MMA fighters have considered using are Anavar and Equipoise. Anavar is considered a weak steroid, but is renowned for producing gains in strength without water retention or many side effects. It is also effective at increasing muscular endurance in that small doses of this drug massively increase ATP and Creatine phosphate levels within the muscle cell, giving greater recovery and explosive power and strength. 

Equipoise is a veterinary steroid that is effective due to its ability to increase red blood cell count. Endurance can be massively increased by this highly anabolic drug. If a fighter chooses to take this drug, then, as with all cycles it must be followed with post-cycle-treatment. Drugs such as HCG and ‘Clomid’ need to be taken to increase endogenous testosterone production once more, and prevent gains from being lost. The dosages and timings of the administration of these drugs will depend on the cycle that was undertaken by the fighter. 

Another nasty side effect of taking steroids is they often convince the user to get terrible tattoos and share lion memes on social media

Quote from anonymous user

In conclusion it can be seen that although steroids may be effective at enhancing performance, they are extremely dangerous and their administration can result in instant death. There is no safe way of taking these drugs, as the only way to prevent side effects is to take even more drugs which can damage long term health even further. If longevity in the sport is your aim, they stay clean, and more importantly stay healthy. In my opinion, a fighter can take no pride from winning, if he/she is dependent on drugs in order to train and perform. 


Selective Androgenic Receptor Modulators (SARMs) are the new kid on the block in terms of PEDs. They are designed to specifically target receptors that build muscle & bone density; and it is claimed therefore, that they don’t have the same side effects as steroids. They are legal but banned by every sports organisation that I’m aware of.

SARMs can be purchased legally online. However, as the industry is very much unregulated at present, lots of the SARMs on the market contain no actual SARMs, or smaller quantities than stated on the label. Some have been found to contain steroids.

SARMs can suppress testosterone production from the testes, but less so than steroids. They can help prevent injuries by increasing bone strength and connective tissue. They also help to speed up recovery between MMA and S & C sessions. See our full article on MMA recovery here.

They are currently considered research chemicals and not suitable for human consumption – as nobody know the long term side effects.

SARMs are relatively weak compared to steroids, however they can be effectively used to maintain muscle mass, whilst in a calorie deficit – when for example, attempting to make weight for a fight.

They are still dangerous however and there are no long term studies to confirm there safety.

Click here to see a research paper on SARMs in terms of medicinal use (usually at small dosages!)

Click here to see a log about the SARM called ostarine

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for entertainment purposes only. Drew Griffiths completely condemns the use of steroids in sport. This article was produced upon the editor’s request and was constructed by the author solely through research, and not first hand experience. It is very dangerous to take any drugs without a prescription. Many of the substances named above are illegal and banned from sporting competitions. The use of Steroids or performance enhancing drugs to give yourself a sporting edge over other athletes is highly unsportsmanlike. 

For safer ways to enhance recovery – see our MMA Recovery article here

See our Targeted Ketogenic Diet Plan here

About Drew

MMA, Fitness & Marketing enthusiast from North Wales, UK. A Stoic Hippy with no hair. Not to boast but - 1st Class Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, MSc in Nutrition from the University of Liverpool. 20 years experience of weight & fitness training.
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