Do Performance Enhancers Destroy Your Chances of a Healthy Recovery?

shutterstock_109886555I received a couple of inquiries from members of the Spiritual Adrenaline community asking if I recommend any performance enhancement drugs and if any of those drugs were consistent with the basic principles of recovery and the twelve steps. Let me share one of the inquiries with you:

“Long story short, recently I wanted to add more muscle and help myself to heal from a tendon injury and I considered using a performance enhancing drug. Besides the fact that it’s illegal, I have been wrestling with my sobriety over this, trying to reason that its o.k. I FINALLY came to the right conclusion that it is NOT o.k. Whew, what a great feeling to have that weight lifted. I feel like I dodged a bullet! So, my question to you/your community is how can a sober person maximize muscle gains. Are there any products that will aid all the hard work in the gym and the clean eating, products that don’t compromise integrity?” T.J.

T.J. made the right decision, but many, including me, have not been so smart. Here’s my take on performance enhancing drugs and sobriety, my experience and my recommendations to add mass in a natural and sustainable manner.

It’s Just Chasing Another Drug

It is inconsistent for a person in recovery to use any performance-enhancing drug as part of an exercise or overall fitness program intended to promote well-being and relapse prevention. Once we start down the road of using these types of drugs, it becomes just chasing another high. How big can I get if I take it? If one injection or one pill gets me pumped, maybe I’ll try two, or three, or six, or one hundred. Since one will never be enough, one will always guarantee trouble in the long-term. I think once we start the journey down that road, it will lead us to places we do not want to go. Sound familiar? Does to me.

My Experience

For the first three years in recovery, I was absolutely opposed to trying any type of performance enhancing drug as part of my training. In 2014, guys at the gym where I worked out encouraged me to try out competing and I decided to do it. I competed for the first time in the summer and fall of 2014. I was one of the “smallest” competitors in my age group. The league I competed in does not test competitors, and so some people are natural and others enhanced. In 2015 I decided to compete again. During training, I got frustrated after seeing other competitors getting really big while I was able to add just a little mass. I am 48 years old and often forget that. For 48, I was pretty damn good. However, I became so frustrated that I decided to try something called “Deca.” Deca is a steroid that you can purchase on the Internet. Keep in mind that at this time I was eating almost exclusively natural foods, exercising every day and otherwise living completely clean and naturally.

I decided to try Deca just a week-and-a-half before I was to compete on August 1, 2015. I figured I was too small to win or place at that show, but if I started to take the steroids in July 2015, I might be big enough to do well at a show called the Brooklyn Classic in October 2015. So with one week left to train for the August show, I started taking Deca. Within a couple of days, I couldn’t feel my private parts. That is commonly known as “Deca Dick.” It was weird but that was a side effect I was aware of and willing to “suffer through” to gain mass. A few days later, things got much worse.

The Negative Side Effects of Drugs

My mood went from happy and optimistic to loathing myself and hating my life. I woke up in the middle of the night and had the worst nightmares you can imagine. I kept picturing myself lying in a gutter half dead and people walking by without caring. I couldn’t sleep and the nightmares continued throughout the day. It was awful and I really considered getting some Jack Daniels to help me pass out so I could sleep. But since I valued my sobriety so much, that was not an option. I decided I had two real options: check myself into the hospital and just tell them what I had taken and that I was having these terrible dreams, or drive up to visit my family and stay with them until things got better. I knew getting out of my apartment and New York City was for the best, so I drove upstate. I also decided that I would drop out of the contest because I felt so awful.

Being with my family helped quite a bit. I told my Mom and other family members what I had taken and why. I explained how awful I felt. My Mom and I barbequed and, as usual when I go to my parents’ home, I felt wonderful and slept like a baby. As I hadn’t taken Deca for more than 24 hours, it left my system and I woke embarrassed about what I had done, but was otherwise feeling great. My Mom and I discussed the competition, which was only a week away, and she talked me into not dropping out. I headed back to New York City, finished my training and competed on August 1, 2015. The interesting thing was that, once the drugs were out of my system, I knew in my heart that I truly wanted to compete.

I returned to New York, finished my final preparation and competed in the Tri-State Championships in Medford, New Jersey on August 1, 2015. I won in my age group at that competition.

Believe in Yourself, Not the Drug

I admit I made a big mistake when I got caught up in what is commonly known as “compare and despair.” First of all, I forgot that I live as a sober person, and that includes living clean in all of my affairs. I was too focused on what others were doing, or what I perceived them to be doing, than what I was doing and my own achievements. I looked and felt better than I ever had in my entire life up and until the time I put the pills in my mouth. What is even more remarkable is only four short years before, I was very sick and actually wound up in rehab. Irrespective of what others were doing, I was doing incredibly well, achieving great results and I should have been enjoying my success and accomplishments. It really reinforced the merit of the principle that I must find happiness within myself. If I look externally, to others and what they are doing, I will never be happy.

I competed in one competition in 2016 and came in fourth. Just being there was winning in my book. I plan to continue competing naturally into my fifties, as I love the discipline it requires and the people I meet as part of the process.

So What Can You Do to Add Mass Naturally

Here are my recommendations on healthy and recovery-consistent ways to add lean muscle naturally.

1. Eat healthy and varied protein sources such as chicken breast, fish and lean meats.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can replace those recommendations with beans, nuts and certain green vegetables. There are lots of plant based protein powders available to help vegetarians/vegans add lean muscle mass.

2. Carbs are not the enemy but a friend, and are absolutely necessary to add lean muscle mass. Muscle needs two things to grow: protein and glucose. Carbs are sugars which break down into glucose. Too many people self-sabotage their workouts by denying their body the carbs needed to gain muscle. Don’t be one of them.

3. If you are looking to maintain your current muscle mass, try to eat 1 gram of protein/1 gram of carbs per pound. If you are looking to add muscle mass, try to eat 2 grams of protein/2 grams of carbs. These are just general rules. I recommend speaking to a sports nutritionist about what is best for you based upon your health history and your goals.

4. Time your meals to maximize your workouts. You will want to make sure to eat around your workouts. To add lean muscle, make sure to get a combination of carbs and protein into your system almost immediately after working out. Immediately after your workout, and for about another hour afterward, is the time that sore muscles are craving what they need to grow: glucose and protein.

5. To maintain rather than lose muscle overnight as you sleep, drink Casein protein immediately before going to bed. This type of protein breaks down slowly and helps maintain muscle mass overnight while you are sleeping and not eating.

6. If you are looking to stimulate production of growth hormone naturally, you may want to try L’arginine. L’arginine stimulates the production of hormones that in turn stimulate the production of growth hormone. L’arginine works for some, but not all. I had no success with L’arginine but many others do. Give it a try and see if it works with your body’s chemistry.

7. Form is critical, and without the proper form you can workout all day long but not see the results you are looking for. You may also injure yourself, which can set you back for months if not years. Thanks to the trainers at David Barton Gym at the Limelight in New York City, we have a whole series of videos on our Recovery Exercise page that demonstrate proper form for most of the popular upper body workout postures.

8. Lift less weight with more repetitions. Lots of folks will disagree with this statement and say, “more weight fewer reps.” I am writing this blog for folks just getting started in training. I am interested in people avoiding injury and remaining able to train in a long-term sustainable manner. That’s why I advocate lifting less weight for more reps. This way, you will see growth and add muscle but greatly limit your risk of injury that could set you back. Everything we do in Spiritual Adrenaline is intended to be sustainable. We aren’t looking for massive short term gains that are almost impossible to sustain. We are looking for long-term, sustainable growth.

9. Respect your body and let it rest. The proper amount of sleep and rest days are critical. Unless you permit your body to heal through rest, you may actually self sabotage. Without rest and repair, the body has an incredibly hard time, and you may actually lose muscle mass and set yourself up for a serious injury. My recommendation is to try to get eight hours of sleep as often as possible and rest every three to four days, depending on the intensity of your workouts. Your rest day is a great time to do yoga and stretch out not only your muscles, but ligaments and tendons. This will help to avoid injury. Lastly, yoga enhances your ability to get fresh oxygen to the muscles that need it.

We would love to hear your experience or thoughts on this post or others. Email me at



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