Assuming you have read our Comprehensive Guide to Prohormones, you should now be in the position to make an educated choice about which prohormone is best suited to you depending on your personal circumstances. If you have not read this yet, we strongly advise you to do so before you proceed any further.
With that being said, it is curious how many people, having spent hours educating themselves as to the effects of different prohormones, fail to take the steps necessary to reap the maximum benefits from these powerful muscle building tools. Here we explore how you can utilise training, diet and supplementation to obtain the greatest possible benefit from your prohormone cycle whilst minimising any potential side effects.
What makes a prohormone cycle different?
Prohormones will act on your body in a number of unique ways, which means that simply training and eating as you normally would will cause you to miss out on many of the benefits prohormones have to offer. For a start, they increase protein synthesis in the body, which is the main mechanism by which they add muscle mass. They also:
- Increase carbohydrate storage
- Increase levels of growth factors such as GH, IGF-1, MGF, etc.
- Enhance creatine synthesis
- Lower cortisol levels
While protein synthesis is considered to be the most important mechanism for increasing muscle mass, all these actions have anabolic (muscle building) effects on the body. Prohormones also increase recovery rates from training, allowing us to train harder than before, and enhance neural drive, increasing our aggression and focus when performing athletic activity. This translates into increased strength independent of muscle growth.
This is an important point, which explains why we reserve the use of strength enhancing stimulants for post-cycle therapy.
On the negative side, prohormones have the potential to cause side effects related to excessive androgen levels, elevated levels of estrogens (depending on the type of prohormone taken), lowered cortisol levels, and actions on the liver and other organs.
So, bearing these things in mind, how does one go about maximising the benefits that prohormones have to offer while limiting their potential side effects?
Training is the area most commonly overlooked by those looking to optimise their prohormone cycles. Most people simply train in the same way on-cycle as they would off-cycle, but use the muscle and strength increases that they experience to push up their training weights. While taking prohormones it is possible to add strength rapidly on a weekly basis which is psychologically very satisfying. But is it the right thing to do?
To answer this, let us consider what would happen if you took this approach on a typical prohormone cycle of four weeks, increasing your training weights rapidly week on week. By the end of the prohormone cycle you would no doubt be left feeling very happy with yourself. But what happens next when you stop using the prohormones?
First of all, your testosterone levels will naturally decrease, making it much more difficult to build and maintain muscle mass. Even if you run our recommended post-cycle treatment method to the letter, some loss of muscle mass is still likely to occur. These lowered testosterone levels will also cause you to lose the psychological benefit of taking prohormones - enhanced neural drive, which is important for strength.
If you max out on training weights during your cycle you will struggle mightily trying to increase or even maintain the weights during the period that follows. This creates a very bad situation where you have both lowered testosterone levels AND decreased weights on the bar.
This combination would cause you to lose muscle mass even if you hadn’t just experienced a four week cycle of elevated androgen levels. To remedy this, it is recommended that you schedule your prohormone cycle for before you hit the heaviest weights in your training cycle. If you periodise your training, moving from lower weights and high reps to higher weights and low reps, you would be best off using prohormones while the training weights are light.
When you come off cycle, you can then lower the reps and increase the weight on the bar in order to keep the gains coming.
An option for athletes who do not follow a periodised training program but stick to a given set/rep range is to increase training volume whilst taking prohormones. The elevated recovery rates will permit you to increase both reps and sets if necessary, enhancing the anabolic effect on your muscle tissue. Then, when you come off, you can go back to your normal set/rep range (or even lower than usual during the first few weeks of post-cycle therapy AKA PCT) and increase the weight on the bar.
Physiologically, the heavier weight coming off will act as a signal to the body to keep the muscle mass that you have gained during the prohormone cycle. Psychologically, the ability to maintain and increase the weight on the bar coming off will lead to greater satisfaction, helping you to stay motivated and stick to your training.
Diet and nutritional needs
Given the ability for prohormones to rapidly increase protein synthesis it should be obvious that some major adjustments to diet are necessary in order to maximise your gains. Assuming most athletes eat around 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight a day, it is recommended that you double your protein intake while on-cycle to 4g per kg of bodyweight.
Ordinarily, this high level of protein consumption would have little to no benefit in terms of enhanced muscle mass. However, when taking prohormones, the body’s ability to utilise protein is dramatically enhanced to the point that it is considered essential to adopt what is by normal standards an ultra-high protein intake whenever a course of prohormones is undertaken. This provides the body with the building blocks necessary to grow muscle at a far greater rate than normal.
Your carbohydrate intake should be kept high while on-cycle with fats at a moderate to low level. Given the fat burning properties of prohormones, you can consume an excess of calories safe in the knowledge that, with a diet high in protein, they likely to be used to build muscle rather than fat. Those who are paticularly susceptible to fat gain may not want to increase their calories so dramatically, but for all athletes a high protein intake is necessary to obtain the maximum possible benefit.
It is recommended that prohormones are taken with food, preferably containing at least a little fat, to optimise absorption. Those who are particularly anal may wish to take them with grapefruit juice to maximise bioavailability, but this is not recommended as increasing bioavailability can also increase stress on the liver.
Coming off a cycle of prohormones, we encounter the same problem noted in the training section: a hormonal environment characterised by low testosterone. Elevated estrogen and cortisol levels in the post-cycle period are key elements that need to be brought under control to prevent muscle breakdown and an increase in body fat.
Even assuming that a supplemental PCT regime is being followed as outlined in our PCT article, it will still take a few weeks for the body to revert to homeostasis (the state in was in before the start of the prohormone cycle). During the PCT stage, it is important to remember that the body is set up to gain fat and lose muscle.
So what's the solution?
Although PCT supplements such as Lean Xtreme can help prevent fat gain by combating the cortisol rise that occurs, we are still going to gain fat if we carry on eating as we did during the prohormone cycle itself. Instead, calories should be cut to maintenance or slightly above – not so low that we put our body in a state where it loses muscle, but not so far above maintenance that we gain a large amount of body fat either.
As for the actual makeup of what to eat post cycle, protein intake can be reduced back to more normal ranges as excess protein will just be excreted or converted to glucose. Assuming our main goal is to retain muscle mass while avoiding fat gain, a diet higher in fats but relatively low in carbohydrates (around 100-150g a day) will help to protect our muscles from wasting away. The reason for this is that a higher fat/lower carb intake creates an environment of insulin resistance, which helps prevent muscle from being broken down.
As our PCT treatment article has already explored the use of supplements during the post-cycle stage, here we will only cover the use of supplements while on-cycle. The first thing to note is that when taking prohormones, all other ergogenic aids designed to boost performance should be stopped. This is not because they cannot complement a prohormone cycle, but because their use is better left for the PCT period when they will be needed to help offset the drop in performance that occurs post-cycle.
Rather than ergogenics, it is important to consider supplements whose primary function is to offset the side effects that prohormones can cause.
Our guide to prohormones gives a detailed breakdown of the actions of various products. Some of them convert to estrogen in some measure while others are hepatoxic (exert stress on the liver). All prohormones increase blood pressure and cardiac stress to some degree. Although these side effects may sound alarming, they are all things that can be combated with intelligent supplement use.
Anti-estrogen supplements such as Erase Pro and Triazole can help to resolve any potential issues arising from the conversion of certain prohormones to estrogen. Although they are usually reserved for the post-cycle stage, it is wise to keep them on-side during your prohormone cycle just in case estrogenic side effects arise.
Supplements such as Talos can help protect and regenerate the liver, lower blood pressure, normalise cholesterol and optimise general health in many other ways. In fact, some people suggest taking them off-cycle to maintain good overall health.
By now, I'm sure you appreciate that there is more to maximising the benefits of a prohormone cycle than merely taking the products according to the label and hoping for the best. Although even a poor training, diet and supplementation protocol will still deliver some measure of results, the effectiveness of prohormone cycles can be increased greatly with the careful application of the knowledge presented here. With this information, you can gain more muscle mass and drive strength and performance increases whilst limiting side effects during your prohormone cycle.