How to Optimise Prohormone Cycles
How to Optimise Prohormone Cycles
This article is intended to be read in conjunction with our Comprehensive Guide to Prohormones, as well as our guide on ensuring an Optimal Post Cycle Therapy and understanding can you stack SARMs and prohormones together?
Together these user focused guides allow an individual to make an educated choice about which prohormone is best suited to them and ensures they understand the factors involved in PCT that can make or break the effectiveness of a prohormone cycle.
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 PCT supplementation to obtain the greatest possible benefit from your prohormone cyle as well as what to use on cycle to minimise 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
- Enhance nutrient partitioning
- Enhance insulin sensitivity
- Improved ability to tolerate high work volumes
- Enhanced neural drive
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?
A training strategy to optimise gains on and off cycle
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?
The downsides of maxing in the gym using Prohormones
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. If you're wondering how to keep gains after a prohormone cycle, make sure you train smart year round.
A better way to train on Prohormone cycles
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.
At the same time, we should look to increase the overall volume of work we perform either by increasing the number of sets we perform and/or the frequency with which we hit the gym. In other words, if you are following a sample program like the one below you would make the changes indicated:
Week 1 – 3 sets of 15 off cycle>increase to 5 to 6 sets of 15 while on cycle
Week 2 – 4 sets of 12 off cycles off cycle>increase to 6-7 sets of 12 on cycle
Week 3 – 5 sets of 10 off cycle>increase to 8-10 sets of 10 on cycle
Week 4 – 6 sets of 8 off cycle>increase to 10-12 sets on cycle
While these are just a sample, the key principle is that on a prohormone cycle the best way to take the advantage of their benefits is to avoid weight increases despite the temptation to do that and instead rely on increases in training volume to get the type of gains that would cause overtraining normally.
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.
Adjusting training coming off-cycle
To recap, when we train on prohormones we need to increase reps and/or sets while avoiding increases in bar weight. When you come off cycle, as we discussed previously, you enter a hormonal environment which is the opposite of your body’s enhanced capabilities on a prohormone cycle. In fact, you enter a situation where your recovery ability is severely compromised compared to your baseline recovery capacities before using prohormones.
This is the time when we need to reduce training volumes significantly to both enable our post-cycle bodies to recover better and to also take advantage of an overcompensation effect to fully realise the benefits of the high volume approach we took on cycle.
At the same time, coming off cycle is the perfect time to increase the weight on the bar as it is the weight on the bar that is the primary signal to the body of the amount of muscle mass needed.
Therefore, during PCT we should increase the weight on the bar, reduce the number of reps and also the number of sets. By doing this it should be possible to not only exceed the weights being lifted during the cycle but allow us scope to make continued gains in strength for the 3-4 week period needed until our body is back to its pre-cycle levels of anabolic and catabolic hormones.
In short, 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.
Adjusting diet on-cycle
When it comes to prohormones, we have already noted that they are capable of increasing both protein synthesis and also carbohydrate storage. At the same time they also lower cortisol, and enhance nutrient partitioning while increasing skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity. Together, this gives us a number of clues as to how we should approach diet when running prohormones.
Calorie Intake - Given the body composition enhancing properties of prohormones, you can consume an excess of calories safe in the knowledge that, with a diet high in protein, they are likely to be used to build muscle rather than fat. Those who are particularly 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.
Protein Intake - Given the ability for prohormones to rapidly increase protein synthesis it should be obvious that some major adjustments to your intake are necessary in order to maximise your gains. Assuming most athletes eat around 1.5-2g of protein per kg of bodyweight a day, it is recommended that you double your protein intake while on-cycle to 3-4g 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.
Carbohydrate Intake – While the increasing popularity of lower carb diets is a trend that seems to see no end, your carbohydrate intake should be kept high while on a prohormone cycle given the combination of improved glucose management and nutrient partitioning available to a prohormone user.
Regardless of how well your body may respond to carbohydrates normally, by failing to increase your carbohydrate intake on cycle you are making a mistake that will limit your ability to maximally benefit from the potential muscle gains available to you on cycle. Remembering that carbohydrates enhance muscle cell volume, boost vascularity and nutrient delivery, act as a preferred energy source for the body, and also act in a muscle sparing capacity, a higher carb approach while on a prohormone cycle is required to gain the maximal benefits from a prohormone cycle.
Fat Intake – We would advise everyone to stick to a predominantly high carb/high protein and low to moderate levels of fats with the fat intake being focused around essential fatty acids like fish oils.
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.
Adjusting diet during PCT
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.
Calorie Intake During PCT - 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.
Protein Intake During PCT - Protein intake can be reduced back to more normal ranges as excess protein will just be excreted or converted to glucose. There is no advantage to the supra-physiological protein intakes we consumed during a prohormone cycle in PCT but it is absolutely critical we do not reduce protein too low.
Amino Acids to Maximise Anabolism -There is some research discussed in our Interview with Layne Norton that shows that if we consume approximately 5-8g of BCAA or EAA’s between meals (two hours before and after meals), then this can spike protein synthesis further than simply eating more protein. Indeed, this is a viable option for bodybuilders regardless of whether they have come off cycle or not, and can be employed at any time but its value will be particularly high during the post cycle period.
Carbohydrate and Fat Intake During PCT – 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. Given we are also not eating a huge amount of calories it should not be an issue for those worried about fat gain and in fact many individuals may find this type of dietary approach as optimal under ordinary circumstances (ergo, before the use of prohormones).
Essential supplements on-cycle
As our Post Cycle Therapy 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 including prohormone pros and cons (including prohormones side effects). 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 Alchemy 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 Cycle Guard Elite and TUDCA Elite and other cycle support supplements 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.