Why bodybuilders take big risks for a bigger body

Twice a week, he injects steroids into his shoulders or buttocks, so that he can keep up with younger men at the gym. Even potential health risks can't stop this 50-year-old dispatch rider and father of three from spending $1,000 a month on steroids and supplements.

He admits it's about the "Battle of the Bulge".

In bodybuilder Mohamad's world, size, strength and that "Mr Universe" chiselled figure are all that counts.

Even if it means taking the path which, Mr Mohamad says, most bodybuilder's will not admit to - cheating with steroids.

Steriod consumption itself is not a crime but selling it without a licence is.

Yes, these are the same banned substances that put Singapore Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation chief Rano Izhar in the the spotlight when he admitted "teaching" a fellow athlete how to use steroids.

But Mr Mohamad, who didn't want to give his full name, was nonchalant, saying "it's no big deal".

Dangers of steroid use include high blood pressure, lower immunity and higher blood sugar levels which can lead to diabetes.

He's been jabbing himself twice weekly for the last 20 years and he claims it works.

He shows us why: Pushing back one sleeve of his T-shirt, he proudly flashes an envious 18-inch bicep, the size of a young adult's thigh.

He then lifts his T-shirt to show rock-solid, well-defined abdominal muscles.

As he does this at a crowded fast-food restaurant, three teenagers are busy trying to take pictures of MrMohamad discreetly.

He laughs it off.

Says the dispatch rider: "If I had only known it was this easy, I would have started using steroids earlier.

"I was often puzzled how bodybuilders, who just began in the sport, could miraculously attain that amazing physique in six months."

'Being clean a waste of time'

'Being clean a waste of time'

And like most newbies today, he started by simply asking the "orang lama" (veterans in Malay) at the gym.

They showed him the ropes.

"In this line, we have to cheat," says Mr Mohamad, 50, a father of three teenagers.

"If you don't, you can never get the kind of hard body that you see in overseas competitions. I realised I was wasting my time when for 10 years, since 1979, I was clean of any steroids."

He said his body developed too slowly then.

Mr Mohamad took part in a regional bodybuilding competition once. His workouts now are for recreational purposes.

He admits he now uses steroids progressively to keep up with the young ones at his gym. "You must know the limit or else bad things can happen," he says.

Each week, he alternates the use of two steroids, Deca-Durabolin and Stanozolol, to build body mass, muscle growth and stamina during workouts.

Each 10ml bottle of the steroids can cost between $150 and $250, he says without elaborating how he got them.

On average, he spends more than $1,000 on protein supplements, steroids and fat-free food each month.

He declines to reveal how much he earns each month but says he takes care of his family first before spending on himself.

How long each cycle lasts depends on how much steroid he injects his body with each time. A 1.5ml shot of Deca-Durabolin can stretch his 10ml supply close to two months.

He says, pointing to his arms and shoulders: "You're not going to find any needle marks on my body. I add vitamin B-complex so that my skin remains smooth."

Since steroid use is discouraged in gyms, Mr Mohamad, who is often called "The Doctor" among his circle of bodybuilders, seldom jabs himself at the gym.

50% of bodybuilders on steroids

Half of bodybuilders on steroids

He jabs himself on his shoulders or buttocks in the privacy of his room at home.

Ask him how rampant steroid abuse is in the gym scene, and Mr Mohamad doesn't flinch when he replies.

"It's 50-50," says the man, who goes to the gym three times a week.

"Half the people at the public gym I attend use them.

"But the percentage would increase if the other 50 (per cent) finds out how easy it is to obtain them (steroids) and benefit from them."

He claims that he is frequently approached by junior bodybuilders who want the same results.

They want the youthful "30-something" looks and body he possesses.

He claims he discourages the use of steroids among the younger bodybuilders, saying: "I tell them they are young. You can count on a young body's natural ability to grow. I don't have that luxury any more."

But there are no short cuts, especially in this sport, says Mr Kevin Chiak, Mr Singapore 2010.

It's simply seen as cheating.

The 46-year-old told TNPS: "The authorities should be strict on steroid abuse here as I feel the game should be clean."

Mr Chiak feels not everyone seems to be aware of the dangers of steroids abuse. Yet, its use is spreading to even recreational gym-goers.

Anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs are substances controlled under the Poisons Act here.

People caught peddling steroids without a permit have been punished with huge fines.

Competition on who has the 'better body'

Competition on who has the 'better body'

While doping is not done in the open, it's not hard to tell the users apart, says MrMohamad.

Steroid users at the gym tend to have that "brute aggression".

"Bodybuilders, who are not on steroids, can't last that long (during their workouts)," he says.

"Those who use steroids are usually stronger."

He cited himself as an example. The 1.6m tall and 72kg Mr Mohamad can bench press more than 90kg.

"That's more than my weight," he adds. "And my workout lasts close to four hours."

Although, he shapes up for recreation, the atmosphere at the gym is brimming with testosterone and rivalry.

Every workout feels like a competition of who's got the better body, he says.

"You have young guys who are three times bigger than you and can lift heavier loads for prolonged periods," says Mr Mohamad.

"Of course, you don't want to lose face. When you age, your testosterone level drops and without proper training and the occasional help from steroids, you will not be able to maintain your figure or take the 'burn' during workouts."

Mr Mohamad claims he has never felt any side effects.

"The way to avoid the side effects from steroid use is to not stop working out," he says.

"The worst I have heard was from a friend who suffered rashes and erectile dysfunction. But it all went away after he stopped using steroids."

Other former bodybuilders like Mr Deep Singh, in his 30s, said his first brush with steroids was enough to discourage its use.

It led to hair loss and "pimple like growth" on his back.

zaihan@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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