How Do UFC Fighters Get Away With Steroids? (6 Methods)

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UFC fighters are subject to strict anti-doping policies. The UFC has partnered with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) since 2015 to implement a comprehensive anti-doping program and will continue with Drug Free Sport International in 2024.

This program includes random drug testing, both in and out of competition, education programs for fighters, and strict penalty violations.

Despite this, there are 6 main ways UFC fighters get away with steroids, and in this article, we delve into each.

How Do UFC (MMA) Fighters Get Away With Steroids?

UFC (MMA) fighters get away with steroids by micro-dosing, avoiding testing, using steroids with short detection windows, using designer steroids that are hard to detect, and using masking agents that hide their presence.

Let’s take a look at each of the ways in more detail.

1. Micro-Dosing

Micro-dosing involves taking steroids in extremely small, carefully calculated doses that are designed to be below the detection threshold of drug tests. This method is one of the most effective ways athletes evade detection. 

By administering small doses, the substance is more likely to clear out of the system before a drug test is conducted.

Commonly Micro-Dosed Steroids and Substances

  • Testosterone: One of the most commonly micro-dosed steroids. It’s used for its muscle-building and recovery-enhancing properties.
  • Erythropoietin (EPO): Although not a steroid, EPO is often micro-dosed for its endurance-boosting effects.
  • Growth Hormone (GH): Used for its muscle-building and recovery properties.

Dosage and Administration

The exact dosage for micro-dosing varies and is often determined through trial and error. It’s typically a fraction of a therapeutic dose.

For example, if the therapeutic dose of a steroid is 50mg per week, a micro-dose might be as little as 5-10mg. However, these numbers can vary widely from fighter to fighter.

Athletes who engage in micro-dosing often rely on expert advice from doctors or pharmacologists. Most fighters receive guidance from coaches and their teams, who are complicit in helping them get away with taking steroids.

Micro-Dosing and Random Drug Testing

The key to successful micro-dosing in the context of random drug testing is understanding the drug’s detection window – the time it remains traceable in the body.

For instance, if a steroid has a 48-hour detection window, an athlete might take a micro-dose immediately after a drug test, hoping that the substance will clear their system before the next test.

However, this is an extremely risky strategy, especially with the UFC’s rigorous and unpredictable testing schedule. USADA can conduct tests at any time, without prior notice.

Risks and Challenges

Micro-dosing isn’t foolproof. Advances in drug testing technology are continually reducing the detection thresholds, making it harder to get away with even minute amounts of banned substances.

The practice requires precise knowledge of pharmacokinetics (how the drug is metabolized in the body) and pharmacodynamics (the drug’s effects on the body), which varies from fighter to fighter.

While micro-dosing might seem like a way to gain an edge without getting caught, it’s a dangerous game of cat and mouse with anti-doping agencies.

2. Designer Steroids

Designer steroids are chemically modified versions of known anabolic steroids, specifically engineered to evade detection by standard drug tests.

Designer steroids are formulated by altering the molecular structure of known steroids. These modifications can change how the steroid is metabolized and excreted, making it harder for standard tests to detect them.

The goal is to retain the anabolic (muscle-building) effects while minimizing the molecular signatures that drug tests look for.

Examples of Designer Steroids

  • Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG): Also known as “The Clear”, THG gained notoriety in the early 2000s. It was undetectable by standard tests until a specific test was developed after its discovery. THG is believed to have a short detection time of 3 to 7 days, making it a preferred choice for athletes looking to avoid detection.
  • Desoxymethyltestosterone (DMT): Known as “Madol”, this steroid was part of the BALCO scandal. It’s structurally similar to other anabolic steroids but was specifically designed to be undetectable at the time.
  • Norbolethone: Another steroid that came to light during the BALCO scandal, initially developed in the 1960s but never marketed. Its structure made it difficult to detect initially.
  • Other Examples: 1-testosterone (dihydroboldenone), methasterone, and trenbolone enanthate.

Alongside THG, desoxymethyltestosterone (Madol) and norbolethone formed the first three known designer steroids. 

All three were identified as a result of anonymous samples sent in, rather than anti-doping tests.

This proves how effective designer drugs are and shows why the majority of UFC fighters are likely using them. 

They simply have to front a few thousand dollars to a knowledgeable doctor or pharmacologist, who will help them pass any drug tests.

Detection and Testing

Anti-doping agencies continuously update their testing methods to detect new designer steroids. As soon as a new compound is identified, tests are developed to detect it.

This creates a constantly evolving battle between drug testers and those attempting to create new undetectable substances.

3. Masking Agents

Masking agents are employed in an attempt to conceal the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). These substances can complicate the detection of PEDs during drug testing by various means.

1. Diuretics

What They Are: Diuretics are substances that increase urine production. By doing so, they dilute the urine, which can lower the concentration of PEDs and potentially bring them below detectable levels.

How They Work: Diuretics work by prompting the kidneys to excrete more salt and water. This process not only increases the volume of urine but also can disrupt the balance of certain substances typically measured in doping tests.


  • Furosemide: A potent diuretic known for its strong urine-producing effects.
  • Hydrochlorothiazide: A milder diuretic, often used in medical settings for treating high blood pressure but can also dilute urine.
  • Canrenone and Spironolactone: These are potassium-sparing diuretics, which increase urine production without the excessive loss of potassium, a key electrolyte.

Counteracting Dilution: Athletes using diuretics might also take vitamin B12 to restore the natural color of the urine. 

Overly diluted urine can appear suspicious to testing authorities, prompting retests. Vitamin B12 can help mask this dilution effect.

2. Epitestosterone Supplements

What They Are: Epitestosterone is a natural steroid that is chemically similar to testosterone but has no known anabolic effects.

In normal physiology, testosterone and epitestosterone are present in a specific ratio, which is often measured in doping tests.

How They Work: By supplementing with epitestosterone, an athlete can maintain a normal testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio even when using exogenous testosterone, thereby masking steroid use.

Examples: Synthetic epitestosterone preparations are used to adjust this ratio in the body artificially.

3. Probenecid

What It Is: Probenecid is a medication traditionally used to increase the concentration of certain drugs in the blood for medical purposes.

How It Works: It inhibits the kidneys’ ability to excrete certain substances, including steroids. This reduced excretion can lower the concentration of steroids in the urine, making them harder to detect.

4. Other Chemical Interferents

What They Are: These are compounds that directly interfere with the chemical analysis process in drug testing.

How They Work: They can alter the pH or other chemical properties of the urine sample, disrupting the normal detection methods used in doping tests. 

This can include substances that change the acidity or alkalinity of the urine or introduce compounds that interfere with the testing reagents.

4. Timing and Using Steroids With Short Detection Windows

In the UFC, where drug testing is random and can occur 365 days a year, fighters attempting to use steroids face the significant challenge of evading detection. 

Despite the unpredictability of testing, some may still try to time their steroid use, often relying on substances with short detection windows.

Strategic Timing of Steroid Use

Post-Test Usage: One approach might involve using steroids immediately after a random drug test, under the assumption that another test won’t occur immediately. This is a risky strategy given the random nature of testing.

Pattern Recognition: Some fighters might attempt to discern patterns in testing, such as times of day or specific periods when tests are less frequent.

UFC bantamweight Chito Vera claims USADA only tested UFC fighters between 6 am and 6 pm. This presents a 12-hour time frame where fighters can take steroids or PEDs that have short detection windows.

Steroids with Short Detection Windows

The key here is using steroids that are metabolized and excreted from the body quickly, reducing the time frame during which they can be detected.


  • Testosterone Suspension: This water-based testosterone has a very short half-life and can clear the system in as little as 1-2 days.
  • Trenbolone: While potent, certain forms of trenbolone can have a relatively short detection window of approximately 2 weeks.
  • Oral Turinabol: This steroid can be detectable for up to a month, which is shorter compared to some other steroids.
  • Anavar (Oxandrolone): A mild steroid with a detection time of about 3 weeks.
  • Winstrol (Stanozolol): An oral steroid with a detection time of about 3 weeks.
  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Short detection window from a few hours to 72 hours, depending on the testing method, dosage, and administration route. HGH is particularly challenging to detect because the synthetic form is identical to the natural hormone produced by the body.

The detection times for steroids and substances like HGH, as previously mentioned, are based on average dosages. When athletes engage in micro-dosing, these detection windows can be significantly shortened. 

While it’s challenging to quantify the exact reduction in detection times due to variables like individual metabolism and the specific substance used, micro-dosing can potentially reduce the detection window to a fraction of the average time.

In some cases, this approach might decrease the detection period to such an extent that the substance is undetectable within 12 hours or less.

Risks and Challenges

Advanced Testing Methods: USADA’s testing methods are continually evolving, with the capability to detect even minute quantities of banned substances and to identify markers indicative of steroid use.

Athlete Biological Passport: This tool monitors selected biological variables over time, potentially revealing the effects of doping even if the specific substance is not directly detected.

5. Testing Evasion

Some UFC fighters resort to outright evasion tactics like whereabouts failures and refusal to provide samples as a means to avoid being caught for steroid use.

This approach involves deliberately avoiding drug tests, a clear violation of anti-doping policies, and has led to many UFC fighters being suspended or even outright banned.

1. Whereabouts Failures

Strategy: Athletes enrolled in USADA’s testing pool are required to provide accurate whereabouts information for out-of-competition testing. 

Some fighters might use whereabouts failures strategically, failing to update their location or providing inaccurate information at times when they’re using steroids or PEDs.

Consequences: While 1 or 2 failures might not immediately lead to a suspension, accumulating 3 whereabouts failures within 12 months is considered a violation and results in a suspension.

This method might delay or avoid a positive test, but it still carries significant risks, including the possibility of a suspension.

However, many UFC fighters have likely received 2 whereabouts failures in 12 months to take steroids and get away with it.

Example: In 2017, Nick Diaz was suspended for 1 year after receiving his third whereabouts failure in 365 days. This is the only UFC example.

2. Refusal to Provide Samples

Only 1 UFC Example: Wanderlei Silva evaded a drug test by leaving his gym when officials arrived for a random test. This direct evasion is a more serious offense than whereabouts failures.

Consequences: While such actions can prevent the immediate detection of steroid use, they often lead to severe penalties, including lengthy suspensions. 

However, as in Silva’s case, it can prevent the athlete from being definitively labeled as a steroid user due to the lack of a positive test.

3. Last-Minute Location Changes

Tactic: Fighters might report sudden, unexpected changes in their training location or provide inaccurate location information, making it difficult for testing authorities to conduct random tests.

Use: This tactic could be used to create a window for steroid or PED use without incurring a whereabouts failure, especially if the reason for the location change appears valid.

6. Using Steroids That have Long-Lasting Benefits

Another way UFC fighters get away with steroids is by using steroids and PEDs that have long-lasting benefits, way after the last time they took it.

In this way, UFC fighters get away with steroids because they’ve retained benefits and are no longer in danger of being caught by anti-doping tests.

Enduring Physiological Changes

Myonuclei Density: Anabolic steroids can increase the number of myonuclei in muscle cells, crucial for muscle growth and repair. 

This increase is believed to be permanent, meaning that the muscle-building benefits from a steroid cycle could persist long after the drug has been cleared from the system.

Muscle Memory: Steroid use enhances the body’s ability to quickly regain muscle mass and strength, a benefit that can persist due to the lasting increase in myonuclei.

Increased Bone Density and Size: Steroids can lead to increased bone density and size, which are critical for overall strength and durability.

Cardiovascular Adaptations: Certain steroids and PEDs like EPO can lead to long-term improvements in cardiovascular efficiency and endurance, which may persist even after cessation of use.

Hormonal Changes: Prolonged steroid use can lead to lasting alterations in the body’s hormonal balance, which may affect muscle mass, fat distribution, and overall metabolism.

Examples of Steroids and PEDs with Long-Term Benefits

  • Anabolic Steroids: Substances like Dianabol, Deca-Durabolin, and Trenbolone not only promote significant muscle growth during use but may also contribute to lasting muscle density improvements.
  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Known for its role in muscle growth and fat loss, the benefits of HGH, such as increased muscle cells, can persist, providing a long-term advantage in physique and recovery capacity.
  • Erythropoietin (EPO): While primarily used for its endurance-enhancing effects, the cardiovascular adaptations from EPO use could lead to long-term improvements in aerobic capacity.
  • Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs): Compounds like Ostarine and Ligandrol mimic testosterone’s effects, potentially leading to sustained muscle mass and strength gains.

The Bottom Line

This article has outlined the primary ways UFC fighters may use steroids and evade detection, including micro-dosing, designer steroids, masking agents, strategic timing, and utilizing substances with long-lasting benefits. 

These methods highlight the ongoing challenge of maintaining the integrity of the sport.

It’s important to recognize that the world of performance-enhancing drugs is continuously evolving. 

New doping methods and substances are constantly being developed, necessitating relentless advancements in anti-doping testing and strategies. 

While this overview is comprehensive for the current landscape, the future may bring new challenges in detecting and preventing steroid use in UFC, especially since the UFC has parted ways with USADA.

Ensuring fair competition in UFC requires a collective effort from all involved parties and a commitment to adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of performance enhancement. 

The integrity of the sport depends on this ongoing vigilance. However, steroids and PEDs will always be part of the UFC and MMA because they work and there’s money and status on the line.

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