What Steroids Do UFC Fighters Take and Why? (8 Most Popular)

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Are you wondering what steroids UFC fighters take and why they take specific kinds?

In this article, we’ll examine the most popular types of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDS) UFC fighters take and why they take them, based on the steroids for which most UFC fighters have been caught by USADA.

We’ll also look at some of the steroids UFC fighters take to avoid detection, as well as how UFC fighters decide what steroids to take.

If you’re skeptical as to whether UFC fighters take steroids, you can read our article presenting a list of 24 UFC fighters caught. It details the steroids they took, their suspension length, and their excuses if given.

What Steroids Do UFC Fighters Take and Why?

Since the UFC and USADA partnered in 2015, the steroids most frequently taken by UFC fighters are ostarine, stanozolol, clomiphene, testosterone, drostanolone, and dehydroepiandrosterone.

The prevalence of these steroids among UFC fighters is evidenced by the high number of fighters who’ve been caught and sanctioned by USADA for their use.

Other popular steroids taken by UFC fighters to avoid detection are human growth hormone (HGH), erythropoietin (EPO), and designer drugs. USADA has caught fighters taking HGH and EPO but at lower rates than the above steroids.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the steroids UFC fighters take and the reasons why they take them.

1. Ostarine

Ostarine, or enobosarm, is a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM), commonly used by elite athletes globally since 2017 as a performance enhancer.

Why do MMA/UFC fighters take ostarine?

Athletes, bodybuilders, and MMA/UFC fighters take ostarine for its ability to increase endurance, strength, bone density, and muscle mass, as well as speed up recovery after workouts.

Ostarine also aids fat loss and muscle retention when weight-cutting, and helps UFC fighters avoid water retention. This is important as fighters need to maintain a specific weight.

UFC fighters also take ostarine because it’s viewed as less serious than anabolic steroids. This makes them perceive it as a lower-risk option with potentially less suspension time.

The most common suspension length UFC fighters are given for taking ostarine is 6 months, but it ranges from 3 months to 2 years.

Also, SARMs are designed to mimic the effects of anabolic steroids without the commonly associated side effects. This includes liver damage, gynecomastia, acne, and suppression of natural testosterone production.

Since 2015, 22 UFC Fighters have been caught and suspended for taking ostarine. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

2. Stanozolol

Stanozolol, or Winstrol, is a synthetic anabolic steroid derived from dihydrotestosterone. It was developed by the American pharmaceutical company Winthrop Laboratories in 1962.

It’s used medically to treat conditions like anemia and hereditary angioedema but is also widely abused by bodybuilders and combat sports athletes for its performance-enhancing effects.

Why do MMA/UFC fighters take stanozolol?

The main benefit of stanozolol for UFC fighters compared to other steroids and PEDs, is its ability to provide significant increases in strength and endurance without causing water retention or significant weight gain.

Stanozolol is known for its ability to increase red blood cell production, which in turn increases hemoglobin. This improves the body’s oxygen-carrying capacity which helps the muscles and cardiovascular system work more efficiently.

Stanozolol also helps to increase muscle mass, reduce body fat, and speed up recovery from injuries and training sessions. This is important for fighters who train intensely twice or more daily.

Since 2015, 13 UFC fighters have been caught and suspended for taking stanozolol. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

  • Guido Cannetti (2017)
  • Amanda Lemos (2018)
  • Jessica Penne (2020)

Stanozolol was also a popular steroid taken by UFC fighters before the introduction of USADA. UFC Fighters caught before 2015 were Tim Sylvia (2003), Kimo Leopoldo (2004), and Cris Cyborg (2011).

3. Clomiphene

Clomiphene, or clomiphene citrate, is a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) used to treat infertility in women who don’t ovulate. 

Clomiphene is banned by WADA as an anti-estrogenic under the Hormone and Metabolic Modulators category.

Why do MMA/UFC fighters take clomiphene?

Clomiphene is also used off-label by MMA/UFC fighters for its ability to increase the body’s natural production of testosterone.

After completing a cycle of anabolic steroids, UFC fighters commonly experience a decrease in their natural testosterone production. To counteract this, they take clomiphene.

Additionally, clomiphene is taken post-steroid cycle because it possesses anti-estrogenic properties. This is crucial for preventing gynecomastia and other side effects associated with estrogen that can result from steroid use.

Since 2015, 11 UFC fighters (all male) have been caught and suspended for taking clomiphene. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

  • Jon Jones (2016)
  • Brock Lesnar (2017)
  • Roman Dolidze (2019)
  • CB Dollaway (2019)

Before the introduction of USADA, Chael Sonnen (2014) was also caught using clomiphene in a random drug test by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

4. Testosterone

The fourth most popular steroid UFC fighters take is testosterone, as well as two of its derivates, dehydrochloromethyltestosterone (DHCMT) and methyltestosterone.

All 3 are anabolic steroids but they have different chemical structures, properties, and side effects.

Why do UFC fighters take testosterone and its derivates?

UFC fighters take testosterone for increased muscle mass, strength, endurance, recovery, and overall fighting performance. Being a natural hormone, it may have fewer side effects compared to synthetic anabolic steroids.

UFC fighters take DHCMT for increased muscle mass and strength without causing water retention. Also, it has a lower risk of androgenic side effects like acne, hair loss, and prostate enlargement.

UFC fighters take methyltestosterone for increased muscle mass, strength, and aggression. They also take it because it can be taken orally, whereas most forms of testosterone need to be injected.

Since 2015, 10 UFC fighters have been caught and suspended for using testosterone. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

From around 2010 until its ban on February 27, 2014, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) was a widely used steroid in the UFC. Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Alistair Overeem, and Antonio Silva were a few fighters caught.

Essentially, these fighters could legally secure a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for TRT under the guise they had low testosterone. It was a complete farce and the UFC eventually caught on (or pretended they didn’t know before this).

5. Drostanolone

Drostanolone, or Masteron, is an anabolic androgenic steroid derived from Dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Why do MMA/UFC fighters take drostanolone?

UFC fighters primarily use drostanolone because it enhances force production, like increasing strength and aggression, without causing a significant increase in body weight and water retention.

This is crucial for fighters as it enables them to stay within their weight class while still enjoying the performance advantages.

Additionally, drostanolone is favored because it has anti-estrogenic effects, which are essential for avoiding gynecomastia and other side effects commonly associated with other anabolic steroids.

Similar to other anabolic steroids, drostanolone also aids UFC fighters in building muscle mass and speeding up recovery after workouts.

Since 2015, 7 UFC fighters have been caught and suspended for using drostanolone. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

  • Stefan Sekulic (2018)
  • Jorge Gonzalez Villa (2020)
  • Khalid Murtazaliev (2019)

Before 2015, Stephan Bonnar (2012) and Hermes Franca (2007) were caught and suspended for taking drostanolone.

6. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a precursor hormone produced by the adrenal glands, meaning it gets converted into other hormones such as testosterone and estrogen in the body.

DHEA is found in medications and supplements for conditions such as anorexia and depression. However, it’s considered a banned substance in and out of competition under the WADA category of Anabolic Agents.

Why do MMA/UFC fighters take dehydroepiandrosterone?

UFC fighters take Dehydroepiandrosterone to increase muscle mass, strength, post-workout recovery, fat loss, and bone health and density. It can also reduce inflammation in the body.

Research has also shown DHEA can improve mood, memory, and brain function. This may help UFC fighters with decision-making and overall performance during a fight.

As mentioned, UFC fighters may also take DHEA because of its legal status in many countries. It’s easily accessible, they can reap the benefits it provides, and if they’re caught they can argue the tainted supplements case.

Lastly, much like SARMs, DHEA has milder negative side effects compared to anabolic steroids, so it’s potentially used as a first-time steroid cycle for UFC fighters.

Since 2015, 6 UFC fighters have been caught and suspended for using dehydroepiandrosterone. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

  • Bobby Green (2022)
  • Ashlee Evans-Smith (2022)
  • Raquel Pennington (2021)
  • Lyoto Machida (2016)

What Steroids Do UFC Fighters Take Without Detection?

Photo by Ciro616161

The primary consideration for a UFC fighter when choosing a steroid is its detectability. Fighters aim to gain performance enhancements without the risk of being detected and suspended.

Below is a list of popular steroids among UFC fighters that are known for their shorter detection windows, resulting in fewer fighters getting caught.

1. Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that plays a key role in growth, body composition, cell repair, and metabolism.

Synthetic HGH is used medically to treat growth disorders in children and growth hormone deficiency in adults.

Why do MMA/UFC fighters take human growth hormone (HGH)?

The main reason MMA/UFC fighters take human growth hormone is because of its short detection window of a few hours to 72 hours, depending on the testing method, dosage, and route of administration.

Traditional testing methods, which measure the levels of HGH in the blood, have a very short detection window of only a few hours.

HGH is difficult to detect because it’s naturally produced by the body and the synthetic form is identical to the natural form.

The other benefits of HGH for UFC fighters are increased muscle mass, post-workout recovery, fat loss, and improved sleep quality.

Also, HGH doesn’t have androgenic effects as it’s not an anabolic steroid. This means it doesn’t cause masculinization in women or exacerbate male pattern baldness in men, among other negative effects.

Since 2015, 5 UFC fighters have been caught and suspended for using HGH and its derivatives. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

  • Mirko Filipovic (2015)
  • Chad Mendes (2016)
  • Gilbert Melendez (2020)

2. Erythropoietin (EPO)

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone produced by the kidneys that regulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.

Synthetic EPO is used medically to treat anemia and other conditions related to low red blood cell count. Since 2004, EPO has been on the WADA Prohibited List.

Why do UFC fighters take EPO?

UFC fighters take EPO to increase oxygen-carrying capacity and endurance. This increase in oxygen-carrying capacity can also help muscles recover more quickly from workouts or injuries.

EPO has been shown to increase maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) and time to exhaustion.

UFC fighters also take EPO because it has a short detection window. Urine tests can detect EPO use roughly two to four days after injection, which means UFC fighters can easily take it before any tests are done.

And while there’s a constant progression with tests able to detect EPO, some UFC fighters have used microdoses or newer forms of EPO (designer drugs) that are harder to detect.

Since 2015, 3 UFC fighters have been caught and suspended for taking EPO. The most notable UFC fighters caught were:

  • Gleison Tibau (2016)
  • T.J. Dillashaw (2019)

3. Designer Steroids

Designer steroids are created to avoid detection by doping tests. They’re designed to have similar effects to anabolic steroids but have a different chemical structure undetectable by standard tests.

There’s very limited data on the safety and efficacy of designer steroids, as well as the anti-doping testing methods for them.

The most known example of a designer steroid is tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), or ‘The Clear’. THG was considered the first designer steroid, created to beat anti-doping tests.

THG was undetectable by traditional testing methods until a whistleblower provided a sample to anti-doping authorities in 2004.

THG is believed to have a short detection time of 3 to 7 days, so it’s easy to see how designer drugs are likely to be rampant in sports, especially combat sports.

In terms of structure and performance benefits, THG is most similar to the anabolic steroid trenbolone, providing increased muscle mass, strength, and recovery.

Alongside THG, desoxymethyltestosterone (Madol) and norbolethone formed the first three known designer steroids. All three were identified as a result of anonymous samples, rather than anti-doping tests.

Here’s an image of the three, showing how similar yet different their chemical structures are.

Image by AnalyticalScienceJournal

Other examples of designer steroids include 1-testosterone (dihydroboldenone), methasterone, and trenbolone enanthate.

There are likely to be dozens of other designer drugs MMA/UFC fighters are using to avoid detection. These designer drugs are likely known only by each fighter’s doctor/pharmacologist.

How Do UFC Fighters Decide What Steroids to Take?

UFC fighters have professionally licensed doctors/pharmacologists advising them on what steroids and performance-enhancing drugs to take to meet their needs best.

Most anabolic steroids have a lot of the same benefits such as increased muscle mass, strength, aggression, and bone density, as this is the whole purpose of taking them.

However, UFC fighters also decide what steroids to take based on:

  • Short detection time: They’ll take steroids that aren’t easily detected by USADA testing because they pass through the body quickly.
  • Undetectable: Many UFC fighters take designer steroids as they offer similar benefits and are manufactured with the intention of passing USADA’s testing methods of known drugs.
  • Specific benefits: The steroid they take depends on whether they want to move up a weight class and pack on muscle mass, keep their weight low and increase strength and aggression, or other specific benefits.
  • Lower-risk steroids: Fighters may opt to take a specific steroid because it’s given lower suspension sentences. SARMs like ostarine generally result in shorter suspensions.
  • Tainted supplements claim: Fighters may opt to take steroids such as DHEA which are known to be in certain supplements. If caught, they can make the tainted supplements claim and have their suspension reduced or cleared.
  • Obscure steroids: UFC fighters may take their chances with lesser-known or obscure steroids, not on the drug testing radar or commonly tested for.
  • Availability: UFC fighters may opt for widely available steroids, either legally (as prescription medications or over-the-counter supplements) or illegally (through the black market).
  • Masking Agents: UFC fighters take certain steroids that pair well with masking agents. These are substances used to hide the presence of banned substances in the body, such as diuretics (furosemide).
  • Long-lasting benefits: UFC fighters may take steroids which have benefits lasting for long periods after the detection window has closed, which many steroids do.

The Bottom Line

So, ‘What steroids do UFC fighters take and why?’

The steroids most frequently used by UFC fighters, for which they have been caught and subsequently suspended, include ostarine, stanozolol, clomiphene, drostanolone, testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone.

UFC fighters consume these steroids to enhance muscle mass, strength, aggression, bone density, and recovery times, among other benefits.

Although these are the steroids for which most UFC fighters have been caught and suspended by USADA, there are other steroids used by UFC fighters that are more difficult to detect.

Some of the most popular steroids taken by UFC fighters for their shorter detection windows are human growth hormone (HGH), erythropoietin (EPO), and various unknown designer steroids.

USADA knows athletes will persistently explore all avenues to evade positive test results, making steroid drug testing a dynamic and ongoing game of cat and mouse.

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