"To be, or not to be" is the famous opening line of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. And in the fitness world, we could say something like “to be natty, or not to be natty.”

However, that's not the only dilemma gym-goers are facing, especially those who aren't experienced.

Many wonder whether muscle-building supplements are the same or similar to steroids and if they will stop being natty due to the consumption of protein, pre-workout, and creatine.

I intend to put that discussion to bed once and for all in this article.

Pre-workout supplements do not count as steroids. They are fundamentally different in terms of composition, purpose, and effects on the body.

Here's why.

Pre-workouts are typically blends of stimulants and other compounds designed to boost energy, focus, and endurance in the short term.

Steroids, conversely, are synthetic variants of the male sex hormone testosterone, designed to promote muscle growth by mimicking the effects of naturally produced testosterone in the body. Also, the primary goal of pre-workouts is to enhance immediate workout performance.

On the other hand, steroids promote muscle growth, increase strength over a more extended period, and expedite recovery. As for the effects, pre-workouts’ are temporary and will generally wear off within a few hours. They also do not induce long-term physiological changes in muscle tissue.

On the contrary, steroids have long-term effects. Their use significantly increases muscle mass and strength, enhances endurance, reduces fat, and improves recovery. 

However, they can also result in various side effects, including hormonal imbalances, liver damage, cardiovascular issues, and behavioral changes. But there’s also the matter of rules and regulations.

Most pre-workout ingredients are legal and allowed by sports organizations like World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).[1] Still, checking specific ingredient lists is essential. 

For example, there are DMAA pre-workouts, such as Dark Energy pre-workout, which are prohibited in professional sports.

Also, some products, like we saw in our review of Bucked Up pre-workout, include deer antler velvet extract, which has IGF-1. While not a steroid, IGF-1 can be flagged by certain organizations.

Anabolic steroids, on the other hand, are controlled substances in many countries, including the U.S., and are banned by most professional sports organizations due to their potential for misuse and the health risks they pose.

In summation, mainstream pre-workout products, such as C4, Gorilla Mode, DSN, and Transparent Labs BULK, are generally safe for adults, legal, and are not considered steroids.

Man about to consume C4 Pre-Workout Supplement

Do Pre-Workouts Have Similar Side Effects As Steroids?

Will pre-workouts act as a steroid-like supplement? No, they don’t. Side effects of most pre-workouts are limited just to beta-alanine tingle and caffeine jitters.

On the other hand, steroids may cause various dangerous medical conditions, both physical and psychological. It is important to know that steroids and anabolic steroids are not the same.

However, the term steroid is often used for medicines that are actually anabolic steroids, so I want to clarify things.

Steroids Vs Anabolic Steroids

Steroid, or corticosteroid, is an umbrella term for anti-inflammatory medicines, and most of them do not cause significant side effects. They are often prescribed.

Unlike steroids, anabolic steroids have limited medical use and are primarily used as performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

They are banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), as well as in most, if not all, pro sports leagues.

As discussed earlier, anabolic steroids have similar effects as testosterone, a male sex hormone, and therefore affect natural testosterone levels, which may lead to shrunken testicles, among other things. Infertility, erectile dysfunction, hair loss, gynecomastia, increased risk of cancer, and acne are just some of the frequent side effects.

Many pre-workout supplements are advertised as testosterone boosters, but they cannot affect testosterone levels the way anabolic steroids can. Pre-workouts contain zinc and some other natural testosterone boosters.

Still, the difference in the amount of free testosterone in the blood before and after consumption is very small, so consequently, there are no side effects.

Related Article - Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne?

Legal Supplements That Are Closest To Steroids

No legal supplement can cause changes in your body, both positive and negative, like anabolic steroids.

Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) have the most similar anabolic properties as steroids but with fewer side effects. However, SARMs are also banned, so you can't use them and compete in official competitions.

So-called legal steroids or workout steroids are becoming more and more popular for increasing muscle mass and to improve strength training results. Still, legal steriod is just a fancy name for a mix of minerals, vitamins, and similar substances.

Fortunately, many natural supplements will help you with building lean mass, focus, endurance, pump, energy, and busting through the gym plateau without causing health problems.

I will mention the supplements that work best, and we should not forget BCAAs, mass gainers, and fat burners as well.

Related Article - BCAA Vs Pre-Workout


Pre-workouts combine many different ingredients, the most common of which are caffeine, beta-alanine, L-citrulline, and betaine anhydrous.

In addition, they often contain BCAAs, creatine, and many other herbs and proprietary blends. Each of these ingredients should help you get through your workout.

For example, caffeine gives you energy and focus, L-citrulline is a vasodilator – substance that stimulates nitric oxide production thus improving blood flow and muscle pumps, beta-alanine reduces fatigue, and so on.

Whey Protein

Protein is a molecule made up of amino acids and is one of the three macronutrients. It is essential for many functions in the human body, one of which is building muscle mass.

Whey protein powder is the best option because you will find all nine essential amino acids in it.[2] Vegan proteins have an incomplete amino acid profile and are, therefore, inferior to whey.

Whey protein is best in combination with a proper diet, so pay attention to what food you eat on a daily basis.

Creatine Monohydrate

There are different types of creatine, but I usually recommend creatine monohydrate to my clients since most clinical trials have been conducted on it. Creatine monohydrate, in general, is one of the most comprehensively researched supplements.

It will help you build muscle mass faster by improving your strength and physical performance. That is what every gym-goer hope to achieve.

Inform your doctor if you are using creatine monohydrate because an elevated creatinine level can be a sign of kidney disease.[3]


Every time I buy a new pre-workout, I find at least one herb I've never heard of.

Almost every herb is generally safe and is not a banned substance. Still, it is questionable whether those herbs really help you reach your fitness goals or are beneficial during exercise. That's why you should stick to Ashwagandha, black pepper, and green tea.

They improve our immune system and recovery, accelerate the absorption of nutrients, and even boost testosterone secretion.

Man Mixing Pre-Workout And Creatine

Pre-Workout Supplements If Taking Steroids

Although the side effects of Deca-Durabolin, Anadrol, Winstrol, and other anabolic steroids are well-documented, a large number of amateurs and professionals still decide to take them orally and intramuscularly.

I strongly advise you against doing that, but if you decide to do that anyway, you have to be extra careful. Many ingredients found in pre-workout supplements speed up your heartbeat, while testosterone and other anabolic steroids tend to thicken your blood.

You don't have to be a cardiologist or a medical expert to understand that such a combination is potentially fatal.

Frequently Asked Pre-Workout And Steroid Questions

Are pre-workouts considered a drug?

No, pre-workouts are not considered a drug, but you may notice that some of them contain a banned ingredient called DMAA.

What are some common non-natty substances in bodybuilding?

Anabolic steroids, insulin, DHEA, and human growth hormone are the most common non-natty substances in bodybuilding. Research showed that consuming steroids brings risks that far outweigh the benefits.

Do natural bodybuilders use pre-workout frequently?

Yes, pre-workouts are part of the everyday routine for most natural bodybuilders and athletes.


Even though the FDA does not regulate the supplement industry the way they do with the pharmaceutical industry, you can be sure that they would step in if a certain pre-workout is deemed unsafe.

To put it in perspective, pre-workout supplements are legal to buy in the United States, even if you are under 18.

I certainly wouldn't recommend pre-workouts to minors, but it is an excellent indicator that confirms the safety of products available on the market.

So if you are taking supplements reasonably, there is no reason to worry about your health or is pre-workout a steroid. However, drug tests, in case you are an athlete or employee, are often subjected to testing.

And my final advice is to resist the temptation to use steroids. Although steroids are a shortcut to big muscles and improved sports performance, that is the only advantage.

These drugs are also a shortcut to oncology and other hospital wards.


1. https://www.wada-ama.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/2022list_final_en.pdf
2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whey-protein-101#protein-and-bcaa
3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15273072/

Miloš Lepotic

Miloš Lepotic

Miloš loves three things - science, sports, and simplicity. So, what do you get when you put the three together? A no-BS guy that's all about efficient workouts and research-backed supplements. But he also thinks LeBron's the greatest ever, so...