The objective of anabolic steroid therapy (when nonmedical applications are involved) should be to elicit the desired benefits with the lowest cumulative exposure and side effects. This normally includes diligence with optimizing all aspects of training, rest, and diet, as well as adhering to a Post-Cycle Therapy (PCT) program at the conclusion of each steroid cycle. One the one hand, we want to make each cycle as productive as possible. On the other, we are striving to retain the most gains so the starting point for the next cycle is that much further along. When all aspects are in check, the result should be a need for lower total doses, fewer cycles (longer durations of abstinence), and shorter durations of use oncycle. Given the importance of retaining our muscle and performance gains, however, our efforts in this regard should not conclude with Post-Cycle Therapy. Indeed, to receive the greatest long-term benefits from anabolic/androgenic steroid therapy it is also advisable to initiate an Off-Cycle Therapy (OCT) program when the PCT is over. The focus of OCT is typically to use all natural substances (dietary supplements) that favor muscle retention, while simultaneously allowing general physiology and hormonal balances to return. While it is fair and even advisable to approach dietary supplements with a healthy level of scepticism, the field has legitimately advanced enough that we do have products with tangible value. We can find ways to make our programs more effective in the absence of pharmaceuticals. A well-organized OCT program lasts a minimum of six to eight weeks, and consists of three distinct components. The first is “Testosterone Support,” which seeks to extend an effective PCT program, but with a different and much more basic approach. The second part is “Muscle Cell ReSensitization.” Heavy training disrupts the muscle cell membranes, so that the muscles become less responsive to exercise stimulation. We want to address this during OCT, and prime the muscles for the next bout of intense training. Lastly, we want to include one or more natural muscle-building substances in the program. This part is called “Anabolic Supplementation”. If the right products are used, distinct anabolic/anti-catabolic effects should be noticed, and more muscle mass will be retained in the long run. All three OCT components are taken simultaneously, sometimes for the full period between the end of PCT and the start of the next AAS cycle.
Part I: Testosterone Support
The testosterone support aspect of our OCT program is substantially different than what is used during traditional PCT. We are no longer looking to aid endogenous testosterone production with anti-estrogenic drugs like tamoxifen or clomiphene, nor to use pharmaceuticals that mimic endogenous luteinizing hormones such as hCG. All pharmaceutical strategies have been concluded at this point, and hopefully have elicited the necessary effects. During OCT, we want to provide our bodies some of the natural components used in the synthesis of testosterone. We want to augment our own natural processes, not artificially shift them.
The first thing to pay special attention to during OCT is our vitamin and mineral status, particularly those components that are integral to testosterone biosynthesis. This includes Vitamin D, Calcium, and Zinc. To begin with, clinical studies have shown that higher levels of Vitamin D in the blood are associated with increased testosterone output. Thus, supplementing Vitamin D may be advantageous during the long OCT period, when you will be relying solely on your natural testosterone for the hormonal support of anabolism. Calcium is another nutritive component involved in hormone function, especially the level of bioavailable (free) testosterone. A dose of 500-1,000 mg daily may be useful if dietary sources are insufficient. Lastly, a small dose of zinc may also be taken if needed, as this mineral again is tied to androgen biosynthesis.361 Any deficiency in zinc will likely translate into suppressed (sub-optimal) testosterone output.
D-aspartic acid (DAA) may also be useful during OCT. DAA is an amino acid that is naturally found in the nervous and endocrine systems, and is believed to play roles in such things as neurotransmission, spermatogenesis, and hormone biosynthesis. Clinical studies that gave 3.2 g/day of D-aspartic acid per day (as sodium salt) to healthy men resulted in a 42% increase in serum testosterone levels in most subjects.362 This same dose is recommended during OCT.
Part II: Cell Re-sensitization
Repeat high intensity exercise, especially resistance training, causes disruption of the muscle cell membranes. This disruption is in many ways desirable, as it is needed to initiate muscle growth and repair. Without damage, there is no progress. There are some negatives to regular disruption of the muscle cells, however. One of the most fundamental is that the outer membranes of the muscle cells (which consist mainly of fatty acid compounds called phospholipids) are rearranged. In particular, the concentration of arachidonic acid (ARA) is lowered. ARA supports the local anabolic process. 364 Likewise, its depletion is one of the common factors in training stagnation.
To help replenish membrane phospholipids and restore muscle cell responsiveness to training, arachidonic acid should be supplemented during the OCT period. A daily dose of 250 mg is recommended, which represents 50-100% of the normal daily dietary intake of ARA. This amount should be sufficient for phospholipid replenishment, and acceptable for long-term use. Higher doses (500-1,000 mg per day) may provide a more distinct musclebuilding effect, but should be limited to six to seven weeks.
It may also be useful to supplement with fish oil during the OCT period. The main interests are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), two Omega-3 essential fatty acids that are also important constituents of muscle cell membrane phospholipids. Additionally, studies suggest that Omega-3 essential fatty acids may enhance the membrane storage of arachidonic acid under some conditions, and thus may indirectly support the proanabolic effects of this EFA. A daily dose of 2 grams of fish oil is typically recommended during an Off-Cycle Therapy program
Part III: Anabolic Supplementation
An optimal Off-Cycle Therapy program should also include natural products with anabolic/anti-catabolic properties. Many AAS users are skeptical of muscle-building supplements, and rightfully so. The market can be very unreliable, with even the best products falling far short of AAS in terms of efficacy and reliability. Still, the field has progressed a great deal over the years, and there are many products of tangible value. And even a partial muscle sparing effect during the OCT period is highly desirable, as it can significantly alter the baseline muscle level by the start of the next steroid cycle (and thus may influence the timing, dose, or duration of AAS required). It is recommended to limit supplementation to only those ingredients with proven anabolic effects in humans. For a more detailed analysis of natural anabolic supplements, please reference William Llewellyn’s Sport Supplement Reference Guide.
Creatine monohydrate is regarded as the “original” anabolic supplement, as it was the first to offer substantial performance and body composition improvements for most users. It is typically taken for 8-12 weeks or longer (sometimes throughout the entire OCT period), at a dose of 5 grams per day. Creatine augments muscle size and performance through several distinct mechanisms. The two most prominent are cell volumization (water retention) and cell energy enhancement (cellular ATP resynthesis), although the supplement also has direct protein synthetic and anti-catabolic properties.
Beta Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that serves as a direct precursor for carnosine synthesis. During exercise, hydrogen ions are produced in the muscle cells, which cause the pH level to drop. This precipitates muscle fatigue. Carnosine acts as an intramyocellular buffering agent, countering the build-up of hydrogen ions. By serving as the rate-limiting step in the synthesis of muscle carnosine, beta-alanine is a strong stabilizer of muscle pH. A dose of 3-6 grams per day is typically used, which should allow the individual to perform measurably longer during training. While this may not be a direct anabolic effect, over time the increased training stimulation can lead to greater muscle preservation/gains.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
There are three essential Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are very abundant in skeletal muscle protein, accounting for 14- 18% of the total content. Supplementation with BCAAs is desirable for a couple of reasons. The first is that they provide integral building blocks for the synthesis of new muscle protein. From a nutritive standpoint, BCAA supplements are very useful. Moreover, BCAA appear to directly stimulate muscle cells to synthesize and retain protein. They are, in fact, among a small selection of clinically validated anabolic supplements in humans. A dosage of 10 grams per day (post-training) is most often used.
Typical OCT Program (8-12 Weeks)
Vitamin D 3000 IU/day
Calcium 500 mg/day
Zinc Sulphate 250 mg/day
D-Aspartic Acid 3.2 g/day
Muscle Cell Re-sensitization:
Arachidonic Acid 250 mg/day
Fish Oil 2 g/day
Creatine 5 g/day
Beta-Alanine 3-6 g/day
BCAA 10 g/day
Wlliam Llewellyn (2011) - Anabolics