If you’re someone who uses (or is thinking of using) anabolic steroids purely for personal reasons to enhance performance and your physique, you will be in the majority. Only a very small percentage of steroid users will ever be at risk of testing; these are the competitive athletes and bodybuilders.
A common assumption is that you only need to be aware of the half life of a steroid to work out how long it can be detected through drug testing. But the steroid’s half life is only one small factor, and not necessarily a very important one!
Evidence of steroids can linger in your body for considerably longer than its half life would suggest, and it’s the processes which cause the steroid to remain detectable long after you’ve stopped using it that you need to be aware of.
So if there’s any chance now or in the future that you could be tested for steroid use, or if you simply want to have a good understanding of the testing process and how steroids are detected (which is recommended regardless of whether you compete or not), then keep reading because I cover all the most important things you need to know about steroid detection times and how testing works.
Author’s Note: The following guide is based on my personal experience and does NOT promote the illegal use of steroids (PEDs).
How Steroid Drug Testing Works
To put yourself in the best position to avoid landing in trouble if you intend to use steroids and enter any sort of competitive events, understanding the basics of how steroid drug testing works is vital.
This also includes being aware of all the main factors that will affect the detection times of anabolic steroids, because these can be surprisingly long and well beyond what you might expect.
There can be a lot of misunderstanding about how drug testing for steroids and performance enhancing drugs works. Many assume that it’s a simple matter of supplying a urine (or blood) sample, having the sample sent off to a lab and being put through a machine that can magically detect any and every substance.
Fortunately for athletes and bodybuilders, but not so fortunately for anti-doping authorities, it is far from such a straightforward and basic process.
Anabolic steroid testing requires the resources of humans all along the chain of testing – from the initial sample gathering, right up to the lab testing process and analyzing results. This means it’s a resource intensive and expensive process, and it’s also at risk of human error at any point along the way.
Testers will usually test for all known steroids, but if resources are limited then only the most commonly used steroids will be tested for.
Because the testing itself has to target a specific steroid, the process needs to be inclusive of every possible steroid if they are to cover all bases.
One method that some athletes have taken over the years is to use lesser known or very obscure steroids and other performance compounds which may not (yet) be on the drug testing radar. Put simply: the drug testing process can not find a steroid which it does not know exists.
But when it comes to the most commonly used steroids, these will always be picked up in drug testing where metabolites remain in the body.
One of the difficulties in testing for anabolic steroids, as opposed to recreational drugs, is that hormones like testosterone and DHT are found naturally in the body.
Effective performance drug testing therefore needs to be able to differentiate between the normal presence of steroid hormones, and those that exist as a result of exogenous steroid use.
While this might be relatively easy to detect in females who have naturally very low levels of testosterone, in male users it needs to be undertaken more carefully to avoid false positives.
Like all areas of medicine, advances in performance drug testing is constantly ongoing and under research. This brings about new techniques that may or may not become standard and widespread in drug testing around the world. What does this mean for you as a steroid user who competes? That you can’t assume one year to the next that the same avoidance strategies will work.
Some of the more recent advancements in anti-doping testing that labs have developed or are developing include gene doping tests, retroactive liquid testing, and long term metabolites.
With some bodies like the Olympic authorities able to store samples for a decade, retroactive liquid testing has been able to retest older samples and inadvertently bring back positive steroid results for tests that, in the past, came back negative.
The more advanced scientific analysis methods now available is what made this possible – and it sends an alarm out to anyone who thinks a negative result now means you’re in the clear forever.
Long term metabolites combined with long term storage of samples is also contributing to retrospective drug testing capability. Using advanced isotope-ratio mass spectrometry, smaller trace amounts of metabolites can be detected at a rate far greater than in the past.
While these most advanced anti-doping techniques might only be implemented by authorities at the highest sporting levels, as more modern and accurate testing techniques become mainstream and hence, cheaper, they are often taken up by those groups on a smaller budget.
What does this mean for you as an athlete? That you need to stay up to date with how steroids are being detected, when and who is testing and how often, and what strategies are being followed by steroid users who want to continue using these substances while minimizing the risk of being detected.
Anti-doping authorities are well aware that some athletes will continue to do everything possible to try and circumvent testing positive so we can think of steroid drug testing as a game of cat and mouse which is continually evolving.
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Anabolic Steroid Metabolites
The metabolites of a steroid will be detected in urine testing (urinalysis) which is the most widely used form of drug testing. Metabolites are what remain of the steroid after the process of metabolism, where the steroid’s original chemical structure breaks down into smaller molecules.
We can also think of metabolites as being a result of the conversion of one chemical compound into another.
So while it’s not necessary to be a chemistry expert to know that metabolites are a key factor in any steroid drug testing, you will want to be aware of how long these metabolites can possibly remain in your system.
In the long distant past, bodybuilders would have been able to stop using a steroid and let it naturally excrete from the body (according to its natural half life) and after a relatively short duration be confident that any drug testing would be unlikely to detect the steroid.
But the focus now on metabolites and especially with the discovery of long term steroid metabolites, there’s no way for an athlete to pass a drug test simply by stopping use of a steroid with enough time to spare before an event. A much longer period of time is needed to be clear of metabolites, and for some steroids that can be many months.
So it’s no longer just the half life of a steroid you need to be aware of; but how long its metabolites can potentially linger in your system.
With newer scientific advances, anti-doping testing can now detect long term metabolites better than ever before. Breakthroughs have resulted in being able to detect certain steroid metabolites for twice as long as was previously possible. This means where only traces of metabolites remaining were able to slip past the drug testing techniques, these traces are now able to be picked up to return a positive result.
Specifically, scientists were able to pinpoint different types of metabolites to monitor – sulfate conjugates rather than the previously used glucuronide metabolites.
While this might only work for some types of steroids, it demonstrates the continual advancing of anti-doping testing techniques that will make it harder and harder for athletes to avoid positive testing, even long after stopping administration of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances.
One way some athletes still try to get around the advanced long term metabolite focused testing is to avoid all known steroids altogether. Remember: drug testers can only test for the substances that they know about. There is no “one size fits all” test for all substances.
Some bodybuilders will therefore turn to new, experimental or what are sometimes called “designer” drugs which haven’t yet come on to the anti-doping radar.
Naturally, using such unknown substances comes with a whole new set of risks for the user. They also provide some assistance to drug testing labs: the samples are usually saved and used for future testing baseline reference for that individual.
Factors that Influence Detection Times
There’s much more than just one factor that contributes to how long a steroid could be detected through drug testing.
In fact there’s so many different factors that it’s beyond your power to control them all, but you can go a long way in accurately predicting how long you might be at risk of steroid detection simply by understanding how each of these factors influences the steroid detection time frame.
Type of anabolic steroid used
The type of steroid is going to be the main factor concerning its detection time, since the steroid type will determine all the other factors I’ve outlined below.
Most notably, the use of testosterone steroids is often a less risky proposition, for male users at least, because the hormone is naturally produced at detectable levels and so the metabolites detected in urine testing are going to be similar to those produced by exogenous testosterone use; it comes down to a matter of quantity.
All testosterone steroids have esters which will vary the elimination half life and detection time, with the exception of the very short acting unesterified Testosterone suspension which can have a very short detection time of under three days.
Properties unique to an anabolic steroid
Every steroid has a different chemical structure and even slight differences can alter the speed it’s metabolized or how long the steroid’s metabolites will remain in the body (and hence, its detection time).
Some particular steroids are notorious for producing metabolites that are highly detectable through testing, or that remain in the body for an extended time. Nandrolone based steroids like Deca-Durabolin can be detected well after one year, so these steroids will almost always want to be avoided by anyone who’s at risk of being tested.
Dose and duration of use
As you would expect, the amount of each steroid you take and how long you use it for is going to be a primary influence in its detection time.
With higher doses your metabolism is working to break down more of the steroid at its natural rate of metabolism. Higher doses can actually result in slower metabolism of the hormone as the body is working harder with its available enzymes and other substances involved in the metabolic process.
This can result in an extended detection time compared with taking lower doses.
Route of administration
There’s a big difference between oral and injectable steroids as far as their influence on detection times go. Oral steroids are active almost immediately and leave the body quickly as they pass through the liver and are exposed to its metabolic processes.
Generally any oral steroid will have a shorter detection time than injectables, although it can still be surprisingly long (potentially several weeks) when you consider the short half life.
Injectable steroids have an attached ester which controls how quickly the hormone is released and these steroids (and their metabolites) will always remain detectable for much longer.
Anabolic compounds are very fat soluble compounds, meaning these are substances that are absorbed with fats and then stored in fatty tissue.
This means anabolic steroids are able to last longer in the body compared to substances which are more water soluble. The result of this fat solubility is the ongoing presence of the steroid in your system, including its metabolites.
Some steroids will be more fat soluble than others, and so detectable for longer periods due to it remaining in the fat tissue – Deca-Durabolin is one such steroid.
Resistance to metabolism
Detectable metabolites will remain around longer in the body the more a steroid hormone is resistant to metabolism.
Eventually the body will metabolize and excrete the steroid completely, but there is no set period of time and this factor is going to vary between individuals. There are some steroids which are known to be more resistant to the body’s metabolism than others, a notable example being Trenbolone.
In fact some this steroid can exit the body in urine without having been metabolized, producing a strong positive result for a long time period of several months.
Half-Life vs. Detection Times
It’s easy to think that by calculating the half life of a steroid, you can work out when it will no longer be detectable in your body and you can then pass a drug test with flying colors – right?
Unfortunately it’s not quite that straightforward.
The half life of a steroid is a very different concept to detection time. While the half life does influence detection time to an extent, you can not rely on a steroid’s half life to estimate just how long that steroid might be able to be detected through drug testing.
In many cases, the use of the substance can still be detected at trace amounts of the remaining metabolites long after the compound has exceeded its active life in the body.
So while a steroid will no longer be providing you with any performance benefits, it could still be detected in a drug test many weeks, or even months later.
It’s the metabolites – the remnants of the metabolized anabolic steroids – that you won’t have any idea are actually there until you’ve been tested.
Relying on the half life of a steroid to determine your drug test risk is therefore a great mistake. Only the most basic of drug testing will look for only the steroid hormone itself, rather than its metabolites.
But with more advanced detection techniques, any steroid testing undertaken by competitions and authorities who have the budget to ensure the tests are thorough and in depth will pick up metabolites, and you should not be surprised when these metabolites are still present weeks, months and sometimes well over a year after you’ve taken your last anabolic steroid dosage – regardless of what that steroid’s half life is.
List of Steroid Detection Times
The following table contains the most popular/commonly used anabolic steroids with their detection times:
|Winstrol Depot||9 weeks|
|Sustanon 250||3 months|
|Testosterone Cypionate||3 months|
|Testosterone Enanthate||3 months|
|Testosterone Propionate||2 weeks|
|Testosterone Suspension||1-2 days|
|Trenbolone Acetate||5 months|
|Trenbolone Enanthate||5 months|
|Primobolan Oral||4-5 weeks|
|Primobolan Depot||5 weeks|
Note: Clomid, Nolvadex, Arimidex and Letrozole are ancillaries usually used during a post-cycle therapy (PCT).
How do they test for steroids in urine?
Advanced techniques are used to test for trace amounts of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs at high level sporting and competitive events.
A urinalysis is the most widely used testing method to detect both the steroid hormone or its metabolites in urine. Blood testing is also used.
Other test methods are the hair follicle test and the less often used radioimmunoassay (RIA) testing.
How long can steroids be detected in a drug test?
The amount of time you could have a positive steroid test depends on the type of steroid you’ve taken, how much and for how long, and the method of taking the steroid (oral or injection).
Steroids can be detected in a drug test anywhere from just a few days for some oral steroids, and up to 18 months for the longest lasting injectable steroids.
Can steroids be detected in a blood test?
Blood testing is not used as often as urine testing for detecting steroid use, mainly due to its more invasive nature and the expense involved in analyzing samples.
Steroids CAN be detected in blood tests however, as long as the testing panel includes checking for every single known steroid which is a time consuming process.
Does Testosterone show up in a urine drug test?
Testosterone steroid use is mostly detected in urine tests through the presence of metabolites. Epitestosterone is the most commonly detected metabolite and where it’s found at high levels and at a high ratio to testosterone, testers will be confident that performance doses of testosterone have been used.
How long is Trenbolone detectable?
Trenbolone can often be detected up to 5 months after you stop taking it. Tren is a steroid that is highly resistant to being metabolized, so can often be detected as the intact steroid hormone in urine rather than just its metabolites. This provides a very strong positive result and is a steroid you’ll want to avoid if there’s a high chance of being tested.
Regularly testing athletes, bodybuilders or anyone else for anabolic steroid use is an expensive and time consuming process. While big league sports with big budgets can and do conduct regular testing thanks to having the resources to do so, small time athletes can find that they never get tested.
Despite this, the risk is always there if you’re a competitor and that’s why it’s vital that you understand steroid detection times.
While it can be tempting to try and stay ahead of anti-doping testing by taking new, unknown or experimental substances, these come with their own risks and can in fact make it easier for testing laboratories to detect a positive drug test in the future.
It only takes one test to get caught, so it pays to plan your cycles according to the potential detection time and to avoid or minimize use if there’s a good chance of being tested.
This might mean choosing to use a different type of steroid than you’d prefer, or changing the length of your cycle, reducing your dose, or altering the events you compete in. It may also make you think twice about using steroids at all, when we consider both the health risks and the dramatic consequences that can occur if you do happen to test positive one day.
With ever advancing anti-doping and steroid detection technology, scientists will often be one step ahead of athletes who are still going to great lengths to avoid a positive anabolic steroid test result.
If you enjoyed this guide and would like more real, NO-BS information on cycling steroids, then pick up Straight From the Underground (my recommended underground steroid handbook). Everything in this book is based on first hand experience, not theory.