6 Must-Know Facts About Natural vs Enhanced Bodybuilding

6 Must-Know Facts About Natural vs Enhanced Bodybuilding

I get multiple emails daily asking, “I am natural, how should I train?”

Training is training, right? Well, yes it is... But with some caveats.

Related - Complete History of Bodybuilding

Enhanced lifters, or those taking steroids, HGH, and whatever else those crazy bastards take, have some distinct advantages. But they are probably NOT what you’d naturally (pun intended) expect.

Would you believe that natural lifters need to train harder? Would you also believe that enhanced lifters need even MORE supplements than dem der natties?

Ready to have your mind blown about training natty versus training on the gas? Keep reading...

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6 Bodybuilding Facts

#1 - Naturals - Train Each Muscle More Often and Focus on Compound Movements!

This is counter-intuitive to some. You would think that since natural lifters recover less efficiently they should take more time between muscle groups. That is incorrect.

When you train a muscle, protein synthesis (which is one of the most fundamental biological processes by which individual cells build their specific proteins) stays elevated for about 24-36 hours. When this period is over, the protein synthesis goes back to normal.

The muscle might actually atrophy before your next session, This might be seven days later if on a normal bro/bodypart split where you train each muscle group once per week.

While frequency might benefit enhanced lifters as well, the risk of becoming catabolic is much less, or even non-existent in enhanced lifters. Assuming their diet isn’t complete garbage.

Therefore, hitting a bodypart two or even three times per week will provide the greatest benefit for natural lifters. I recommend my EXOS-inspired Functional Hypertrophy Trainer.

You can hit this goal in only four training days per week!

Plus, natties cannot use as much volume. This is because of the negative hormonal reactions when you just go too far.

When you deplete all or your glycogen stores and other goodies that fuel training, your body will produce more cortisol. When “enhanced,” the cortisol is inhibited.

When not on steroids, this can be an issue. You reach a point of diminishing returns.

Natural lifters should aim to get the most bang and overload for their buck. Basing workouts around compound movements like deadlifts, squats, and presses will yield the best results.

I once read an article by Lyle MacDonald. He stated that the best gains he saw in newbies were when they adopted a powerlifting-style workout (compound movements with lower volume). This is in contrast to the traditional single-joint, high volume bodybuilding split.

This is the reason why... They get in, get out, and get all of the gains before their body starts rebelling on them!

Remember, muscle is very metabolically demanding. The body will limit it if it becomes a detriment to survival.

#2 - Naturals Should Train HARDER With Less Volume

Think Dorian Yates-type stuff (see more on Dorian Yates training here. Do less volume, use more intensity.

Enhanced lifters can do moderate weight, higher volume, moderate intensity and still make gains. If a natural athlete does too much volume, they risk diminishing or even negative returns.

Thus, while a natural athlete should do maybe three work-up sets and one hard, intense set, an enhanced lifter can do more. Go farther. But they must be careful!

The supraphysiological gains from steroids can lead to stronger muscles capable of much more than the tendons and joints are prepared for. This can lead to injury.

#3 - Enhanced Lifters Need More Protein

You probably guessed this one. With protein synthesis sky-high, the upper-end recommendation of one gram per pound of bodyweight for naturals is thrown out the window.

The enhanced lifter, with their perpetual 24/7 increase in protein synthesis, can churn through 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight daily. In fact, more protein than the one gram per pound for naturals might even condition their body to convert more protein to carbs via gluconeogensis.

This isn’t a problem for those enhanced guys. Thus, if you’re on, you need more protein, or at least can utilize more protein.

#4 - Enhanced Lifters Should Be Doing More Cardio

Steroids, in and of themselves, increase the risk of heart issues. While they will not be the cause of death, they are definitely a negative factor for heart health.

Not only do steroids carry heart risks stemming from increased LDL (bad cholesterol) and altered lipid levels, but the additional bodyweight steroid users carry just gives the heart more work.

Cardio is a tool enhanced lifters can use to mitigate some of the negative issues with steroid use.

Meanwhile, natural lifters probably get enough cardio activation from weight training alone. This will mitigate a lot of heart issues that plague our sedentary nation.

However, everybody can benefit from cardio. How much you ask? It all depends!

For a large person who uses steroids, I would simply tell them to do low-intensity cardio 20-30 minutes three to five days a week. This can be incline walking, stepmill, or anything else that a large person can do without falling down in a coronary arrest.

For natural lifters, Tabata two-three times a week is a great way to go – see more on Tabata here.

#5 - Steroid Users Can Cut and Bulk Harder

When steroid users overeat, more goes to muscle and less to fat. That doesn’t mean steroid users can’t get fat as heck, it means they will gain more muscle and less fat than somebody who is natural.

And to add fire to the natty flame, the steroid user can also cut harder and lose weight faster with less risk of muscle loss. This is why I go by these natty rules of thumb:

  • If natural, aim to lose 1-2 pounds a week if cutting. I recommend the Drop Factor Book.
  • If natural, aim to gain 1-2 pounds a MONTH if bulking – SLOW AND LEAN! I recommend following the Mass Diet.

#6 - Enhanced Lifters Need to Take MORE Supplements!

Not only do steroid users benefit from the same supplements natty lifters do (creatine helps with ATP no matter what you stick in your buttcheek), but they also need to pay EXTRA attention to health supplements.

Managing lipid profiles, caring for their organs (namely liver), and blood pressure are of utmost importance. Thus, for health supplements, enhanced lifters should pay extra attention to the following supplements, although I believe natties should take them as well:

*Note: I own these brands, so take my recommendation for what it’s worth.

The bottom line is there are NO EXCUSES! If you choose to be natural, be the best damn natty you can be! If you choose to so “whatever it takes," BE SMART about it. Maximize your gains and protect your body and your health.

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Saumil Sethi - May 19, 2020

Nice attempt at copying t nations article from the year before lol.

Ronnie Goljevscek - January 11, 2019

Because training while natty but still getting TRT and still being natty…that’s NOT A GAME!!!!

Derek Johannis - January 11, 2019

Great read, always good to learn about the differences and how to train and supplement the correct way. Would 40 reps(5×8 reps) be overtraining on a cut based workout. I increased my protein to 250 grams at 210 pounds bodyweight as of right now. I am willing to do whatever it take to hit a 407 pound squat is my main goal in my next meet. Sometimes I feel sore, but I push through the volume because I feel like I respond better to higher volume work. I tried the drop sets and other intensity techniques. I feel like periodization with occasional forced reps work well for myself.

Dustin Nutt - January 11, 2019

Great article Marc.
Over the past year I have been following a protocol close to this. I switched to mainly power lifting moves and have seen a progress in all my lifts. I used to train for 2 hours a day comprising of single joint movements, judging my workout by the level of muscle pump.

kazuki hodgkinson - January 11, 2019

More of this type of information needs to be put out there. Steroid use is still the ‘elephant in the room topic’ but we all know at least one person using them. I say the more credible information the better. Great article!

Ercan Ciftci - January 11, 2019

Keep it high at both times, just in case. First go to a normal level of protein intake well after your PCT; when you feel like your body is “normal” again.

Demetri Konstantin - January 11, 2019

It’s a breath of fresh air to see people openly address differences between natural and enhanced lifters. Thanks Mark. It always boggles my mind when the so called online “personal trainers” give out the same cookie cutter programs to everyone without regard for age, weight, body composition, hormone profile, etc. Not everyone is the same, and not everyone is on an even playing field when it comes to training. Also fake natties are everywhere, gotta stay #aware.

Anthony Monterosso - January 11, 2019

When should one lower their protein intake after a cycle? During PCT or after PCT?

Damon Harrison - January 11, 2019

Great article.

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