When getting into bodybuilding supplements, people often want to know the difference between peptides versus steroids. This article explains the basics of how they work differently on the body and their use cases. Knowing how they work gives important insight into choosing the best solution to meet your fitness goals and avoid misplaced expectations of the results.
Before getting into the direct comparisons, let’s quickly define what peptides and steroids are.
What Are Peptides?
Peptides are short molecular chains of between two and fifty amino acids. An amino acid chain of more than fifty form proteins. Like proteins, they naturally form in the body and are found in every cell and tissue in all living things and perform a wide variety of functions.
What Are Steroids?
Steroids are synthetic chemical compounds that are developed to mimic the hormones that are naturally produced within the body.
Peptides and Steroids Have Different Active Qualities
Peptides are often promoted as a safe and side-effect free substitute for steroids. This view is a bit misleading because the two act very differently on the body.
Both are anabolic and basically work the same way for muscle growth, right?
Well, yes and no…
Steroids and peptides work on the body in fundamentally different ways.
How Anabolic Steroids Work on the Body
Steroids are hydrophobic, meaning that they can easily pass through cell membranes and bind to receptors in either the cytoplasm or nucleus the cell, forming an active receptor-hormone complex. From there, the activated complex will move into the nucleus and bind directly to DNA. In this state, instructions are given to the DNA for gene expression.
In muscle cells, this process stimulates the production of protein, and increases the rate at which enzymes are activated that are involved in metabolising protein. This produces an anti-catabolic effect by blocking the effects of a hormone secreted by the adrenal-cortex during exercise called cortisol.
Put simply, this means that anabolic steroids help to prevent muscle tissue from deteriorating after an intense work-out. The muscle tissue also repairs faster from breaks, assisting the process of building larger muscles.
How Anabolic Peptides Work on the Body
While there are a wide variety of types of peptides with a spectrum of functions, the basic way they work at a molecular level is fundamentally different to steroids.
Peptides are hydrophilic, meaning that they cannot pass through a cell membrane like steroids do. Instead, the short amino acid chains that make up a peptide molecule attach themselves to receptors on the surface of the cell membrane. An activated cell receptor penetrates the cell membrane to exert its effect.
Think of peptides as having a key that gives it the ability to gain access to cells and cause them to behave in specific ways.
There is a group of peptides that are popular among athletes and bodybuilders that can increase the release of the growth hormone HGH from the pituitary gland in the brain. GHRP-2 and GHRP-6 are among the synthetic peptides that stimulate growth hormone (GH) production. GH acts on many tissues throughout the body, boosting the production of protein production, promoting the use of fat as an energy source, and raising blood sugar levels.
GH also raises levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), that is a major contributor to the development of lean muscle. It also acts on the negative feedback loop involved in how the hypothalamus gland (also in the brain) regulates the production and release of HGH from the pituitary gland.
Comparing the Benefits of Peptides versus Steroids
So now that we have the technical differences out of the way, I’m sure what you really want to know is whether you should use steroids or peptides to help you get ripped. This section is where we compare the benefits of both for your bodybuilding goals.
The most important factor of the general effects on the body of steroids versus peptides is their comparative half-life. Biological half-life is the time it takes for a substance to halve in concentration within the body. The concentration keeps halving until it reaches its vanishing point.
By this metric, steroids are much longer lasting. If long term muscle growth and bulking is your goal, steroids take less accumulated doses to produce longer cycles. They will take longer to take effect, but those effects are more powerful and take longer to wear off.
Peptides on the other hand are much faster acting, from within minutes to generally around half an hour. The half-life of peptides is also very short compared to steroids, so you’ll usually need to take more to keep getting the benefits.
Orally Taken Peptides Are Almost Useless
Steroids can be taken either orally or by injection into the bloodstream with relatively similar effect. On the other hand, you’ll lose the bioactive properties of peptides if you take them orally. The reason for this is that the amino acid chains are broken down by the digestive system before they have a chance to reach the areas of the body they are designed to affect.
If you want to get any anabolic benefit from peptide use, you’ll need to inject them directly into the bloodstream.
Muscle Bulking: Should I Take Steroids or Peptides?
Getting back to whether peptides are a feasible substitute for steroids for building muscle mass… Leaving the issue of unwanted side-effects aside for now, a lot of bodybuilders find that peptides alone don’t have a noticeable direct effect on muscle growth. Yes, peptides stimulate the release of GH, but the effect is not nearly as great as that of steroids.
Having said that, they have a lot of potential indirect and complimentary benefits to bodybuilders.
The Real Benefits of Peptides for Bodybuilding
One thing peptide hormones are known to do very well is assisting the healing process from athletic injury. Many bodybuilders and athletes report a 4x reduced recovery time from ripped muscles and cartilage compared to medically diagnosed expected recovery times. They can also act fast to reduce inflammation. The longer an injury takes you away from your workout or training regime, the harder it is to make progress towards your goals. Stimulating the healing process with peptides can make all the difference.
The way peptides can help prioritise the use of fat as an energy source (instead of muscles) is another great advantage to using peptides. That, combined with the way GBRH type peptides stimulate appetite, can allow you to get all the extra calories you need to convert into lean muscle.
A quick energy boost can also be gained from peptides. This can be very helpful to give you an edge in a competition or to extend your daily exercise routine.
Comparing the Side-effects
Misuse of steroids can lead to well-known unwanted side-effects. Peptides side-effects are less known
- High blood pressure
- Disruption of natural hormone production
- Liver damage
- Breast enlargement
Side-effects of Peptides:
- Insensitivity to peptide effects over time
- Low blood sugar-levels when disused
- High blood pressure
- Itchiness around injection area
- Darkening of skin, especially moles. Increase of freckles
While peptides offer a slight boost to your muscle building efforts, steroids offer greater gains over a longer period. If you’re looking for something to replace steroids. Of course, you still need to do the hard work to get the benefits.
Strategic use of peptides in combination with a steroid cycle can also benefit your workout regime. For example, using a peptide supplement like HCG at the end of a steroid cycle can boost testosterone levels, having a synergistic effect beyond that of steroids on their own.
Peptides really come in handy when you want to accelerate your recovery from muscle tears and other sports injuries.
The fast absorption of peptides makes them good for taking a short time before you need an energy and endurance boost.
So, the bottom line is that for serious bulking, steroids will do the most work. Meanwhile, peptides also have additional benefits that can improve your bodybuilding experience as well as add benefits when combined with your steroid cycle.