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Taking ‘the God of all Steroids’ and ‘Making a Pact With the Devil’: Online Bodybuilding Communities and the Negotiation of Trenbolone Risk

Mair Underwood (The University of Queensland, Australia)

Doping in Sport and Fitness

ISBN: 978-1-80117-158-8, eISBN: 978-1-80117-157-1

Publication date: 12 December 2022


Previous research has found that people who use anabolic androgenic steroids (hereafter ‘steroids’) typically describe these drugs as safe. However, research exploring the inside perspective on steroid risk has focussed on steroids in general, and failed to examine how particular steroids are viewed and experienced. During my online ethnographic research in bodybuilding communities, I found discussion of one particular steroid said to cause significant physical, psychological, social and sexual harm: trenbolone. Trenbolone is a veterinary drug used to increase muscle in beef cattle that has been found to have neurodegenerative and genotoxic effects on animals. It has been used by bodybuilders since the 1980s, and recent research has found it to be one of the most popular steroids used by bodybuilders. If trenbolone is described by bodybuilders as causing significant harm, why do so many bodybuilders use it? This chapter attempts to answer this question through a description of bodybuilder folk models of trenbolone risk. Using a social life of drugs approach it describes: (1) the effects of trenbolone; (2) how these effects are given meaning as either harms or benefits, and then weighed against each other; (3) how the risks of trenbolone are reduced through harm reduction strategies and (4) the role of online communities in negotiations of trenbolone risk. Trenbolone was found to occupy a mythical status in bodybuilding communities, in part because of the conflicted relationship bodybuilders have with the drug. This conflicted relationship illustrates the inherent ambivalence of drugs, which are always both remedy and poison.



Underwood, M. (2022), "Taking ‘the God of all Steroids’ and ‘Making a Pact With the Devil’: Online Bodybuilding Communities and the Negotiation of Trenbolone Risk", Henning, A. and Andreasson, J. (Ed.) Doping in Sport and Fitness (Research in the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 16), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 111-136.



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