Legal steroids, also known as multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements (MIPS), are over-the-counter (OTC) supplements. They’re meant to help with bodybuilding and improve workout performance and stamina.

But do they actually work? And are they safe?

Yes and no. Some are perfectly safe and effective. But others can have deadly consequences.

Let’s discuss how to recognize a legal steroid from an illegal one, what precautions to take if you plan to use legal steroids, and what other proven methods you can use to build muscle and strength.

“Legal steroids” is a catch-all term for muscle-building supplements that don’t fall under the category of “illegal.”

Illegal steroids, or anabolic-androgenic steroids, are synthetic (manufactured) versions of the male sex hormone testosterone. Healthcare providers prescribe these hormone supplements to people who have muscle wasting or testosterone production disorders.

However, some athletes and bodybuilders illegally use these steroids to boost muscle mass or performance.

Some legal supplements do have science on their side and aren’t entirely unsafe. But others may be completely ineffective or even cause harm.

Here’s a brief overview of which ones may be OK to use in small doses and which ones to avoid.

Creatine

Creatine is one of the most well known of the legal steroids. It’s a naturally occurring substance found in foods like fish and meat. It’s also sold in many stores as a muscle-building supplement.

Creatine has numerous documented benefits:

  • A 1999 study found that weightlifters who used creatine showed nearly three times as much growth in muscle fibers and doubled overall body mass than those who didn’t use creatine.
  • A 2003 study found that using creatine when you’re weight training can help build strength in your legs and increase your overall muscle mass.
  • A 2007 review of muscle-building supplements indicated that creatine is the best supplement for increasing muscle mass.

Research has also found no long-term health effects of using creatine.

Look out for any extra ingredients in supplements that may have side effects or cause allergic reactions.

Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)

MMP is a blend of creatine, betaine, and dendrobium extract that’s often sold as Craze or various other names.

This supplement is relatively safe to use. However, it doesn’t result in the muscle-building claims this drug’s marketing copy might lead you to believe.

A 2014 three-part study found that participants who used it for a 6-week training period reported higher energy and better concentration, but no increases in body mass or overall performance.

As with other OTC supplements, look out for additional ingredients that can cause allergic reactions or long-term health effects.

Dimethylamylamine (DMAA)

DMAA has been found in numerous muscle-building and weight loss supplements, but it’s not safe. Any product that contains it and markets itself as a dietary supplement is illegal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released numerous warnings to consumers to steer clear of DMAA and its various forms in OTC supplements.

Using DMAA can lead to one or more of the following complications:

  • narrowing of blood vessels
  • increased blood pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling of chest tightness
  • irregular heartbeat
  • heart attack
  • seizures
  • neurological disorders
  • mental health conditions

Here are some alternative, healthy ways to build muscle that don’t require any possibly harmful steroid or supplement use:

Come up with a good weight-training routine

Learn about the different muscle groups in your body. Alternate between training of your chest, arms, abs, and legs. Improve your repetitions and techniques over time as you become more comfortable.

A consistent, challenging routine will show you much better results than taking steroids and overworking your muscles.

Follow a healthy, muscle-friendly diet

Fill your diet with foods that help build lean muscle rather than just bulk. Many of these foods are low in unhealthy fats and simple carbohydrates. Instead, they’re high in:

  • protein
  • fiber
  • omega-3s
  • amino acids
  • healthy fats

Your diet can include foods like:

  • eggs
  • lean fish like tuna and salmon
  • Greek yogurt
  • quinoa
  • chickpeas
  • peanuts
  • tofu

Work with a personal trainer

It’s OK if you feel overwhelmed by how much time and thought you need to put into bulking up or if you’re not seeing the results you want. In this case, working with a personal trainer may help.

Consider hiring a certified personal trainer (CPT). Read their reviews to ensure they have proven success and a reasonable rate for your budget, so you can stick with it even when you feel like giving up.

There are even virtual trainers who can coach you remotely through your phone, laptop, or TV.

Use a fitness app to create a routine and track progress

Planning and recording your workouts and personal fitness goals with an app can be a quick, easy way to make sure you’re staying on track.

Over time, having detailed records of your progress can give you a more tangible sense of how far you’ve come and how close you are to achieving your goals. Here are our top fitness app picks.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are lab-made testosterone supplements. They’re never a good choice for building muscles or strength because of their numerous negative side effects.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also classifies them as Schedule III drugs. Just possessing them illegally (not prescribed to you by a doctor) can result in up to a year in prison and a fine of at least $1,000 for a first-time offense.

Here are just a few of the possible effects of using AAS:

Steroids, legal or not, are never the best solution for building muscle or getting fit. They can cause many side effects that may threaten any progress you’ve made at all and have long-term health consequences.

It’s best to focus on sustainable, healthy ways to build muscle and stay fit. You’ll also prevent the possible physical and psychological harm of relying on artificial substances to achieve the level of fitness you want in the process.