Post-cycle therapy, or PCT, is an integral part of any bodybuilding routine. As the name suggests, it is something you do at the end of a cycle or drugs, whether they be hormones, anabolic steroids, androgens, or even selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs). PCT is necessary because the body wants to maintain its natural balance of hormones at all times. When this balance is disrupted, in this case either by introducing synthetic hormones or drugs that mimic them, the body responds by decreasing its own production of hormones in order to maintain the balance.
When the cycle of synthetic hormones ends, the body has a sort of “lag time” during which it will still be producing the decreased levels of hormones that it had been previously. Unfortunately, this means a drastic drop in hormone levels once a drug cycle is completed. This can be absolutely devastating in many ways, one of which being the significant loss of muscle gain from the prior cycle. This is due to the effect that testosterone has on cortisol levels. As testosterone decreases (or, in the case of an unmanaged cycle ending, crashes), cortisol levels can skyrocket. Higher cortisone production leads to a decrease in protein synthesis, which means that gains made during a cycle can shrink quickly.
Fortunately, the rise and fall of these hormones can be mitigated. This is where PCT supplements come in. These drugs act as a counterbalance to the “lag time”, ensuring that hormone levels stay more consistent. In turn, this results in less (or sometimes no) loss of muscle gain. This increase in cycle efficiency means less catch-up work on the part of athletes, less disrupting the balance of the body’s chemistry, and faster, longer-lasting muscle gain.
Why is PCT Important?
When athletes and bodybuilders spend so much time and energy planning, exercising, dieting, and supplementing in order to gain muscle, the desire to protect these gains should be a no-brainer. As previously mentioned, your body is not used to the addition of synthetic steroids or drugs that mimic them being introduced. Along with the introduction of these drugs comes several side effects. The effect that we are mainly concerned with is the body’s miraculous ability to sense these changes and acclimate accordingly. This is great for maintaining homeostasis, but unfortunately not as great for securing muscle gain after a hormone cycle.
PCT gives us the ability to prevent these losses with careful planning. With a proper PCT cycle after each hormone, steroid, androgen, or prohormone cycle the body will not experience these drastic changes in hormonal levels. Drops in hormone levels are associated with increased cortisol effects. Keeping hormone levels higher can help reduce the effects or cortisol, and thereby the catabolic effects associated with it. Simply put, higher hormone levels equal lower catabolic effects. The lower the catabolic effects, the more protein synthesis can occur. The more protein synthesis occurs, the more muscle mass is gained. Without these chemical systems in harmony, muscle gain and loss can be unpredictable and frustrating.
When Do You Need PCT?
PCT is needed at the end of any hormone, pro-hormone, steroid, or androgen cycle. Some even recommend it after a SARM cycle, although this is not strictly necessary.
As we have discussed, with any drug that alters the body’s natural hormone levels a PCT should be incorporated into the regimen. It is not as simple as asking “Does this drug contain hormones?”. The drug or supplements holistic effect on the body’s chemistry must be considered. For a fairly straightforward example, a testosterone supplement is specifically marketed to increase testosterone levels. However, some drugs, especially supplement blends from underground manufacturers, contain a variety of compounds, each with their own purpose and properties. What many fail to understand is that almost all of these supplements aim, in one way or another, to increase testosterone to an artificially high level. Though they may be marketed under simplistic titles such as “Muscle Enhancer” or “Workout Booster”, the mechanism by which they act is hormone-based.
This is a tremendous example of why it is critically important to understand the drugs and supplements you are taking. Not only should people be educated on the ingredients they are ingesting, but also the purpose each of them serves. If someone were taking something they misunderstood to not be a hormone enhancing drug, they could be continually frustrated by rapid muscle loss at the end of every cycle without ever understanding why it was occurring in the first place. Getting to know your supplements is the first step to planning the proper PCT regimen for your lifestyle.
When Don’t You Need PCT?
Although the majority of bodybuilders will fall into the above category, there are some regimens that do not require PCT. The most obvious one would be someone who does not use performance enhancers at all. These athletes would not require artificial raising of their hormone levels because they never used drugs to supplement them in the first place, and therefore their bodies do not need to be re-acclimatized to different levels at any point in time.
Second, athletes who do not use steroids, androgens, hormones, prohormones, or any drug that has any effect on hormone levels will not need to use PCT. However, a significant group of people fall into somewhat of a gray area in this category. The use of SARMs can require PCT, depending on who you ask. Some sources claim that weaker SARMs do not require it since they barely have an influence on natural hormone levels in the first place. After all, who would want to waste time doing an extra cycle to preserve muscle gain that you were not going to lose anyway?
However, the categorization of SARMs into “weak” and “strong” is incredibly subjective as everybody will react differently to different drugs. Also, it is difficult to quantify the effect of a given SARM on testosterone levels without regular bloodwork and testing. The use of PCT after a SARM cycle is a point of great contention. A large reason for this could be attributed to the fact that SARMs are often used as PCT themselves. In fact, pairing SARMs with SERMs (selective estrogen receptor modulators) is a very popular PCT regimen. As always, find a plan that works for your body. When using SARMs in place of steroidal drugs, if muscle loss is noted after the completion of a cycle it is recommended to pair with a SERM such as Clomid or Nolvadex in order to minimize losses.
Post Cycle Therapy Drugs and Supplements I Recommend
The market for PCT drugs is as broad as the market for the testosterone boosters themselves. The most popular PCTs fall under two categories: SARMs and SERMs. As previously mentioned, SARMs are selective androgen receptor modulators and SERMs are selective estrogen receptor modulators. These drugs serve two purposes that could be described as opposite, however they actually complement each other quite nicely. In fact, a popular form of PCT is to combine the two.
SARMs are a wildly popular drug category known for their versatility and relatively fewer side effects when compared to traditional anabolic steroids. They are known to have slightly milder effects on the physique than steroids as well, however they remain popular due to their perceived safety. Many users will “stack” or incorporate multiple varieties of SARMs into their regimen in order to maximize results. The most well-known SARM is probably Ostarine. Again, while milder than some drugs, Ostarine’s effects should not be underestimated. Not only is it a powerful androgen receptor modulator, it can be stacked with other supplements such as Alpha AF in order to almost eliminate the need for a SARM PCT cycle.
SERMs, the cousin to SARMs, are integral to any PCT regimen. While SARMs regulate the production of testosterone, SERMs regulate the production of estrogen. This is critical because as testosterone levels rise due to steroids or related drugs, the body produces more estrogen to compensate and maintain its balance. When the hormone cycle ends, this leaves the body with a lot of unwanted estrogen. This results in undesirable side effects such as gynecomastia (increased breast tissue) in males. Additionally, the body employs a negative feedback loop in an effort to maintain the ratio of hormones. This means that as more testosterone is produced, so is more estrogen. Then, as more estrogen is produced, so is more testosterone, and then more estrogen, and then more testosterone, and on and on until the loop is interrupted. Fortunately, SERMs are very well equipped to interrupt the loop and save you from a never-ending spiral of hormonal imbalance. SERMs modulate estrogen production, so they are excellent at preventing gynecomastia and from keeping the feedback loop from beginning in the first place.
The most popular SERMs are also the most widely-known PCT drugs. Clomid was originally developed for the purpose of treating infertility. It works by blocking estrogen production. However, it does have some unsavory side effects. If used for long periods of time or in high doses (as some do during PCT), Clomid can cause mood swings and vision issues. According to bluecloud.org, the recommended dose of Clomid for PCT purposes is 50mg per day for the first two weeks, then 25 mg per day for the second two weeks (assuming a standard, four-week PCT cycle).
The other most recognizable PCT drug is Nolvadex, another SERM. It was originally developed to treat breast cancer. Like its cousin Clomid, it regulates estrogen production. Nolvadex is widely viewed as a safer alternative to Clomid, although there is not enough data to determine the validity of this statement as the dosages used for bodybuilding purposes have not been studied. The recommended dose of Nolvadex for PCT purposes is 40 mg per day for the first two weeks and then 20 mg per day for the second two weeks of a cycle.
According to bluecloud.org, Clomid is only recommended for use after a very heavy cycle. Its strength and side effects make it a riskier choice and it should not be used unless strictly necessary. The milder cycles, Nolvadex should more than suffice.
Bodybuilders and athletes spend copious amounts of time meticulously planning everything from their workouts to their diets to their cycle schedules months (or even years!) in advance. It would be a shame to see these well laid plans go poorly due to lack of inclusion of a PCT cycle.
Whether you’ve just finished a steroid cycle, a plain testosterone cycle, or even a SARM cycle, PCT should be your next step. There are drugs on the market that are widely safe if used at reasonable doses and for short lengths of time. Again, the standard PCT cycle is about four weeks long. A good rule of thumb is to use roughly twice the dose of your PCT drug of choice during the first half of the cycle than you plan on using during the second half. Unless the previous cycle has been something especially strong and harsh, Nolvadex is agreed upon as the safer option across the board.
As always, never ignore your body’s signals and continue to get regular bloodwork and physical examinations. Extremely artificially high hormone levels are not safe in the long run, and short-term gains should never be prioritized over your overall long-term health.