Written by Ron Harris
16 April 2016


The Lowdown On Drugs - Part 4

Kevin Levrone, Shawn Ray & Dorian Yates Speak Out!



In this fourth and final part of this groundbreaking series our three Hall-of-Famers discuss health precautions and dangers, Synthol, and drug deaths. Read on.

 What precautions did you take to minimize any negative consequences of using gear? Did you work with a doctor who knew what you were doing to monitor your health?

 SR: The number one precaution I took was always ensuring the pharmacology I used came from a pharmacy, which is not an option for most these days. I had my blood work checked and monitored throughout my career, and of course my doctor knew I was a professional bodybuilder seeking extra attention to details, as my personal health was always more important to me than my personal wealth and success as a world-class athlete. I always knew that my time as a pro athlete would be relatively short in the big picture of my life as a whole.

 DY: I approached my family doctor and told him I was using gear to compete at a high level in my chosen sport. Thankfully he was not judgmental. He agreed to monitor me to make sure I was healthy. There are health risks involved in using AAS, and they increase the longer you use them. I accepted that risk, and my health was as good as could be expected. My blood panels did reveal the usual stressors, with increases in liver enzymes and lowered HDL levels from using orals. At my heaviest, usually when I was 280-290 pounds, my blood pressure was borderline high. But here I am at 54 years old, retired from bodybuilding for over 17 years now. I continue to get health screenings. I have no organ growth except for a slightly enlarged “athlete’s heart,” which is very common. My prostate is normal. Maybe I am just lucky, but I also believe keeping my use moderate had something to do with it.

 KL: I started working with my doctor in 1991, as soon as I set the goal of winning the Nationals. I told him what I was doing, and he agreed to do what he could to make sure I was as healthy as possible.


What side effects did you experience, and did they usually go away once you ended your cycles?

 SR: The only side effect I ever felt, and I felt it every time I used, was the sense of completeness! I had to turn up the volume on everything I did physically in the gym. Again, I had to make the drugs work for me by working harder! Simply used alone, drugs are not enough “stimulus” for them to work they way I needed them to work going into competition against guys who outweighed me by 50 pounds and stood six inches taller! I consciously trained at a higher level and was acutely aware of my diet to ensure the focus was on the desired end result of the consumption of the drug being used.

 DY: Like I said, I saw increases in my blood pressure and liver enzymes, and a reduction in my good cholesterol. The lower HDL was the most concerning to me, as it is a risk factor for heart problems. But that came back up to normal. I live my life differently now. When I was a competitive bodybuilder, I never had even one glass of alcohol all those years. I never wanted to stress my body any more than I already was with the gear.

 KL: Call me lucky, but I never had any side effects. I never had gyno, never lost my hair, didn’t even get zits. I suppose I had a little water retention when I was heavy, and my liver enzymes went up when I was using orals like anyone else, but those all went away once I ceased the cycles.


One frightening drug that does seem a bit newer on the scene is the fat-burner DNP, which has supposedly been responsible for several deaths. When did you first hear about it, and did you ever have any experience with it yourself?

 SR: DNP, to my knowledge, was not around during my time. If it was, I can’t tell you what it did or who used it.

 DYIt’s actually nothing new. It’s been around for something like 100 years. No one I knew used it, nor did I. It’s basically a poison that elevates your body temperature. I used clenbuterol in my prep to burn body fat, and that was more than enough. I never used thyroid meds. I didn’t need them. I was always naturally lean and never had trouble dropping weight. Sometimes I would lose fat so fast it was annoying!

 KL: I never heard of it until maybe a year ago, if that.


SEOs like Synthol are supposedly very widely used now to enhance the fullness of areas like the shoulders and arms. At times it’s easy to spot, while there must be many others who did it in such a way where it isn’t so obvious. Do you feel that in a sport where in terms of drugs, “anything goes,” synthol is acceptable? Or would you consider it on par with pec or calf implants, and thus unacceptable?

 SR: This is a “grown man’s sport.” If guys want to use synthol, by all means the can. However, there are consequences and a lot of unknowns about the long-term effects of its use, whereas steroid use is temporary and the human body does eventually restore itself back to normal once use has ceased. I personally feel bad for the synthol users that they feel the need to take such risks. However, use of this product is symptomatic of bigger issues with the user than the desire to be recognized as one of the world’s best bodybuilders. 

 DYI saw guys starting to use that in the late ‘90s. I never used it. That’s not bodybuilding anymore. You’re not building muscle with any of your own effort— you’re just fluffing it up with oil. It doesn’t ever look right to me, which is why I don’t even consider it an unfair advantage.

 KL: I used to beat guys who used it, like Nasser. I believe Flex has gone on record saying he used it too. All I know is, nothing beats hard work and genetics. Synthol makes body parts look distorted and it washes out the fine details you should be able to see. I’m just really old school. I say let the muscle speak for itself. I see it as more of a disadvantage when guys use it, because they look stupid and everybody sees how fake it is.


We have seen a rash of deaths in recent years among current and past bodybuilders, usually involving heart attacks. What do you think is to blame, and are you personally concerned that you might not live as long and healthy a life as you would like due to your own past steroid use?

 SR: It goes without saying that many of these guys would still be alive if not for the consumption or preoccupation with steroids. Enlarged hearts, obesity and so on are all factors in some of these premature deaths. It should serve as a cautionary tale as to getting health checkups, maintaining good health post-competition as well as a warning about the abuse of anabolic steroids. We can point fingers at a lot of things when it comes to the death of a bodybuilder. If one died in a car accident, the press would focus on the size of the athlete killed in the crash as a reason he didn’t survive!

 Clearly, there are way too many athletes dying too soon, and the only thing we can do as athletes is pay attention to the warning signs, get checkups on and off-season, monitor our health with blood work and EKGs and if using, use in moderation.

 Athletes need to have a strong identity and clear comprehension of the following: Why am I taking steroids? How long will I take them? What will I do after I am done? Know the line between use and abuse. Strong issues face the user if he is not properly aligned with “real life” and life after competition. 

 DY: Like I said several times already, as high-level bodybuilders, we took a calculated risk. I live healthy now, and that’s all I can do. I do feel for all those who passed before my time. They were all my brothers in sport. Saying it’s all heart attacks isn’t fair or accurate. My good friend Sonny Schmidt had cancer, Paul DeMayo overdosed on recreational drugs, and I believe prescription drugs were responsible for Mike Mentzer’s passing too. Momo Benaziza died from diuretics, which are different from steroids in that they can kill you immediately. I’m not sure if it was ever known what killed Andreas Münzer, but it wasn’t a long-term chronic thing like heart disease. He died shortly after a contest like Momo did. Diuretics were used quite a bit in the ‘90s and still are, which is very rough on the kidneys. There is no denying that using large amounts of gear for years and years is dangerous, especially to the heart. But it’s been shown that for men in need of it, TRT has positive applications and can reduce the risk of certain chronic conditions.

 KL: I’m not personally concerned, because I was moderate in my use and took more time off drugs than most if not all my peers. Only medical examiners could really tell you what killed all these guys. The one thing that’s used that’s more dangerous than anything else, like Dorian said, is diuretics. Steroids and GH might lead to problems and could kill you eventually, but diuretics can kill you in a matter of a couple of hours. I was there in Holland and saw Momo Benaziza die. But you know what? We have yet to see one Mr. Olympia champion die prematurely. Why is that? I tend to think they weren’t as extreme in their use as some people want to think they were. It’s the guys who don’t have the best genetics that go overboard and take the bigger risks in an attempt to compensate and catch up to the more gifted guys. It’s tough for some guys to accept that some of us have better genetics and just respond a lot better to gear than the average person.


Speaking of which, I am assuming you are all on HRT. What is your current prescribed dosage that you use to maintain healthy test levels, and do you also use GH?

 SR: I haven’t touched or taken a drug since I left the contest stage in 2001; it was part of why I retired in the first place. Drugs became the least likeable aspect of competing and I simply could not see myself competing another year knowing that using them would be a part of the next year in my life. I walked away and never looked back.

 DYI am prescribed 200 milligrams of testosterone enanthate per week. This is not by choice. Once I retired, I was very much looking forward to never using steroids again, as well as dropping a good amount of bodyweight so I could finally wear some stylish clothes! Bodybuilding was something I did for myself, not for anyone else, and I wanted to be the best at that sport which I showed a talent for. Once I was no longer competing, I saw no reason to ever use gear again. I was also trying to start a family with my wife at the time. Of course, my test levels and sperm count were both low right after I retired in the fall of 1997. After 18 months, we were finally able to conceive a child. But after two years off gear, my T levels were still in the very low-normal range. I spoke with my doctor, and he put me on a TRT regimen to take me to the higher end of normal. This actually reduces the chance of heart disease compared to having lower T. I don’t use GH. The only reason guys my age use it is to stay leaner, and I am able to do that with no problems anyway.

 KL: I use the testosterone pellets for my TRT. Those are implanted a few inches into my glutes, and release very slowly over a period of months. They are designed to give you an even TRT dose of about 200 milligrams a week. I haven’t touched GH since 1997.


So many retired bodybuilders feel the need to continue cycling heavy doses of gear and stay huge long after they stop competing. Why do you think they do that? None of you three have. What made you choose to not bother with that?

 SR: I believe I was given a gift: A gift of health and fitness, a sound mind and body. The older I got, the more aware I became of that gift. I didn’t want to take it for granted and felt very fortunate to not have any health-related issues upon retiring. To be honest, I felt very fortunate to have been able to walk away on my own terms the way I made a conscious decision to undertake the crazy idea that I could one day be considered among the sport’s best-built bodybuilders ever. As for the others, again, I never considered the “others.” They simply happened to share the same passion for the sport of bodybuilding I did, but I always felt that was where our similarities ended— as I was always knew I was much more than simply a bodybuilder, and that I was meant to do other things with my life as well.

 DY: With most if not all of those guys, they feel the need to stay larger than life for psychological reasons. They are so invested in being a particular size and weight that it becomes their identity and they are terrified to give that up. And obviously, you can’t maintain that extreme mass without gear, and I mean beyond TRT doses. They are addicted not so much to using gear as they are to the huge physique and the attention and acceptance they get from it. Me, I don’t really give a shit. I see guys posting comments like, “Dorian is only 250 pounds now! He’s so small!” Whatever. I did what I did. I was the best bodybuilder in the world for six years, and that part of my life is over now. If I had tried to maintain all that mass this whole time, I bet I would have had a heart attack and might very well be dead by now. But I’ve been living my life well, and plan on being around a lot longer.

 KL: I think it’s just too hard for some of these guys to walk away from being that character of the huge bodybuilder that people are amazed by. It takes a strong man to put the syringe down for good and stop playing that role. So they hold on to the past, and keep living in the past, because a future where they don’t get that attention and respect for their body is just too scary. I don’t want to be that 60-year-old guy you see at shows wearing a tank top, a weight belt and carrying his gallon jug of water around with him. That’s just sad. Let it go! I created my character out of pain and suffering. I lost my father when I was 7, and my mom when I was still young too. I had nothing else to hold on to, so bodybuilding became my escape and my world for a long time. But I was able to walk away from it. I like who I am now as a man, and as a father to my son. My legacy as that bodybuilding champion lives on in photos, videos and in the memories of the fans from those years. So I didn’t need to cling to it anymore.

 This has been the most open and illuminating discussion on drug use in bodybuilder by three of the sport’s icons. Let us know your thoughts on this unique series.