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Is Caffeine Really a Steroid Booster?


The paper suggests that a single milligram of oxandrolone could have the effect of 20 milligrams when stacked with caffeine. Time to stock up on caffeine pills, right? Well … not so fast.


By William Llewellyn


There was a study that garnered quite a bit of discussion a few years ago. It suggested that caffeine, when taken alongside the anabolic steroid oxandrolone (and possibly many other oral anabolic steroids), can drastically increase the absorption of the drug. In other words, caffeine can greatly potentiate the effects of the steroid by providing the body much more of it. This particular paper came to our attention from the researchers over at Ergogenics in Holland, who routinely dig up some of the most interesting or overlooked studies.1 This one concerns results that were presented at the 27th Cologne Workshop on Doping Analysis, which was held back in 2009.2 The paper didn’t seem to get much attention back then, in spite of its remarkable subject matter. I’ve given it a close review, and thought I would provide my feedback. As you’ll see, while the data is very interesting, it is far too early for us to draw any conclusions.


This particular study examines a question that came up as a result of a law enforcement investigation in Portugal. Authorities there had claimed that a particular group of athletes were routinely using caffeine alongside oxandrolone. Curious if the group had stumbled upon a novel interaction between the two drugs that might aid doping, the researchers set up a study of the practice. It was a very simple experiment. It involved one participant, a regular consumer of caffeine. The subject specifically took in the caffeine equivalent of three cups of espresso per day, so their body was well acquainted with the substance. The researchers took this person into the lab to measure his response to a small dose of oxandrolone, .4 milligrams (400mcg), on two separate occasions. The first time, the drug was given alone. After a washout period of four days, the same dose was given again, but this time with 300 milligrams of caffeine. After both doses, the urinary excretion of caffeine, oxandrolone and epioxandrolone (a primary metabolite of oxandrolone) was measured for 70 hours.


Now this is where it gets really interesting. In this study, caffeine appeared to have a remarkable effect when taken with the steroid, producing a stunning difference in the amount of oxandrolone and epioxandrolone that was recovered in the urine. In fact, the total concentration of oxandrolone was 20 times higher, and epioxandrolone 15 times higher, with the 300-milligram caffeine dose. These numbers are striking, to say the least. The researchers speculated that caffeine increased the bioavailability of oxandrolone, possibly by enhancing how much was absorbed from the gut. As they note, this effect has been seen when caffeine was taken with some other drugs, such as acetaminophen. Taken at face value, the paper suggests that a single milligram of oxandrolone could have the effect of 20 milligrams when stacked with caffeine. Time to stock up on caffeine pills, right? Well … not so fast.


There are several things to consider before we try to draw conclusions from this study. For one, it involves only one subject. You always want a much larger subject population in a study like this. It helps assure the effect is repeatable in others, and isn’t caused by other factors. Also, the researchers used a very small dose of oxandrolone, less than one-half a milligram. It is unclear if any beneficial effect might hold true for higher doses. This study also looks only at urinary metabolites. This doesn’t necessarily mean the blood levels of oxandrolone were greater. There is a lot that happens between the absorption of a steroid from the digestive tract, and its excretion in the urine. Perhaps it is broken down and excreted more readily. On the same note, oxandrolone is metabolized to a lower extent than most other steroids. The percentage of active hormone recovered in the urine is, likewise, going to be higher. While one might want to expect this effect of caffeine to carry over to other drugs, if there is indeed an effect here, we won’t know unless other anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are tested also.


The above concerns are all very valid, and I think call strongly for this research to be repeated and expanded. However, in my mind they still pale in comparison to one other concern. For this study result to be accurate, for the bioavailability of oxandrolone to really be increased 20 times by caffeine use, its gut absorption would have to be very low in the first place … like at best, 5 percent. That just isn’t the case, as we know it anyway. Like most oral anabolic steroids, oxandrolone is 17-alpha alkylated. This alteration is placed on the steroid because it is known to effectively protect it from first-pass metabolism in the liver. It is one of the oldest structural modifications used in the development of commercial steroids, and has proven itself to be reliable (albeit with some toxicity issues) time and again, for decades. The suggestion that a common oral c-17aa could actually be absorbed so very poorly when given orally to humans is very new to me.


Studies have shown that injection of a c17aa anabolic steroid, which is a route of administration that comes close to 100 percent bioavailability, can be more effective than oral use. For example, there were experiments with dogs that found a similar dose of stanozolol (25 mg versus 28 mg per week) to produce about twice the nitrogen retention (a measure of protein synthesis) when given this way instead of orally.3 Even so, a result like this is nothing near what we’d expect with a twentyfold increase in bioavailability. We also see little support for such oral versus injectable differences in the popular culture, which has long since invited experimentation. I’d argue that the doses commonly used with oral versus injectable versions of the same c-17aa anabolic steroid tend to be similar, at least in the same ballpark. I believe most bodybuilders with experience using both would agree the effects are not so different. Were oral c17-aa steroids so poorly absorbed as this study suggests, the doses required would have to be on similar orders of higher magnitude.


Should my concerns close the door on caffeine? Of course not. There very well could be something there. After all, we do know there is room to increase the bioavailability of oral c-17aa. Absorption is very good with these agents, but not 100 percent. For instance, we’ve even learned that a high-fat meal might reduce c17aa steroid absorption … it appears better to take them on an empty stomach. We just can’t say anything conclusively about this study on caffeine right now. The next thing we really need is a study that repeats these types of experiments with more participants, looks at therapeutic dosages, takes actual blood levels measurements and even better, looks at other AAS compounds. To me, it is illogical that a dramatic 20-time increase in c17aa steroid potency would be repeated. I believe this was in error. Still, I would very much like to see what happens. For now though, I don’t see reason to recommend caffeine unless you prefer to use it for other reasons.


William Llewellyn is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the use of performance-enhancing substances. He is the author of the bestselling anabolic steroid reference guide ANABOLICS and CEO of Molecular Nutrition. William is an accomplished researcher/developer in the field of anabolic substances, and is also a longtime advocate for harm reduction and legislative change. He built the website, an extensive online database of information on anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.




1. Can a few hundred mils of caffeine boost the anabolic effect of oxandrolone?


2. Oxandrolone excretion: effect of caffeine dosing. Salema B, Ruivo JN, et al. 27th Cologne Workshop on Dope Analysis;17; 249-252. 2009.


3. Olson ME, Morck DW, Quinn KB. The effect of stanozolol on 15nitrogen retention in the dog. Can J Vet Res 2000;Oct;64(4):246-8.










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