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The Pointed Science Behind ‘Steroid Nipples’

When you cycle, you’re definitely gonna get stronger. You’re also probably gonna get nipples that can perpetually cut glass

The practice of taking steroids is often oversimplified to sound like a brisk walk in a fitness park. You pop a pill, you jab in a couple of needles, you rub on some cream, you do a couple of squats, and voila, you wake up the next morning sporting quads with the size and strength of a DD16 Diesel Engine. Then you squeeze your new physique through the door of your gym, and when no one recognizes you due to the thick slabs of muscle you’ve magically packed on, you smirk at their ignorance and proudly shout, “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!”

The reality is much harsher. One of the general managers of the Bally Total Fitness Executive Club I worked at was absolutely an open book with respect to steroid use during his college baseball career — both its benefits on his performance, and the way it ravaged his body. “You know how if you were training your chest, you might be able to do three sets of 10 reps on the bench, and then you’d need to give your chest two days off to recover?” he once told me. “If you were on steroids, you’d be able to lift for 10 sets of 10 reps using heavier weights than you ever used before, and then you’d feel like you could do it all over again the next day.”

That all sounded amazing. Far less inviting were his stories of acne-ravaged skin all over his body (which was easily verified just from looking at him), erection issues and the obvious protrusion of his nipples through his skin-tight polo shirt. “My nipples have been erect like this for a couple months,” he stated matter-of-factly. “It might be gyno, and I don’t want to fuck around with that. I’m going to have to get off the juice.”

Over the course of the next month, I watched as he continued to lift weights regularly, but drug-free. His muscle mass rapidly melted away, his arms shrank in his shirt sleeves and he went from looking every bit as strong as the most muscular personal trainers on the staff to resembling one of our lithest ultramarathoners.

Anyway, there are two things that still stick with me from that balanced introduction to steroids: 1) The juice isn’t worth the squeeze; and 2) any dude in the weight room with conspicuously hard nipples is probably using.

Why do people’s nipples get hard just from being on steroids?

First of all, pointy nipples aren’t a ubiquitous trait on steroidal trainees. However, based on what I’ve seen, heard and read, the presence of diamond-hard, glass-cutter nipples appears to be an indication of steroid use, and specifically of the early onset of gynecomastia, aka “gyno.” 

Here’s the science: The surge in testosterone caused by steroid supplementation can destabilize the body’s testosterone-estrogen balance in multiple ways. One way this can happen is that the testosterone may be converted directly into estrogen in the user’s fat cells. Another way is that the sudden infusion of testosterone triggers the body to match it with a subsequent surge in estrogen. Either way, the rise in estrogen prompts the body to produce female secondary sex characteristics, which starts with swollen or rounded nipples, and can ultimately result in the presence of full-blown, breast-like tissue in the chests of men. Once this occurs, it almost always requires surgery to correct. 

Gyno has been very noticeable on the steroid-enhanced physiques of bodybuilders and professional wrestlers. And again, per several sources, the presence of perpetually erect nipples often signifies the emergence of gynecomastia in male chest tissue.

Wow! So how do steroid users compensate for this?

The thing about dedicated steroid users is, they all have street PhDs in chemistry. As such, if you ask one of them about what they’re supplementing with, you’re going to get hit with the names of three to four steroids or other body-enhancing chemicals you’ve never even heard of, along with how much to take, where to inject it and for what duration of time.

All of which is to say, gym bros already come preloaded with the uncomfortable answer to the question of how to manage steroid nipples and gynecomastia. Their typical solution: Nolvadex and Arimidex, or the same sort of anti-estrogen medication doctors would prescribe to breast cancer patients. Nolvadex binds to cells and prevents estrogen from entering them, thereby leading to the deaths of estrogen-dependent cells. Meanwhile, Arimidex prevents the conversion of androgen into estrogen. 

Wow. It sounds like steroids lead you down quite the risky rabbithole.

They’re quite risky, often expensive and can get you into a ton of legal trouble depending on the circumstances under which you use them. To say nothing of how they’ll leave you walking around with nipples that you could use to key your ex’s car.