Natural Olympia 3x Classic Physique champion Brandon Lirio discusses distinguishable characteristics of performance enhanced bodybuilders.

Are you curious about the difference between lifters who stay natural and those who use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)? This debate is especially prominent in bodybuilding, but it can be tough to tell who’s natty and who’s not. Luckily, natural bodybuilder Brandon Lirio recently shared some tips on how to spot the signs of a performance-enhanced bodybuilder in an interview with the Longevity Muscle podcast.

Brandon Lirio is an International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA)/Professional Natural Bodybuilding Association (PNBA) Classic Physique professional natural bodybuilder. He’s a 3x Natural Olympia champion, 2x World champion, and 2x Natural Universe champ. Lirio also competes in strongman and powerlifting and has a multi-media contract with Generation Iron and Iron Man Magazine

Recently the Longevity Muscle podcast released footage on their Instagram (IG) page with a clip from their interview with Brandon Lirio, specifically touching on the critical differences between a natural bodybuilder and an enhanced bodybuilder. Lirio stated:

“If you see somebody who wasn’t show-ready a week out and then out of nowhere, they’re super hard, dry, and dense. Alright, the percentage meter’s going up a little bit on the BS call here. 

If within one year, they’ve put on 20 pounds of lean muscle naturally. Alright, that 99 percentile is starting to come back here.”

Brandon Lirio said that most people posting comments online don’t understand how to differentiate natural versus enhanced bodybuilders. You can see an IG clip of Brandon Lirio discussing this on the Longevity Muscle podcast below. 

Natural Bodybuilder Vs. Performance Enhanced Bodybuilder

natural bodybuilder Brandon Lirio

In bodybuilding, athletes can take two distinct paths: natural or enhanced. Natural bodybuilders rely solely on their physical abilities, dedication to training, and diet to build muscle mass and overall strength. Performance enhanced bodybuilders on steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs also strongly rely on their diet and training to build their physique. However, there’s one critical difference: They get the aid of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids.

The key differences between these two approaches are clear. While both groups are equally passionate about their sport and put ample time into the gym with strict diets, steroids can dramatically alter your physical appearance, leading to unnaturally large muscles and other changes.

Muscle Growth for Performance Enhanced Bodybuilders

Enhanced bodybuilders will be able to gain much more muscle mass than natural bodybuilders. As Brandon Lirio alluded, if a bodybuilder has gained 20 pounds of muscle within the last year, they’re likely juicing.

Beginner lifters can put on a lot of muscle mass fast if they follow the correct training protocol and diet. However, advanced lifters that are natural will take much longer to gain muscle mass. Of course, that is if PEDs aren’t used.

PEDs, like steroids, can make advanced lifters start to make rapid gains in the gym all over again as if they’ve never touched a weight before. Natural lifters who’s been lifting for years are thinking in terms of year after year to make muscle gains. Whereas steroids users are on a month-to-month or even week-to-week basis.

For that reason, it’s common for natural bodybuilders to take longer off-seasons to give them the time they need to progress their physique before competing on stage again.

Training Volume and Recovery 

Steroid users can train much less than naturals and get the same results, if not better. The advantages enhance lifters have over natural in the gym are twofold. They allow bodybuilders to train more frequently – which would otherwise be possible without using drugs – and they allow bodybuilders to lift heavier weights. Bodybuilders on steroids will be able to recover at a much faster rate than natural lifters, meaning more time spent in the gym. Of course, when you combine lifting heavier weights with more training volume, muscle growth follows.


Finally, bodybuilders on steroids can be more lenient with their nutrition and maintain a shredded physique. The drugs can make gaining and maintaining muscle mass easier, regardless of diet. However, elite bodybuilders in the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Pro League will also have a strict diet when taking steroids, especially during the season. Of course, a strict diet combined with steroids will multiply the effects.

Difference Between Natural Bodybuilding and Performance Enhanced Bodybuilding 

Of course, their size is a distinguishable difference between performance-enhanced and natural bodybuilders. For example, if you look at the IFBB Pro League, their contenders are noticeably bigger than INBA PNBA athletes. 

INBA PNBA’s natural bodybuilders’ physiques show how much muscle you can build naturally. They prove the amount of muscle mass the human body can produce naturally with hard work and dedication. But it takes time, consistency, and following a well-structured plan. As Brandon Lirio denoted, naturals won’t randomly be able to put on 20 pounds of lean muscle mass in one year.

Therefore, they won’t be able to compete with bodybuilders taking PEDs such as steroids. This is why leagues that don’t test for drugs are separated from those that do. 

Performance Enhanced Bodybuilding

Enhanced bodybuilding, or using steroids to enhance muscle growth, has become controversial in fitness. Steroids are drugs commonly used by bodybuilders to increase their muscle mass.

While there are many pros to taking steroids, such as quicker muscle growth and better athletic performance, there are also many cons. Steroids can cause serious health problems like liver damage, high blood pressure, and heart disease. And many blame it for the string of deaths that onset in the bodybuilder world in 2021.

Additionally, using steroids can lead to addiction and lifelong legal issues. Despite the risks, many bodybuilders continue to use steroids to achieve their desired physique. IFBB Pro bodybuilding leagues don’t test for drugs. Therefore, the bodybuilders in that league take it to get as massive as possible to remain competitive.

Natural Bodybuilding

Not all bodybuilding leagues will drug test their athletes, but natural bodybuilding leagues do. And the INBA PNBA screens its athletes through the most thorough drug testing standards – the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Of course, some INBA PNBA natural bodybuilders disobey this. But these athletes are banned from competing, stripped of their titles, and placed in the Hall of Shame

Natural bodybuilding leagues such as the INBA PNBA put fair competition and the health and safety of their athletes a priority above all. Moreover, the INBA PNBA rewards and recognizes its athletes with more cash and prizes than other natural bodybuilder federations. It also helps set their athletes up for success through opportunities like multi-media contracts.  

Final Word

When building muscle, there are two types of bodybuilders: natural and enhanced. If you’re a natural bodybuilder, you must rely solely on a healthy diet and regular training to bulk up. It may take longer and be tougher than those on PEDs. On the other hand, enhanced bodybuilders follow strict diets, too, but use PEDs to help them boost strength and lift heavier weights more often. This enables them to build more muscle mass and at a faster pace. Although, it comes with its risk.

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Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.