A 2019 survey revealed that one in five schoolchildren say that their ideal career would be to become an influencer.
Since 2009, the term ‘influencer’ has been used to describe somebody who uses social media to share specific knowledge and, through advertising, some of these people make a significant amount of money.
Fitness influencers in particular are incredibly popular with the public, with 180 million uses of the hashtag #fitness on the social media platform, Instagram.
They are as competitive as they are popular and, as such, a handful will do anything they can to get the edge over the competition – including using performance-enhancing substances.
In the UK, testing positive for anabolic steroids can ban a sportsperson from competing professionally.
And if found with intent to supply, preparators can face a sentence of up to 14 years which is the same as the maximum sentence for conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
However, for some influencers it appears the penalty is worth the risk.
In this article, we’ll explore this recent phenomenon by taking a look at what performance enhancing substances are and, the increasing number of fitness influencers who are using them.
What Are Performance Enhancing Substances?
While there are a number of different substances which fit into this category, the most commonly used ones are steroids.
These drugs, which are used for medical purposes as a treatment for conditions such as COPD and bowel disease, are a man-made copy of hormones which are naturally produced in the adrenal glands.
When used in high doses, these hormones can reduce the symptoms of a number of common conditions by reducing inflammation.
Although steroids are an extremely valuable tool in the medical profession, they also have a slightly more sinister use.
When used by athletes, these drugs can help to increase muscle size and promote fast recovery from a workout or fitness session.
In turn, this means that the individual is able to exercise more frequently and more intensively.
In the athletic world, steroids are often associated with body builders due to the fact that they promote the fast production of muscle mass.
However, these drugs are increasingly used by other athletes and sportspeople, including fitness influencers.
As more and more people in the UK seek to emulate celebrities, statistics suggest that over a million people in Great Britain use steroids for cosmetic purposes.
The Dangers of Performance Enhancing Substances
Personal trainer and nutritionist, Harry Smith, says that he estimates that over 50% of fitness influencers use some form of performance-enhancing solution on a regular basis, including steroids, human growth hormones and insulin.
Insulin is a drug which is commonly used to control the symptoms of diabetes but, some athletes take insulin for its fat reducing properties.
Regular use of steroids in a non-medical way can lead to a number of health issues, including:
- Blood pressure problems
- Heart problems, including the risk of a heart attack
As well as being extremely damaging to your health, the use of, and the supply of steroids can lead to substantial fines, prison sentences, loss of career and, in some cases, even death.
So, why would a fitness influencer risk all of this by using performance-enhancing substances?
Fitness Influencers Using Performance Enhancing Drugs
There are, quite literally, millions of reasons why – in 2021, popular fitness influencer, Kayla Itsines, sold her fitness platform, Sweat, for a cool $400 million.
The influencer who started by training people in her parents’ back yard before going online, has been an inspiration for a huge number of people.
While there’s nothing to suggest that Kayla has used steroids, others may have done so in order to try to achieve the meteoric success that she has enjoyed.
Although there are no official statistics for the use of anabolic steroids in the UK.
It is known that there are a number of illegal, or black market, laboratories in the country which are producing these drugs. Often these businesses use dangerous ingredients while working in non-sterile conditions.
One anonymous producer in the West Midlands says:
“More and more people want to start up their own lab, but they don’t have the knowledge of where to get the powders, so they come to us.”
“We can make up to between £15,000 and £20,000 a month – and I know people who make us look like chump change.” “People are making up to £150,000 a month”.
Social Media Backlash
As well as the risks posed to the fitness influencers themselves, their steroid use also impacts on their fans and followers.
When somebody follows a fitness influencer, it’s usually because they admire that person and, believe that the influencer can help them to get their bodies in shape.
Needless to say, these followers feel extremely cheated when they discover that the influencer has achieved their body goals not through exercise and diet but, by taking drugs.
That’s exactly what happened in 2021 when Canadian fitness influencer, Melissa Kate Bumstead, was arrested on suspicion of having received illegal steroids in the post.
The influencer who before her arrest, had 105,000 followers, has since been shunned by her fans.
The Link Between Fitness Influencers and Substance Abuse
While it may be possible to understand the pressure that fitness influencers are under ad how this may lead to using performance-enhancing substances, the risk is simply too great.
As well as the loss of reputation and subsequently income, the health and legal implications of steroids can have a devastating impact on the influencer’s life.
This is why, if you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction it is important to contact a medical professional or charity.