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What You Need to Know About Clenbuterol for Bodybuilding

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 15, 2021

Clenbuterol is a fat-burning drug that raises your metabolic rate. Even though it is not approved for use in the U.S., some athletes and bodybuilders use clenbuterol to help them reach their fitness goals.

Here’s what you need to know about this powerful and risky medication.

What Is Clenbuterol?

Clenbuterol is a drug that is not approved for human use in the U.S. In some countries, it is available by prescription only for people with asthma or other breathing problems. Since 1998, the FDA has allowed clenbuterol for treating horses with asthma. It is not allowed for animals that are used in food production.

Clenbuterol is a substance that has steroid-like effects and is classified as a beta2-adrenergic agonist. This means that it stimulates the beta2-adrenergic receptors in your throat. The medicine helps relax your muscles and lungs, making it easier to breathe if you have asthma or another respiratory condition. It can stay in your body for up to 39 hours after you take it.

Clenbuterol for Bodybuilding

However, clenbuterol — also called clen — is abused by athletes and bodybuilders for its ability to burn fat. The same receptors that are activated when taking clenbuterol for asthma also help to burn off fat and increase lean muscle mass. Athletes who use clenbuterol daily typically take 60 to 120 milligrams per day. Normally this is taken in combination with other performance-enhancing drugs or anabolic steroids.

Clenbuterol increases your body temperature through a process called thermogenesis. Once your body temp is up, your metabolism is then primed to burn off more calories. Since fat is stored in the body as energy, your body can use the calories that you already have stored. This can decrease your body fat and lower your overall weight.

Because clenbuterol is a bronchodilator, it opens up your airways when you take it. This is helpful for those with asthma. For athletes, this allows them to increase their stamina by having more airflow moving around the body. More oxygen is available, so you can perform harder and better. 

Even though it isn’t legal in the US, athletes and bodybuilders continue to abuse clen to help them cut weight and increase muscle mass. Many see it as an alternative to anabolic steroids — the drugs that typically come to mind when you think of performance-enhancing substances. It has the reputation of being a “non-steroidal steroid” due to its ability to mimic steroids. Since it isn’t technically a steroid, some athletes saw clenbuterol for bodybuilding as a more “natural” approach to building muscle.

Benefits of Using Clenbuterol

Even though it is illegal and has several side effects, many athletes still abuse clen. 

Fewer androgenic side effects. It’s thought that clenbuterol is more popular than anabolic steroids with female bodybuilders because there are fewer androgenic side effects. Steroids typically cause side effects like an increase in facial hair or the deepening of your voice. Clenbuterol is not known to cause these.

Rapid weight loss. As noted, clenbuterol works by raising your metabolism, helping you to burn off fat. One study involved two groups of overweight men who were put on the same strict diet. One group was given clenbuterol and one wasn't. Over ten weeks, the group who received clenbuterol lost an average of 11.4 kilograms of fat and the control group lost 8.7 kilograms of fat. 

Appetite suppression. Many bodybuilders rely on clenbuterol before an upcoming performance or competition to trim off extra fat. A secondary effect of this drug is that it helps curb your appetite so that you take in fewer calories. Not every person experiences this effect, however.

Risks and Side Effects

Many athletes and bodybuilders use clenbuterol for its benefits — but there are several dangerous side effects to be aware of.

Some of the most common side effects include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Lowered blood potassium (hypokalemia)
  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • Anxiety 
  • Agitation
  • Sweating 
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Feeling hot or warm
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps

You are more likely to have these side effects if you take higher doses of clenbuterol to achieve its weight loss effects. Since this drug stays in your body for quite a while, you could have side effects anywhere from one to eight days. Studies show that more than 80% of people abusing clenbuterol who had serious side effects had to be hospitalized.

New users of clenbuterol are more likely to experience side effects than people who have previously taken it. If you experience any of these side effects after using clenbuterol, it’s important to immediately stop using it and to get help from a doctor.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Drug Enforcement Administration: “Clenbuterol (Street Names: Clen).”

Gilmore Health News: "Reasons Why Clenbuterol is Still Popular for Weight Loss and Bodybuilding."

LIINC Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing: “Effects of clenbuterol.”

‌‌Poison Control: “Clenbuterol: Unapproved and Unsafe.”

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