Plenty of people think they know a lot about bodybuilding, that they’ve got these muscle men – and women – all sussed out, but let’s be frank: most don’t know diddly squat. They see these big, larger than life – literally larger than life – people walking among them, and most tend to make a snap judgment, instantly thinking steroids, steroids, steroids! Sure, steroids are involved in bodybuilding, despite the denial. You don’t need to see a guy’s blood work to know he’s taking something a bit more potent than a daily multivitamin! Steroids are basically a must if you want to turn pro; most who use them purely for recreational, cosmetic purposes also think it’s a must – but I’ll get into all that during the course of this article.
Lift weights, eat a ton of food, and take steroids – that’s what most people deem the sport of bodybuilding to be, and it is if you strip it down to its bare basics, but there’s a ton of other stuff that goes into trying to build a championship physique. If you do this, you’ll only get so far with your bodybuilding career. In competitive bodybuilding, being simply huge isn’t enough. It’s not about being the biggest and the best. It’s about being the smartest and knowing your body and what the competition rules entail. In fact, many people would deem bodybuilders to be incredibly stupid for getting into the industry in the first place. You’ll see why that might be the case as you read through this article. There’s plenty that goes on in the whole bodybuilding lifestyle that the average person just wouldn’t know about, things that would make you recoil in horror, and think that these guys are out of their minds for going down that route and making bodybuilding their daily focus. These are 15 things you probably didn’t know about the dark underbelly of bodybuilding:
15. The Steroids
As I said in the intro, a lot of people look at these muscle men and instantly attribute their size to steroids. You can usually tell if a person’s on gear, so yes of course steroids are a major part of the bodybuilding industry. Even guys and girls in gyms around the world have started taking ‘roids, those who have no desire to compete just take them for cosmetic reasons – for recreational use. There are tons of different types of steroids, each essentially doing the same thing, but each work slightly differently, and have a different chemical make-up. But steroids aside, there are a whole host of drugs that are found in a bodybuilder’s medicine cabinet. Aside from other drugs that have a similar mechanism of action to steroids, bodybuilders would probably be popping more over-the-counter and prescription pills than the average person. They know steroid use isn’t good for them health wise, so they pop more pills to try and reduce any potential side effects. Drugs, drugs, and more drugs! It’s just part of a bodybuilder’s lifestyle.
14. HGH And Insulin Use Is Rife
As a pro bodybuilder, you can’t get away with just taking steroids, popping a few pills, taking a few injections, and think you’re going to pack on size. Sure, there’s going to be some muscle gain and fat loss, but for the best results, you’re going to have to stack. This essentially means taking a couple or a few steroids at a time, during the same period. And for the serious bodybuilder stepping onto the stage as a heavyweight, it won’t just be steroids that’ll be part of the stack. Bodybuilders commonly use other hormones such as Human Growth Hormone, but another hormone they use, which is produced naturally in the body (they’re taking synthetic versions of course), is insulin.
You’re probably thinking, how the hell will insulin help when it comes to packing on size? Well, here’s the murky side of bodybuilding. About a week or two before a competition, bodybuilders tend to carb load. This means, if done properly, they eat nothing but carbs. Their muscle building would have been done by that stage, so there’s no need for protein, as this takes a long time to digest and so will affect the size of the stomach. Carbs get digested quickly and help the muscles fill out, giving the appearance of muscles looking fuller and more rounded. But they literally stuff their faces with carbs, so to avoid going into shock, insulin’s required to help break it all down.
13. Substance Abuse Problems
There are a lot of bodybuilders out there who live the true bodybuilding lifestyle. Their concern is packing on lean muscle and developing a championship physique. This is something that takes 24 hours a day dedication – the diet, the training, the sleeping, the supplements, and drugs… But because there are drugs involved, and lots of them, and the majority of bodybuilders self-medicate, there are plenty who get addicted to other substances. They’re taking such a huge cocktail of drugs anyway, so what’s a few more recreational drugs going to do?
The fact that the bodybuilding lifestyle is such a strict lifestyle to abide by also contributes to a lot of bodybuilders going off the rails. It is a 24 hour a day job to be a top pro, so some need an escape, and they find their escape through alcohol and other drugs. Consequently, tons of bodybuilders end up developing substance abuse problems, which when combined with the stacks of bodybuilding drugs they’re already taking, seriously damages the body.
12. Steroid Dealing
When it comes to steroids, the law differs from country to country. In the UK for example, possession of steroids isn’t an offence, but selling and dealing is, provided you don’t have the appropriate licence. In the US, both the selling and possession of steroids is illegal, without having a valid medical reason. These laws aren’t really effective when it comes to stopping people from taking them. Not everyone taking steroids in US has them medically prescribed. So, taking steroids is actually illegal. But dealing them is a definite no no. However, it’s something pretty much every bodybuilder’s done at some point.
They may not all be big-time drug dealers, but it starts small and tends to escalate. For instance: you ask the big guy in the gym what he’s taking. He tells you and offers to get some for you. That’s where it starts. Pretty soon the big guy’s got a regular client, and this expands into a regular client base, and before you know it, there’s a steroid dealing operation going on. Remember, the money offered at pro bodybuilding shows is pitiful, so many need the extra cash, and they accomplish that by doing a little drug dealing on the side.
11. Pro Bodybuilding Isn’t A Lucrative Sport
As I’ve just mentioned, the money offered at pro bodybuilding shows is laughable. Let me put it into context here: the winner of the Mr. Olympia – the biggest bodybuilding event on the planet – who happened to be a guy by the name of Phil Heath in 2016, walked away with $400,000 prize money. That’s pretty dire considering he’s the best bodybuilder on the planet. And when he won the Mr. Olympia crown in 2014, it was even worse – he only won $275,000! And if you’re placed in the top five – which is still a massive feat by the way – you get far less. Compare that with the highest-paid player in the MLB at the moment, Clayton Kershaw, who earns $32m, and you can begin to appreciate how bad bodybuilders have it.
So, understandably, many can’t dedicate themselves full time to the sport and lifestyle they love. Ronnie Coleman, arguably the greatest bodybuilder who’s ever lived, was working full time as a police officer while he was winning Mr. Olympia titles! Many work regular jobs, but there are a ton that do plenty of shady things on the side to rake in a bit of extra cash.
10. Muscle Worshiping
One of the shady things that quite a few bodybuilders have done, is partake in muscle worshiping. This is where bodybuilding gets really creepy. For those of you who don’t know what muscle worshiping is, it’s basically a big guy posing and flexing, essentially doing what he does on stage, but to an audience who finds him sexually attractive. I say him, but plenty of female bodybuilders are the subject of muscle worshiping sessions. In fact, these muscle women get paid far less than their male counterparts, which is already pittance, so that’s often how they make a living; posing for an audience, either live in person at an event, or online through private sessions.
Muscle worshiping is prevalent amongst gay men, but it’s also widespread amongst those who find the prospect of muscle, of getting dominated by that individual, arousing. Some muscle worshiping actually does get physical, and if it does, bodybuilders can demand more money.
There’s a huge demand out there for people into muscle worshiping, and so plenty of bodybuilders use this as an opportunity to supplement their incomes. It’s pretty grim, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to put food on the table.
9. Sacrificing Future Health
This is something that boggles a lot of people’s minds. Bodybuilders claim that they’re super healthy, and a lot of them look it. The training, the exercise, the diet – it can all be healthy, all this can make the body into an anabolic machine. If you’re a natural bodybuilder, train and compete for fun, and don’t have any aspirations of stepping onto the Mr. Olympia stage, you will probably be a very healthy individual. But of course, when drugs are involved, a cocktail of drugs, plus the drugs they take to combat the side effects of the other drugs they take – keeping up here? – it suddenly become a very unhealthy sport. There are tons of studies on the issue, the results of which have shown taking steroids can cause a whole host of problems down the line.
But even not taking the drug use into account, the body’s just not built to carry all that weight. Weight is weight, whether it’s fat or muscle mass, it still puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the joints and organs. So, this is perhaps the most ludicrous thing about pro bodybuilding: the competitors are sacrificing their health for the way they look.
8. Bodybuilding Federations Know Steroid Use Is Prevalent
One of the main reasons why bodybuilding and bodybuilders get a bad rap, is because of the whole steroid thing. While steroid use is banned in pretty much every other sport, in bodybuilding, it’s a generally accepted thing. But it’s very odd, that when asked about steroids, the heads of various bodybuilding federations – pretty much everyone involved in the sport, including bodybuilders for that matter – shrug off the issue and get very uncomfortable talking about it. Very few have actually come out and said, “yes, I take steroids” even if it doesn’t take someone with a medical degree to tell you they’re on something more than multivitamins.
Bodybuilding Federations have been saying for a long time that they want to ban steroid use from the sport. Yeah…right… In that case, why do they put on open shows and natural shows? Natural shows being for natural bodybuilders and open shows being for anyone – athletes on drugs and natural competitors.
Bodybuilding that doesn’t involve steroid use will never happen. People pay to attend these shows to see big guys, the so-called mass monsters. The crowds won’t come to see a guy slightly bigger and leaner than them standing on stage and posing in their trunks. Everyone knows this, including the sponsors. It’s rumored that at one Mr. Olympia event, it was announced there was going to be drug testing across the board. Consequently, the bodybuilders came on stage a lot leaner, without carrying so much mass. The sponsors knew this wasn’t what the audience came to see and so threatened to pull out of their sponsorship deals in future shows. Of course, the drug testing was therefore scrapped. Ah, the politics of bodybuilding!
7. Psychological Issues
Most people deem anyone who lifts weights to get big, let alone pro bodybuilders, to be incredibly insecure individuals, that perhaps they’re compensating for something or feel inadequate in some aspect of their life. That’s a bit of a generalization, but it’s true, a lot of bodybuilders do begin lifting due to insecurities. But bodybuilding itself, living that whole lifestyle, tends to affect psychological wellbeing.
Pretty much every pro bodybuilder, or anyone who lifts weights with the desire to get big, would have suffered from muscle dysmorphia or “bigorexia” at some point in their lives. Just like how anorexic people will look at themselves in the mirror and see someone who’s fat and overweight when in actual fact they’re skinnier than the average person, someone who’s “bigorexic” will look in the mirror and see a little baby, when in actual fact, they’re pretty built. Bodybuilders can never be big enough; look in the mirror and it’s hard to notice the gains, so such individuals will often do whatever it takes to put on more size, and that includes taking tons of drugs.
Women might get breast implants or butt implants, but nowadays, men have plenty of options too. Nowadays, due to medical advances, pretty much anything you want altered, enhanced, or reduced, can be done through surgery. A lot of bodybuilders use that to their advantage.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you work out in the gym, how many drugs you take, you just can’t seem to develop a particular muscle. This could be due to improper training methods – although with a pro this is unlikely to be the case – or just because of genetics. Genetics plays a huge part in bodybuilding, and in today’s day and age, genetic manipulation isn’t yet a thing bodybuilders can use. If and when it does, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll all be doing it! So, if your genetics hinder you when it comes to developing a certain muscle, what can you do? Get implants. It’s something a lot of the top pros are doing, all in the quest to get the perfect body.
5. Politics In Pro Bodybuilding
I’ve already touched upon the politics in pro bodybuilding a tad, but the dodgy goings on in the world of competitive bodybuilding, the politics, encompasses many things.
Ever wondered how a bodybuilding show is judged? Judges are looking for a number of different things. It’s all about symmetry; nowadays it’s about having a small waist, broad shoulders – that V-taper – and round, full muscle bellies. It’s not about being the biggest. A guy with massive arms and tiny legs isn’t going to win diddly squat. But when the top, let’s say five competitors, pose up against each other, they all look pretty much the same. So how do the judges make their decision? A lot of it has to do with politics, although nobody will ever admit to this. It’s about who they think is the better looking individual, who’ll be able to take the sport forward, who has the better personality. And another thing I might add, that a lot of the pros find abhorrent, is that the judges at these pro shows have never stepped on stage themselves. You work hard, often for years leading up to a show, and the final decision, your placing, comes down to that – it’s pretty disgraceful.
4. The Cost Of Making It Onstage
I’ve already touched upon how bodybuilding isn’t a lucrative sport, how the prize money offered at pro shows is ridiculously low. You might be thinking, “they’re earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, and on top of that, they’ve got all these sponsorship deals – they must be doing pretty well, right?” Wrong!
Aside from maybe the top five bodybuilders on the planet who probably all have sponsorship deals – it’s here where they get the most money – the rest are earning peanuts. In fact, it’s safe to say that the majority of the pro bodybuilders on this planet, and you can add amateur bodybuilders into the mix too, spend far more money on getting ready for a competition than anything they’ll ever make from the sport. The cost of just making it onstage, just preparing for a competition is massive. Factor in food costs, which will probably be ten times more expensive than the average person’s food bill, supplements, gym memberships, sports massages, and of course, the steroids – which are incredibly pricy – and you’ll begin to realize what I mean. Bodybuilding is no sport to get into if you have dreams and aspirations of living it large and making a ton of money. You get into it for the lifestyle, because for the average competitor, becoming rich off of bodybuilding is a pipe dream.
3. Competition Prep
Crazy things go on during the preparation stages of a competition. Firstly, there’s the bulking and then the cutting – getting massive, then altering your diet to get lean and ripped as you approach the competition. Then, a couple of weeks leading up to a competition, there’ll be carb loading to fill out the muscles. Add into that the tanning and the waxing and everything, and it’s a pretty crazy time.
But the maddest thing of all bodybuilders put their bodies through – as if all of this wasn’t crazy enough – is purposely severely dehydrating themselves. In the weeks leading up to a competition, they’ll gradually begin to reduce their water intake, until in the final week of prep, some limit themselves to a mere one glass of water a day. I don’t need to tell you how dangerous this actually is, especially considering they’re big guys who’d require more water than the average person, and that they’re still training during this period. It’s all about getting maximum muscle definition – actors such as Hugh Jackman have also used this technique for certain shoots. But as if cutting back on the water intake isn’t enough, some go a step further, and consume spirits such as vodka on the morning of a competition to dehydrate themselves even further. It really is madness what they put their bodies through, and what’s expected of them during competition prep.
2. Neglecting Their Kids
Bodybuilding is a 24 hour a day lifestyle choice – if you want to make it big in the sport that’s what you need to do. So, many pros and a lot of people aspiring to be pros, only focus on bodybuilding: their training, diet, and importantly – something that tends to get overlooked – rest and recuperation, as that’s when the growing and repairing happens. As a consequence of this, a lot of these guys screw up relationships, because it’s mighty tough to be around a bodybuilder when he’s getting ready for a competition. It’s a very selfish sport in that respect. Arnold Schwarzenegger summed it up in the famous bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, where he said he didn’t attend his dad’s funeral because “he’s dead, there’s nothing to be done” and he didn’t want any outside negative things affecting his prep. This was later found out to be a fabrication of the truth to wow and shock people in the movie, but you get the gist.
That’s an extreme example, but many bodybuilders screw up relationships within their own families, including with their kids. A lot don’t even play with their kids, not because they’re tired or anything like that, even though that’s no excuse anyway. They don’t play with their kids because it expends too much energy, energy the body needs to repair and build muscle. This is yet another reason why bodybuilders get a bad rap, and rightly so.
1. Bodybuilders Are At Their Weakest Onstage
When everything’s all done and dusted, months, sometimes years of prep have finished, it comes down to the impression you give posing on stage, how you pose and show your body off to the judges. It doesn’t matter how much effort you’ve put in before then, all those gym sessions, that diet, if you get one thing wrong – perhaps you didn’t have that glass of vodka on the morning of your competition – get ready to wave goodbye to that trophy.
Bodybuilders, when they’re lifting weights and doing their thing in the gym a few months before a competition, that’s when they’re at their strongest. But as the time passes by and that competition date’s fast approaching, they put their bodies through hell and gradually become weaker and weaker. When they’re actually on stage and showcasing their bodies and all their hard work, they’re actually at their weakest. Sure, they look big and built and impressive posing on stage, but on the inside they’re rotting and they’re rusting, as a result of everything that’s been mentioned in this article. It’s a crazy life to lead – not for the faint- hearted or for those wanting to make a quick buck.