Fail: Pro Bodybuilding and Big Guts

by John Romano

The Truth About Those Nasty Distended Bellies

Many pro bodybuilders look pregnant. It's like they've got a six pack stretched over a keg. How does this happen? That question, answered.

Here’s what you need to know…

  1. Aside from diet and exercise, a big part of high-level bodybuilding is learning how to manage drug use.
  2. Some blame growth hormone and insulin for the expanding waistlines of bodybuilders. This may not be the case.
  3. Gut distension can be the result of digestive slowing, which happens when bodybuilders use diuretics and then carb-load while dehydrated.
  4. Massive abs make it harder to have a small waist. And today’s bodybuilders are more massive than ever.
  5. Having a big gut should count against a competitor’s score because he has clearly failed part of his contest prep.

The New Maternity Ward

At the Arnold Classic this year, there were an awful lot of bodybuilders on stage who looked several months pregnant, if you caught them when they weren’t holding it in. More than usual this time.

And I’m talking about the men. Oddly, the women never look pregnant.

I’m sick of it. That gut destroys a physique, and if you’re destroying a physique then you’re destroying bodybuilding. And I happen to love bodybuilding.

The issue can no longer be swept under the rug. For the freak show that bodybuilding is today (and I mean “freak” in a good way), the distention issue needs to be addressed.

The guts need to be tamed.

Managing The Medicine Cabinet

Bodybuilding, done at a high level, presents a list of challenges, many of them quite formidable.

Part of playing the game of bodybuilding is that the bodybuilder must crack a code to figure out how to manage every aspect of bulking and contest preparation.

These challenges represent links in a very long and complex chain. If any one of them fails, the chain breaks and you lose.

The distended gut is an indication that the coach/guru in charge of the bodybuilder needs to up his game, just as he would if all his clients were tearing their pecs. Clearly he’s screwing up something.

Part of the challenge in sculpting a winning physique requires you to handle your business in the medicine cabinet. Knowing how to use your drugs correctly and minimize side effects is as much a part of the game as anything else.

The Belly and the Drug Myths

You’ve heard it called “growth hormone gut,” “slin-gut,” “roid belly,” etc. But what is so widely rumored to be the cause might not necessarily be so.

There are just as many published, peer reviewed, university studies indicating that Gh causes abdominal distention as there are those that prove insulin does – ZERO. So, the evidence we must rely on is empirical.

In the case of insulin, a bodybuilder using insulin correctly is hopefully not taking more than 10-12 units before and after he trains. Even double that is still less than many diabetics (the people for whom insulin was originally invented) who take as much as 50-60 units a day, even more for the obese.

In the case of Gh, common doses in off-label muscle wasting cases range from 9-18 IU a day. As much as you’d like to believe they do, top pro bodybuilders do not typically do more than that. I see doses in the 4-12 range daily as being more common. But let’s call it 18 IU for argument’s sake.

Doctors prescribing Gh or insulin don’t tell their patients that they’ll experience radical abdominal distention with its use. In fact, even the bodybuilding sites publishing articles on Gh and insulin use don’t warn of abdominal distention.

The only time we ever hear of abdominal distention associated with Gh or insulin use is during post-contest commentary by internet experts.

By virtue of omission, we can pretty well see that there’s no abdominal distention associated with pharmacological doses of Gh and insulin, which, in most cases, greatly exceed the doses competitive bodybuilders commonly use.

So, really, how does one justify blaming directly Gh or insulin?

There is little doubt that the concomitant correct use of Gh and insulin causes muscle to grow. Organs too, to some extent. But with the reported use of Gh and insulin being what it is, there should be wild reports of 12 pound spleens and eight foot aortas. But, once again, we hear of no such cases.

Don’t put too much credence into uncontrolled organ hypertrophy. Someone show me a noncancerous gall bladder the size of cantaloupe and I may change my mind, but not until then.

Ab Muscle Growth

Muscle growth is something we can all get behind. Gh and insulin, not to mention steroids, androgens, anti-cortisol drugs, diet, training supplements, etc., contribute to muscle growth.

The abdomen is covered in muscle that grows right along with all the other muscles, depending on genetics and how it’s trained. That means today’s mega-huge bodybuilders have to deal with a mega-huge amount of abdominal muscle.

And therein lies the rub. How is a 270 pound guy at 5’10" going have the little trim waist of a bodybuilder who weighs 230 at that height? He’s not. So, there’s a lot of muscle, and it sticks out.

There’s a ton of arguing going on about how the '80s and early '90s bodybuilders didn’t have distended guts even though they were using insulin and Gh. That’s not entirely true, but it’s true enough to toss a wrench in the gears of the current argument.

Muscle mass is at an all time high today, more so than in the '80s and '90s, with just a small handful of exceptions. More muscle mass also includes abdominal muscle mass.

Digestion and Distension

Stuffing food into that big bag of muscle also adds exponentially to the challenge a bodybuilder faces. Especially if the prep guru in charge is promoting a lot of carbs pre contest.

A dehydrated bodybuilder wishing to saturate his muscles with the glycogen derived from hundreds of calories of rice and potatoes is going to have a hell of a time of it.

Why? Because he’s probably not taking in sodium and is on diuretics.

This slows gastric emptying and also leaves little water to make the desired glycogen (glycogen is three parts water to one of glucose), so the whole digestive process is slowed. The carbing-up, however, is not.

All that abdominal muscle is now being stretched because it’s so full. It then draws fluid to it (blood), just like any other muscle being worked or stretched. This, coupled with a ton of food, should create a nice big bulge where a vacuum is supposed to be.

Add all these variables together, along with others that I haven’t mentioned – stress, nerves, water manipulation – and you have a recipe for a challenge that will determine if your gut sticks out or not.

Figuring it out is part of the game in the “sport” of bodybuilding.

The Bodybuilder’s Job

The onus should fall on the contest prep gurus to flatten out the mess they made. These guys should take this as a notice to maybe pay a little less attention to bro-science and more to real science. Figure out what you’re doing wrong and fix it.

If you get on stage and your gut is sticking out, then you and your coach screwed up.

That should count against your scoring and could be the reason you’d lose. Unless, of course, the rest of the guys look worse, which is possible.

In any case, the sport should be presenting the judges the very best specimens of the human form from which they are to pick.

That’s the whole point of entering your physique in a competition designed to pick the best one. Your job as a bodybuilder should be to be as close to absolute perfect as humanly possible, including a tight, trim, totally under control midsection.

Arnold Calls Out Pro-Bodybuilding

You probably know about what happened at the Arnold Classic when Schwarzenegger publicly called out the president of the IFBB and urged everyone else to do so as well.

Arnold said that the current judging standards in bodybuilding have denigrated to the shameful degree that the athletes’ bodies no longer look “beautiful” or athletic, nor do they represent the kind of body that anyone would want to have themselves. Yep, he said it.

Now, Arnold is certainly not the first to criticize the judging of a bodybuilding contest. He is, however, the first one that’s not going to get any shit for it. That’s why the issue can no longer be ignored.

Arnold put his ample foot down. If you agree with him, it’s time to say so because, according to the Oak, “It’s unacceptable the way bodybuilding is going. We don’t want to see stomachs sticking out. We want to see the most beautiful man, the most athletic man.”

I agree.

This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen distended abdomens. I can think back as far to at least the end of Dorian Yates’s reign when he was shamelessly photographed out of the lineup, sporting at least one pumpkin with a navel.

Having one should count against a competitor’s score not only because it’s ugly, but because it indicates that he’s failing at an important, and now vital, aspect of what it takes to be an elite freak in pro bodybuilding.

If you’ve chosen to be a freak, get the distension under control.