Bodybuilding: Competition or Lifestyle?

It’s become quite lucid that many competitive physique athletes (both men and women) are merely in it for the looks and nothing else. These competitions are, after all, about how your body looks and not how it functions. But what does health really mean if looks are not the best indication of longevity?

Bodybuilding and fitness, at their core, should not be viewed as just intermittent sports or competitions to build muscle and get as lean as possible. Rather, they’re a lifestyle to improve your body and health. Fitness should be a journey to enhance all aspects of your life, not take away from them. It’s unfortunate that many fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders equate sacrifice and deprivation with success and “Wanting it more.”

It’s become quite lucid that many competitive physique athletes (both men and women) are merely in it for the looks and nothing else. For whatever reason, these individuals tend to feel superior to others because of their aesthetics and leanness. 

Take a step back and really think about that for a moment; why would looking a certain way make you superior to someone, or more healthy than them? Depending on your level of detachment from reality, I can assure you what goes on inside of your body is far more important than what your shell looks like.

Beauty is Only Skin Deep

It seems so common to hear people in the gym say they don’t want to be a fitness competitor, but they just want to be lean and fit. Let’s get something clear - just because you don’t plan on competing in a physique competition doesn’t mean you’re not still living a fitness lifestyle.

If you are diligently exercising and dieting with a desire to improve your health and appearance, you essentially are a physique competitor (just minus the part where you get super tan and pose on stage). It doesn’t matter if you’re a 50-year old soccer mom just trying to shape her curves or an 21-year old college girl who likes looking good in yoga pants.

So what’s the point with all this? In short, the possible health ramifications of being a competitive physique athlete (especially an elite competitor). Let’s look at male IFBB bodybuilders an example, it’s no secret that many (or basically all) of these competitors take their performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Make no mistake that abusing PEDs such as anabolic steroids and growth hormone is not healthy (particularly for longevity). Some common health consequences of PED abuse (in both males and females) include myocardial infarction (heart attack), hypertension, elevated heart rate, sleep apnea, kidney/liver failure, impotence and acne/oily skin (abuse is the keyword here).[1] 

Females, in particular, also become more manly, literally, when they abuse anabolic androgenic steroids. To make matters worse, many female physique competitors combat these manly traits by getting things like breast implants, which can have serious health consequences in the long-term (in particular, increased likelihood of a weakened immune system).

The most disconcerting thing is how aloof many physique competitors are to the risks associated with PEDs. Does someone who has tons of muscle mass but can barely walk up the stairs because their organs are failing sound like a healthy individual? I think not. Moreover, a female who has a lean, toned physique and breast implants may look shapely and fit, but if she’s abusing PEDs and putting foreign material in her body then odds are she isn’t feeling the best inside.

I want to make it clear, though, that abusing PEDs is vastly different from using them in nominal amounts. There’s plenty of literature that shows ‘replacement’ doses of testosterone and growth hormone can actually extend lifespan in males who are naturally deficient.[2] Same goes for estrogen in females.

Are Looks the Best Indicator of Health?

So what does it mean to be healthy if looks are not always the best indicator? If you ask most any physique competitor what health means to them odds are they will say it’s purely based on how fit they look. But as previously discussed, looks are not always synonymous with a healthy internal environment.

Take a step back and think what the term healthy really means in the big picture. Biologically speaking, health is implicitly defined by the survivability of an organism. This is synonymous with Darwin’s definition for fitness, a term often used interchangeably with health.

Essentially, for us humans, this means that a healthy person is one who is primed internally to live as long as possible. So how do we measure health and longevity in a typical human? Well, many medical tests can be run to check for things like proper blood pressure, organ function, endocrine regulation, lipid profiles, mineral/vitamin levels, heart rate, nervous system response, mental state, etc.

So are these assays the only way to get an idea of our health? Not by a long shot, but they are quite a bit more indicative of health than just looking at the shape of your body. It’s just disheartening to think that bodybuilding and fitness are not really congruous with longevity and overall health. Steroid and other PED abuse, plastic surgery, implants, working out excessively, and overly restrictive dieting are typically going to worsen your health in the long run.

It isn’t my intention to get readers riled up whether or not being a competitive physique athlete means you’re inherently unhealthy, but rather just to get the idea of bodybuilding (and fitness) back to what they’re meant to be about - being healthy and improving your physique. When you sacrifice appearance for health, you are not getting fit for much more than a shorter life, it’s that simple.

The ultimate point to take home, is that you can in fact have a great body without sacrificing your internal health. This is why MPA is constantly formulating supplements that not only help you look great, but feel great too, like HeartSolve and CardioSolve.