Bodybuilding: Competition or Lifestyle?
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 a 21-year old college frat boy who likes looking good shirtless.
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 “vitamins” (read: performance-enhancing drugs/PEDs).
Drugs, Implants, and All that Jazz
Make no mistake that taking PEDs such as anabolic steroids and growth hormone, in large quantities, 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).
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 taking a bunch of PEDs and putting foreign material in her body then odds are she isn’t feeling the best inside.
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 was 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 of 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.
What is Healthy?
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 endlessly, and restricting diet to the same “clean” foods over and over again are just some ways to actually 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.
On that note, it’s promising to see drug-free physique competitions growing rather rapidly in the past decade. Again, I’m not defaming those who choose to use PEDs and claiming they’re unhealthy, but it’s quite clear that abusing those substances does have long-term health consequences. The ultimate point to take home, is that you can, in fact, have a great body without sacrificing your internal health.