Bodybuilding Bellies by John Romano

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The Truth About Those Nasty Distended Bodybuilding Bellies

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 with bodybuilding bellies. They 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, 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 of bodybuilding bellies can no longer be swept under the rug. Bodybuilding is a freak show today. And l mean “freak” in a good way, but the distention issue needs to be addressed.

The guts need to be tamed. Bodybuilding Bellies need to be addressed.

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 to crack the code. The bodybuilder must figure out how to manage every aspect of bulking and contest preparation.

These challenges represent links in a very long and complex chain. If anyone 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. Know how to use your drugs correctly and minimize side effects. This is as much a part of the game as everything else.

The Bodybuilding Belly and the Drug Myths

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

There many published, peer-reviewed, university studies indicating that Gh causes abdominal distention. There are just as many 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. These are people for whom insulin was originally invented.  Their dosage can be 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.

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Prescription GH

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.

There is the only time we ever hear of abdominal distention associated with Gh or insulin use. That is during post-contest commentary by internet experts talking about bodybuilding bellies.

By virtue of omission, we can pretty well see that there’s no abdominal distention associated with pharmacological doses. These dosages of  Gh and insulin, 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 growth. Organs too, to some extent. Consider the reported use of Gh and insulin being what it is. Surely 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, 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 muscles that grow right along with all the other muscles. It also depends on genetics and how it’s being trained. That means today’s mega-huge bodybuilders have to deal with a mega-huge amount of abdominal muscle. And the issue of bodybuilding bellies.

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And therein lies the rub. A 270-pound guy at 5’10” is going to have a little trim waist. Compare that to a bodybuilder who weighs 230 at that height? He’s not going to have a trim waist. There’s just to much 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. And more Bodybuilding bellies.

Digestion, Distension and the Bodybuilding Belly

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.

Rice and potatoes provide Bodybuilders with Glycogen. In fact from hundreds of calories of rice and potatoes. A dehydrated bodybuilder wishing to saturate his muscles is going to have a hell of a time doing it.

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

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

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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 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 bodybuilding belly mess they made. These guys should maybe pay a little less attention to bro-science and more to real science. Figure out what you’re doing wrong and fix it.

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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, the rest of the guys look worse, which is possible.

The sport should be presenting the judges the best of the human form from which they are to pick.

Being designed to pick the best looking one is the whole point of the contest. Your job as a bodybuilder should be to be as close to absolutely perfect as humanly possible. This includes a tight, trim, totally under control midsection.

Arnold Calls Out Pro-Bodybuilding

You probably know about what happened at the Arnold Classic. Unexpectedly Arnold 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. The athletes’ bodies no longer look “beautiful” or athletic. They 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, be the first person 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. 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. Shamelessly photographed out of the lineup, he 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 he’s failing. 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 bodybuilding bellies under control!

About The Author

John Romano is a longtime industry insider and performance-enhancement specialist. He authored several bodybuilding and fitness books and appeared on HBO, ESPN, ABC’s 20/20, and numerous radio talk shows. He is also featured in the acclaimed documentary Bigger Stronger Faster. Romano resides in Guadalajara, Mexico where he owns and operates a Gold’s Gym.