Is Competing in Bodybuilding/Men’s Physique Healthy?
The bottom line to this question that I frequently get asked is no. No, competing is not healthy but neither is any other sport when you’re pushing your body to extremes. Comparatively, if you consider Olympic athletes, you would think they’re the epitome of health and fitness? Often this is not the case, they push themselves daily to extreme levels beyond what the human body is built for on a regular basis. High level athletes tax their central nervous system and often run themselves down from training at an elite level regularly. Do not get me wrong, Olympians are in unbelievable shape and accomplish mind blowing feats. But, to excel at the level professional athletes are performing at the human body needs to be pushed beyond what is considered “healthy” to see what is physically possible.
I cannot competitively play sports anymore with so many injuries, so I find the need to satisfy that competitive spirit. I love pushing myself and seeing extreme changes in my body. I don’t do it for anyone else but myself. Although I would not consider Men’s Physique a sport, the training aspect is extreme just like training for any high level athletic sport.
Men’s Physique is essentially based on manipulating training and diet to achieve a certain look. It is purely a superficial sport but also takes serious dedication, persistence and sacrifice to put your body through extreme changes to achieve a personal accomplishment that you can be proud of.
The Mental Component of Competing
Along with the drastic physical changes competitors put their bodies through, there is also a large mental component in competing.
The mental aspect of competing might be the most difficult part. Seeing your body go from stage ready conditioning, likely the best you’ve ever looked, back to a healthy and more maintainable body weight after competing is the tough part. Everything you’ve worked so hard for is covered up with a layer of body fat which is completely healthy and normal but unfortunately can lead to body dysmorphia and eating disorders for many competitors. This is what everyone competing needs to understand. Having a body in stage ready shape all year is not something that is healthy or realistic.
Have a healthy relationship with body image is absolutely crucial if competing is something you are considering.
Balance is something I’ve struggled with when in prep for a show. I find myself so focused on training, nutrition, cardio, posing and everything else required to be competitive that I am lacking in other areas such as relationships with friends and family. Most of my time is consumed by what I am focusing on that I need to remember to balance all other areas of my life.
This last prep, I have done a much better job of maintaining relationships even when I may not have the energy. I still manage to go out and have fun with my friends and family rather than being antisocial at home. Prep is an emotional rollercoaster and can be a very difficult thing to manage. Life is all about balance and competing is a selfish endeavour but you need to do your best to not let it affect the people around you despite whatever you are going through.
Your Relationship with Food
Along with strained relationships and body dysmorphia, your relationship with food is the other major aspect of competing that needs to be addressed. Just like body image, if you have a poor relationship with food before you decide to compete, competing is just going amplify those negative relationships. Restricting yourself to extreme levels often leads to extreme binging which is closely related to body image issues.
After my first competition, the moment I stepped off the stage I saw many competitors hunched over their bags engorging in chocolate bars, candy, sweets and cereal like addicts trying to get their fix. Within seconds of getting off the stage they were already filling their faces. It was eye opening for me. These competitors restricted themselves to such extreme levels that they literally could not wait another second to eat. I admire their dedication but this was not a healthy relationship with food.
Performance Enhancing Drug Use
Another major issue I see frequently is the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) used in bodybuilding. Many organizations are untested which means competitors can take whatever they want to get them on stage. I will not dive down this rabbit hole as a natural athlete, but my opinion is if competitors are competing in an untested show or organization by all means take what you please. It is their body and their choice, they should be able to put whatever substance they want into their body as long as they are not hurting anyone or competing in a tested, natural competition.
With that being said, enhanced athletes have a major advantage over natural athletes. Hormones such as testosterone significantly drops in natural male competitors as they diet down. Enhanced athletes supplement with anabolic hormones which allows them to get leaner while maintaining more muscle, giving them a major advantage over natural competitors. Many competitors have permanently ruined their natural hormone levels by using PEDs wrong or taking too much, without even mentioning the plethora of short term and long term, physical and mental side effects than may come along with PED usage.
Coming off the PEDs can have major mental side effects as you lose most of your muscle gained when coming off a cycle. This, along with the post-show blues and seeing your body rebound back to a healthy body fat level can leave competitors depressed or addicted to the “enhanced” look. This often creates more serious mental challenges that many competitors struggle with.
My advice to fellow competitors
Addressing your physical and mental state from a subjective view requires high levels of self awareness that certainly does not come easily. Above all, work on yourself, your relationship with your body image, relationship with food and having a sound, confident mental state is absolutely necessary before even considering competing.
My advice to all competitors, future competitors or the general population is to ask yourself why are you doing this? Is it to get validation from others? Test yourself physically and mentally? Build a business? Whatever your reason is, make sure you weigh the positives and negatives and be absolutely sure you are doing it for the right reasons. The only person you should be competing against is yourself.
If competing is unhealthy, why do it?
Starting from scratch and working my way from 150 lbs, honestly thinking I was going to die, to 5 years later stepping on stage at 194 lbs at around 5% body fat. I was there to impress myself and do something I did not think I was capable of and I certainly accomplished that. I always said it’s not about what I place, I did it for the personal accomplishment whether I get first or last I will be happy with what I achieved.
If I can share my experience and motivate others, that is just icing on the cake for me. I want to prove to myself that I can accomplish amazing things if I want it bad enough. That is why I compete. I am competing against myself to bring a better version every time regardless of what anyone thinks. I am chasing self-gratification not gratification from anyone else.