Competing is awesome, I love it so much that I didn’t know what to do with myself when my first prep was over. I initially thought that I would take a full week off of training after my first show, but the truth is that I only lasted 2 days away from the gym. Bodybuilding is fantastic, but it can be also become too intense, too strict and even a little obsessive. That’s when athletes tend to toe the line between competing for themselves and their own personal goals, and competing only for the win and to beat out the person standing next to them.
It’s easy to see that side of it and to become obsessed with winning; I think that’s the case for all athletes in every sport. That’s usually when a person takes the decision to take everything up a notch and they become willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Many people unfamiliar with competing consider bodybuilding to be synonymous with steroid use. They see a big buff person and think anabolic steroids, which they view as something that is unhealthy and that cheaters use. In reality though it’s not necessarily the case. The thing that really gives bodybuilding a bad name and that has created this stereotype comes from athletic hopefuls who bought steroids from whatever source they could, without doing any research or talking to a healthcare professional. They took whatever amount they felt like (probably the highest dose), then ran out of the steroids, stopped taking it altogether, maybe stopped working out too and wound up with some pretty narly side effects and health problems. It’s substance abuse, that’s what has created the negative perceptions of bodybuilders and steroids. If you ask the average person about steroids, chances are they don’t even know what they are or why they “bad”. Allow me to shed some light…
Steroids are testosterone or testosterone derivatives that can be either taking orally or injected. When it gets into the bloodstream it goes into the muscle cell attaches to the receptors in that cell and turns on genes that produce more protein in the muscle. This ultimately allows the muscle to grow and get larger. Steroids don’t do the work for you, in fact, they don’t even make it easier to do the work, all that steroids do is allow an individual to take their training up a notch and push a little harder and lift a little heavier. You still have to do the work; you still have to get your two-a-day workouts in, you still have to follow a specific nutritional regiment, and you still have to workout just as hard.
The potential side effects can be dangerous if one chooses to take a performance enhancer without proper knowledge or without consulting a healthcare professional. Abusing steroids can cause kidney and liver damage, and can increase the size of the heart (because it is a muscle) leading to cardiovascular problems. Another thing to consider is that steroids in pill form can be rather toxic especially with prolonged and excessive use, that’s why injections are preferred as they are less damaging (but the injection site can become swollen or infected overtime). Please note though that these side effects are not absolute with steroid use; it’s only in cases where people take too much, too soon and are abusing them. The key with any performance enhancer is to speak with not only a trained coach but also a medical doctor BEFORE starting them. Give full disclosure to your physician about what you are considering taking that way they can monitor you, they know what to check during your blood tests and they can refer you to a cardiologist to ensure that your ticker is still top notch.
In the bodybuilding community, many are now throwing around the term “natural athlete”, this refers to a competitor who does not use steroids. However, that alone does not mean natural athlete. If you look at natural bodybuilding leagues and shows, the athletes are not only banned from using steroids, but also fat burners and diuretics as well. All athletes have to pee in a cup pre-show, but not all athletes are tested because it’s too expensive, so usually the league will choose a handful of competitors at random in each category to test. A very interesting fact that I learned recently is that not all competitors in the natural league are actually natural athletes. This was confirmed to me by a judge who said that a good and savvy coach will guide their athletes to cycle off of the substances in the months and weeks leading up to a show, so that when they do the urine test it comes out clear, even though they have used an enhancer during their training. The judge said that regardless of the league, performance enhancers will always exist and will always be prevalent in competitions and training.
That being said, technically I wouldn’t be considered a natural athlete because I do take fat burners and diuretics during my contest prep. Mind you it is the lowest dose for fat burners and I’m not taking chemical diuretic, it’s mostly dandelion root, but I digress. I still would be banned from the natural league. I’ve never used a steroid and don’t plan on it, but I can definitely see how easy it would be to consider it and where the appeal is. Overall men can handle added testosterone better than women can, as men naturally have more testosterone. For women the side effects can be dangerous and the impact on one’s hormones can be long lasting. This is mainly why I’m just not comfortable even considering it, but to each his/her own. Make an informed decision regardless and seek medical counselling so that you are getting the best care possible. In my case, my doctor knows all of the supplements that I take including the fat burners and diuretics, the dosage and time frame of use as well. Safety first.
Diets are a whole other component of the dark side of bodybuilding. I met with many ladies during my first show who mentioned that their diets consisted of protein shakes and celery for weeks on end or who were overtraining each day for hours and hours and practically passed out after each gym session. It’s easy to go extreme when you have a big and clear goal ahead of you.
Competing is amazing and it is about bringing your best, for some that means doing whatever it takes to do so. Going to an extreme isn’t necessary, but it does happen. For myself I always want to focus on my health first above all else. Not matter what any competitor in any sport may be thinking about doing, take the right precautions, talk to your doctor and work with a coach who always has your best interests in mind.
Start Strong, Finish Strong