Over my career, from beginner all the way to the Olympia stage, I heard it all. Every sleazy comment, every myth and misconception about the bodybuilding lifestyle.
In my experience the average person, for the most part, thinks that those “crazy bodybuilders” are freak shows that just live on weird powders and are wasting their lives lifting things up and putting them back down. So, let’s try and shed some light and break some misconceptions about the real pros and cons of the bodybuilding lifestyle.
Please pay attention to the term that I am using the bodybuilding lifestyle and not competitive bodybuilding. (The competitive lifestyle is an animal by itself, and is a much more extreme version of the bodybuilding lifestyle.)
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Image courtesy of Amit Sapir.
Honestly, these tips can be applied to the average person on the street. If executed properly, no matter who you are, your quality of life will drastically improve.
1) Proper nutrition
If you decide to eat by the principles of any general bodybuilding diet you are by default going to eat healthier, cleaner and smarter than 95% of the population.
It’s pretty simple, really: basic protein sources are chicken, steak, lean meat in relatively high amounts. Most carbohydrates are complex, like brown rice and potatoes, and some fruits and vegetables. Healthy sources of fat that include nuts, coconut oils and eggs.
Without knowing anything about bodybuilding, dieting, or macros, if the average joe picked one item from the protein/carb/fat list and put them in three or four meals per day, without even trying his body composition will drastically improve. Today, your normal person diet includes pizza and McDonald’s on a regular basis. Swap those for the choices of the “crazy” bodybuilders, then you just earn yourself a general better health profile and a better body composition.
[Got meal prep fatigue? Try these 6 tips to make counting your macros way easier.]
2) Physical health and basic strength
You’ll get your ass off the couch. Again, the norm is a 9 to 5 job, sitting at a desk in front of a computer, barely moving and sitting with horrible posture. If you take these people and for three months put them in the gym with our “crazy” bodybuilder friends and get them to spend an hour doing very basic human functional movements — squats, deadlifts, weighted carries, pull-ups, presses, lunges — then without even trying their posture, muscular tension, bone density, and body composition will improve.
[Stuck at a desk all day? Here’s how to sit for better lifts.]
“Bodybuilders and their weird supplements.” Those weird powders — by which I mean protein powders — can make your normal life a lot easier when it comes to needing fast and easy protein sources. What’s easier: cooking steak, or mixing water and powder? In today’s day and age, some of those protein powders taste damn good and can easily be used as a healthy fast snack. It’s not exactly the same nutrition as “whole foods,” but it’s infinitely better than most mid-afternoon snacks.
I can already hear the guy from the office yelling, “But what about all the others pills and powders they are taking? It has to be dangerous!” Well, in real life, the most basic supplements that most bodybuilders take should be taken by the average person.
Fish oil are your basic healthy fatty acids that your body requires. They improve your brain function, heart function, skin, digestion, and much more. Do yourself a favor, this should be a daily staple. Curcumin is another great pick for overall health. Five hundred to a thousand milligrams of this anti-inflammatory agent will help you recover faster, reduce soreness, and improve heart function. Lastly, creatine has benefits for muscle and the mind. All you need is 5 to 10 grams around your workout.
In real life, if you take these supplements regularly, you will get clean health gains, a better mental state, and longevity in lifting and in life. Isn’t it worth taking some weird powders and a few pills to get all these great benefits?
Image courtesy of Amit Sapir.
On the flip side, there are also quite a few cons in this lifestyle that need to be addressed. This is how I see them.
1) Character and Mentality
The people who are attracted to the lifestyle are usually extra critical about themselves and seem to never be content with their body. Too fat, too skinny, too small, too bloated, and to weak are regular complaints even from the recreational bodybuilder. I still haven’t met one who is happy with how he looks, even after retirement.
If I had to take an educated guess (and I am not guessing), I would be willing to bet that a high percentage of these people have some level of eating disorder and/or obsessive compulsive disorder. To people outside of the sport, our eating habits do look a little extreme. A bunch of meat heads who are eating every three hours on the clock, some will even put an alarm so they won’t, God forbid, miss a meal. The same tasteless, lame food for weeks on end, killing their body in the gym for hours, sweating like pigs on the cardio equipment. All to look good naked and maybe get a plastic trophy.
This lifestyle can solidify some mental problems by feeding obsessive tendencies, and because obsessive tendencies can actually help people excel in the sport, I’ve seen it prevent people from actually treating their problems. Where and how you are mentally can make you or break you in this sport.
2) Little Freedom and Flexibility
There is something to be said about the ability to be free and spontaneous. If you are choosing the bodybuilding lifestyle than again by default, you are giving up a significant amount of freedom. You “can’t” just eat when you’re hungry. You have a strict meal plan and your body needs its protein now! Every vacation or trip becomes a military operation. You need to meal prep, pack your supplements, make sure there is a gym around so that you won’t miss arm day, and so on.
3) It’s Easy to Feel Like You Don’t Belong in Society
Bodybuilding is a relatively small community, and even though it is continually growing, it is definitely not the norm.
And a lot of experiences get old. The looks in the grocery stores, the never-ending “YO BRO how much you bench?” and of course, the person who comments, “I had a friend, a sister, and a pet pig that all benched way more than you and were five-time Olympia champions.”
Sometimes you just want to be left alone and not always be getting attention ONLY because of how you look. If you’re a bodybuilder, you’ll rarely blend in with everyone else.
Image courtesy of Amit Sapir.
My final words here will be that in my opinion, there is an immense amount of good things in this lifestyle and it can quickly improve many, many lives if you give it a chance.
It’s not perfect but if it’s kept as a hobby rather than a career, the pros can be too useful to ignore. Better health, looking good naked, and practicing self discipline and consistency are all good things. If you embrace your imperfections and try to keep it a hobby rather than a career, then it’s a habit that can certainly improve your life. Just speak to your doctor before making any drastic changes in your diet and lifestyle.
Featured image courtesy of Amit Sapir.