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The Tipping Point: Why Bodybuilders Turn into Health Advocates

  • 6 min read


by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

It’s interesting to see massive bodybuilders back in the day like Dorian Yates and Toney Freeman pushing health these days. I’m a fan of both gentleman and have much respect for their new outlook on life. Going from a bodybuilder to a health advocate can’t be easy.

You have two men who were larger than life with muscles on top of muscles being known by the world for their appearance all of a sudden downsizing to a fraction of their bodybuilder frame. But why? For health reasons.

Bodybuilding, with its emphasis on extreme muscle development and rigorous competition seasons, has long been associated with a disciplined lifestyle, intensive training regimens, and strict dietary plans.

However, the long-term implications of this sport on health can be absolutely detrimental, leading many seasoned bodybuilders to shift their focus from building massive physiques to becoming advocates for overall health and well-being.

Another example of this is Dexter Jackson. Toward the end of his career, he had to add a ton of size just to compete with guys like Big Ramy, Phil Heath, and other top-five Olympia finishers. He knew it wasn’t healthy… we all did. And after he retired, he drastically downsized his physique.

In this article, we will dive deeper and explore the reasons behind this transition, the health risks associated with prolonged bodybuilding, and the major changes these athletes make in their training, nutrition, and supplement/drug use.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting an exercise program, making changes to your nutrition plan, or adding any supplements into your current regimen.

The Health Risks of Long-term Bodybuilding

While bodybuilding can lead to impressive physiques that demand attention and enhanced strength as if you were part of a circus show, the pursuit of peak muscularity often involves practices that may compromise long-term health.

Let’s dive a little deeper under the hood of the negative aspects of bodybuilding:

  1. Overtraining and Injuries: The intense and repetitive nature of bodybuilding can lead to chronic injuries, joint damage, and muscle tears. Overtraining can also result in conditions such as rhabdomyolysis, where muscle fibers break down and enter the bloodstream, potentially causing kidney damage. We’ve seen a few bodybuilders suffer from this — Larry Wheels being one of the most recent.
  2. Cardiovascular Stress: Heavy lifting and the use of anabolic steroids can increase the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and cardiac hypertrophy. Steroid use, in particular, has been linked to heart attacks and strokes. While we can’t confirm the cause of such heart attacks stems from steroid use, you can look at cases like Cedric McMillan, who died suddenly and unexpectedly.
  3. Hormonal Imbalances: The use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) like steroids disrupts the body’s natural hormone production, leading to conditions such as gynecomastia (development of breast tissue in men), infertility, and long-term endocrine system damage. We’ve seen many bodybuilders on stage with visible gyno that pushed them back in the rankings because of it. Ultimately, they had to get surgery to remove the gyno.
  4. Mental Health Issues: The psychological pressure to maintain an ideal body image can lead to body dysmorphic disorders, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Even the great Phil Heath has come out and mentioned he battled depression.
  5. Kidney and Liver Damage: High protein diets, supplements, and PEDs can put a significant strain on the kidneys and liver, leading to potential organ damage or failure over time.

The Transition from Bodybuilder to Health Advocate

Many bodybuilders reach a tipping point where the pursuit of extreme physicality is outweighed by the desire for long-term health.

This shift often occurs due to many factors, one of them is a shift in their health while competing. The other being that they retired, and maintaining all that size and muscle simply doesn’t make sense anymore.

But let’s look at a few scenarios:

  1. Health Scares: Experiencing a serious health issue, such as a heart attack, severe injury, or organ failure, can be a wake-up call, prompting bodybuilders to reassess their lifestyle and priorities.
  2. Aging: As bodybuilders age, the physical toll of the sport becomes more apparent. Recovery times lengthen, and the risk of injury increases, making sustainable health more appealing than peak physical condition.
  3. Education and Awareness: Increased knowledge about the long-term effects of PEDs, extreme diets, and overtraining influences bodybuilders to adopt healthier practices.
  4. Desire for Longevity: The realization that maintaining extreme muscle mass and low body fat percentages is not conducive to longevity encourages a shift towards balanced health.

Changes in Training, Nutrition, and Supplement Use

Transitioning from a focus on bodybuilding to becoming a health advocate involves significant changes in three specific aspects of a bodybuilder’s life:

1.     Training

Balanced Workouts: Incorporating a mix of strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility workouts to improve overall health and fitness without overburdening the body.

Rest and Recovery: Prioritizing adequate rest periods and active recovery techniques such as yoga, stretching, and massage to prevent injuries and promote healing.

2.     Nutrition

Whole Foods: Emphasizing a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Moderation: Moving away from extreme bulking and cutting cycles to a more sustainable and balanced nutritional approach. Also, a shift away from a massive caloric surplus that they have been used to consuming daily to add quality muscle and size.

Hydration: Ensuring adequate hydration to support kidney function and overall health.

3.     Supplement/Drug Use

Natural Supplements: Implement natural supplements that support health rather than those aimed solely at maximizing muscle growth (AKA anabolics, SARMS, steroids, PEDs). This may include vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant-based protein powders.

Avoiding PEDs: Steering clear of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in favor of natural methods to achieve optimized health and fitness.