SuppVersity Olympia Special: Maniac or Focused, Freakish or Extraordinary - What's the True Nature of a Bodybuilder? Plus: Cortisol & Immune Response to AM vs. PM Training
|If we discard the common horror stories (scientists call them "case reports" ;-) about drug abuse, the stage of the Olympia is mostly "uncharted territory" - at least from a scientific perspective.
Bodydbuilders & scientists
The "average" scientists (whoever he or she may be) probably holds a lot of the common prejudices the "average" bodybuilder (another of these dubious creatures) is facing on an almost daily basis.
|Figure 1: Body weight development during the 6 months pre- and post-contest phase of Dr. Chris Fahs, subject and co-author of Dr. Rossow's study on natural bodybuilding (learn more)
Ok, I am getting off the topic, which was ... ah yes, the Olympia Special!
Despite the fact that what I have written before is spot on and many scientists think of bodybuilding as crazy freakshow, there is some interesting research out there. Unfortunately, I have covered many of these studies already, so that it was not exactly easy to find a recent study that would not simply reiterate the myth of the drug abusing maniac of whom the scientists obviously believe that he deserved the trip to the ER that made him the subject of a scientific case report.
After some digging, I was still able to spot two (or actually three) extraordinary (in the literal sense of not belonging to the "horror story" category) studies for today' SuppVersity Olympia Special:
SuppVersity Suggested read: "Old School Supplements - Choline: Stronger, Faster, Leaner & More Muscular, or Just Another Dumb-and-Barbell Story?" | read more
- Study #2, on the other hand, deals with the distorted picture of the competitive bodybuilder. The approach the scientists took is yet very different from the usual "here is a questionnaire, make sure answer both the question about drug abuse and negative side-effects with 'Yes', ok" protocols... ah, I don't want to give away too much ;-)
Bodybuilding Science: AM or PM Training? What is Best?In a two-article series Majid Mousavizadeh and his colleagues from the Azad University and the Razi University in Borujerd and Kermansha, Iran, have observed that. Bodybuilders who with to minimize their cortisol levels before, during and after a workout are better advised to train in the PM (4pm).
|Figure 1: It's easy to see that both the pre and post cortisol levels as well as the relative increase in cortisol were much lower, when the 10 "bodybuilding ahtletes" performed their workout at 4PM vs. 8AM (Mousavizadeh. 2012)
|Figure 3: Correlations (blue) and p-values (red) between serum hormone levels and increases in lean body mass in the West & Phillips 12-week resistance training study w/ young athletic guys (West. 2011)
From an immune perspective, at least, it would not make a difference, anyway: In 2013 colleagues of Mousavizadeh et al. conducted a 12-week study in the course of which half of the thirty male subjects (aged 18 to 25 years), who lifted weights in the AM or PM, ended up with identical levels of monocytes, lymphocytes and eosinophils in their blood (Sani. 2012).
Bodybuilders are stigmatized and science can prove it!Now the fact that people who train actually think about whether it may make a difference when they train in the AM instead of the PM should actually bring up the question how someone who cares about these complex physiological processes can be a dumb freak, right? Still, most of you did probably simply believe what I wrote in the introductory remarks, right? I mean "everybody knows" that bodybuilders are stigmatized in this society. They are suspect to the "normal" people due to their distinctive appearance and - of course - their careless abuse of performance enhancing drugs.
Now these prejudices are the actual topic of a paper by Jone Bjørnestad, Øyvind Kandal and Norman Anderssen that was published a couple of weeks ago in the online version of the Journal of Health Psychology. Its title is "Vulnerable discipline: Experiences of male competitive bodybuilders" and it is (surprise!) not one of those simple "We asked the visitors of a Norwegian gym..." studies, but a pretty detailed analysis that's based on lengthy and time-consuming interviews with competitive bodybuilders who told the scientists things like this:
I believe Blade, one of the subjects in this study from the University of Bergen, makes a very good point. I mean compare the demands of becoming a competitive bodybuilder to those of playing video games, smoking pod with your "friends" or being addicted to Facebook? I think every parent would rather want his / her child to "work hard", be "disciplined" and "focused" than be lazy, lost, stoned and anxious that he or she could miss an important Facebook post of one of his / her fake online friends.
"What is important with bodybuilding, for those who train correctly, you need to work hard, you have to be disciplined, you have to be regular. This has transfer value to others aspects of life because you learn to give priority, you learn to focus, you get things done, you are able to shut out everything else.
For Adelfo bodybuilding provided him with a new purpose | learn more
This is a very, very positive effect. When you do bodybuilding, you learn to set up ambitions, to focus and to achieve them. (Blade)" (my emphasis in a quote from Bjørnestad. 2013)
The social costs of being a bodybuilder
|Suggested read: "Growing Beyond Physiological Limits." | read more
"Diet, [sic!] actually egoistic, the last time I was on diet I sat eating rice and chicken at my son’s birthday party while all the others ate cake.And here we have it: Another part of the stigma: The asocial bodybuilder and bad father.
My family tells me, not my own, but my wife’s, that they feel a little bit put off." (Thor)
A bad father? I would not be so sure about that. After all he is more concerned about his health than the average "storybook-daddy" and that not despite but because he is using. In fact, one of the important findings of the study was that "[t]he participants who described using drugs [...]managed their drug use", appropriately - just like Olaf who said being asked about the risks that are involved in using steroids (note: not a single subject claimed you could keep up without them):
"I did one [a health check] just now, just before a competition, and then I received a message to come soon to see if a drug that affects the kidneys had been lowered. So, you have a little control. So I don’t really have any negative things to say about it." (Olav)These statements and other observations in the Bjørnestad stand juxtaposed to the initially mentioned image of a "freak show" that emerges when you read other scientific papers on bodybuilding.
Is being "extraordinary" the real problem?
|For the professional bodybuilder it may not be the ideal strategy, for you, someone who "just wants to look good naked" and "finally see his abs", it may yet be a practical solution to the Tuppaware problem: Intermittent fasting... and no, it does not necessarily lead to reduced metabolic rate (learn more)
"It is quite weird, in a way, when you are above average here in Norway, people: who the fuck does he think he is? I have been over in the US a few times, and it is like, fuck, people are impressed, and come up to you wanting to take pictures and say hello. But here … they believe that you are like this to show off." (Henry)I guess most of you who are now at the Olympia will have had or witnessed others having similar experiences. Here you are either taking photos with the big guys or being asked for photos at thy Olympia both and next week, back in the office you have the colleagues whisper secretly about your "weird Tupperware" - am I right?
And when you ignore that talk and sit with them what happens? Probably something like Xavier is describing here:
"[...] when you go out, or wherever I go, or whoever I meet, it inevitably ends up with body talk within 5–10 minutes. I can see this becomes like tiresome sometimes, one thinks about the body all the time. Everything centres on the body,Right? Of course, that's right. After all, Bjørnestad et al. found that several of their "informants" (that's how they call them) shared this experience and felt that it was "very tiresome" and even annoying how others focus on their bodies, only to complain afterwards how they were the ones who were talking about physical culture all the time.
nothing on how you are as a person." (Xavier)
"So, it's all not worth it?"
I guess the question "whether it's worth it" (whatever that may even mean) is not a question I can answer for you. It's a question you will have to answer yourself and that's also why it's not part of the bottom line.
If you look closer you may also realize that it's actually a set of question that stretches from whether you want to trust common bodybuilding wisdom and go to the overcrowded gym in the PM, although you could just as well train in the AM, to the previously mentioned birthday cake of your kids you cannot eat, because you are "one week out" (meaning you have only one week before the next contest).
And while the former may sound profane the latter is something that will make everyone rething, whether the minutes in the limelight are really worth it. It's possible, I mean, if you feel just like Blade, who says,
"You feel on top of the world, it is something very unique, maybe it is the same people feel when they become an Olympic champion in a sprint. You feel it, you see it on yourself, you feel so wired. It feels so very good if you are in good shape. No other feelings can compare with it, it feels so good." (Blade)it's very possible that you decide that it's worth it. And though I personally thing it is not, I respect Blade's decision.
- Bird SP, Tarpenning KM. Influence of circadian time structure on acute hormonal responses to a single bout of heavy-resistance exercise in weight-trained men. Chronobiol Int. 2004 Jan;21(1):131-46.
- Mousavizadeh M. et al. Influence of a single bout of circuit weight training on cortisol in the morning and evening. Pelagia Research Library. European Journal of Experimental Biology, 2013, 3(2):367-370
- Sani SMT, et al. The Effect of Morning and Evening Weight Training in the Humeral Immunity of Bodybuilders. International Journal of Sport Studies. Vol., 3 (6), 611-616, 2013.
- West DW, Phillips SM. Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jul;112(7):2693-702.