Bodybuilding blues

ALL EYES in the gym instinctively seek out the hardcore professional body builder. We ordinary mortals with flaccid biceps and breasty pecs gawk enviously when the local Arnold-lite poses in the full-length mirror. We'd give anything to be that guy with the melon-sized biceps, the armour-plated pecs and the washboard abs.

Helpless envy soon turns to `If he can have them, why can't I? Even hardcore bodybuilders are human, right? With the right training and nutrition, why can't I have that ripped, brawny, vein-plated, Conan the Barbarian look?'

Well, the fact is, hardcore bodybuilding is beyond the wallet, endurance, tolerance and health of most sane, health-conscious, job-holding, middleclass guys. And thank God for that. Who else eats eight small meals of boiled meats and vegetables everyday? Who else trains so hard and for so long for competition purses that barely cover a year's training and food bills?

Steroid abusers beat drug-free bodybuilder easily in these competitions, and drug-less bodybuilding attracts little money in a sport (?), which values mega muscles more than health.

Intense weight training raises the risk of injury and infection. Recovery can take weeks and set hard-won muscle size back by months, and watching it happen from the vantage point of a bed can be very depressing. There is also the bewildering array of expensive, body building magazine-endorsed pills, potions, lotions, drugs and nutrition supplements to make you feel inadequate and worry yourself sick about what the competitor is using.

Health-conscious `natural' bodybuilders who avoid pills and needles can forget about the `Conan' physique. That level of veiny, muscular splendour is attainable only with the help of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone in training, and with diuretics in the competition phase. Steroids and growth hormone melt away body fat, and increase the size of individual muscle cells faster than tendons and elastic tissue can match. The result is freakishly bulky muscles, made extra-visible by the relative absence of body fat and by the use of fluid-draining diuretics .

Meanwhile, fragilities lurk under the surface. For example, biceps tendon tears are common because a steroid-pumped biceps muscle can lift more weight than the tendon attached to the forearm bone can bear. Steroids can enlarge heart muscle without increasing heart valves' size-causing valvular incompetence that frequently leads to heart failure.

The relatively high protein content in the diet and the abuse of diuretics can adversely affect the kidneys. A diet rich in meat also raises the risk for all kinds of bowel cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Anabolic steroids and human growth hormone have well-documented adverse effects that range from severe acne to diabetes mellitus to liver cancer. In between, they can turn a woman voice into a baritone and afflict her with facial hair and infertility. Bodybuilders who abuse steroids frequently suffer from psychological disorders, including hostility and aggression (`roid rage').

Fact: Hardcore bodybuilders have shorter life spans than the average person who exercises moderately. But weight training aimed at overall health rather than freaky muscular development is `healthful' and enhances the length and quality of life. So stick to sensible weight training, and leave Conan to the make-believe world where he belongs.


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