We live in a body-centric world. Everything is based on first impressions. That means looking good and dressing well. Dressing well can be managed but having a good body is not as easy. It means making time in an already stressed life for working out and dieting. Almost all of us are sedentary desk jockeys and working out means starting out with a simple routine and gradually progressing through resistance workouts to build a healthy body. For almost 90% of the population, we stop working out the minute we reach an ideal body weight.
However, a small dedicated percentage of athletes continue to work out, dedicatedly passing through levels of workouts to create the perfect body shape. That is called as bodybuilding. Of course, bodybuilding is not everyone’s cup of tea. In professional bodybuilding, athletes follow a stringent workout and diet pattern to achieve the perfect body esthetic. It also means eliminating nonessential body fat, following a low-carb diet, and building maximum body definition and vascularity. In short, it’s a science that requires faithful devotees to create the perfect body shape.
A little history
Bodybuilding is not new. Museums are filled with perfectly sculpted male bodies since ancient Grecian, Roman and Egyptian times. This shows that strong men with defined muscle groups were considered worthy of being captured in art or sculpture. Of course, as time went by, bodybuilding developed in the modern world. In England, Eugen Sandow was the first to make bodybuilding a sport. He became so famous that he was able to leverage his fame into bodybuilding products like dumbbells, tension bands and spring pulleys. He also managed to set up a bodybuilding show that showcased strong men displaying their strength through demonstrations or wrestling matches. Sandow was also the first person to organize a bodybuilding contest called M. Olympia. The contest quickly spread worldwide, and winners went on to have competitive careers as athletes.
Some notable winners in the early years of the competition included athletes like Georg Hackenschmidt, Frank Saldo, William Bankier, and Ralph Parcaut. In fact, actor Francis X. Bushman, started his career as a bodybuilder and then went on to have one of the most successful silent movie actor careers at the time. Over the subsequent few years, bodybuilding gradually gained in popularity with many the emergency of many other competitions. At the same time, bodybuilding magazines, gyms, training routines and nutrition guidelines became regularized. By late 1946, the industry was so widespread that the International Federation of Bodybuilders was established by Canadian brothers Joe and Ben Weider. Consequently, other bodybuilding organizations like AAU or the Amateur Athletic Union, NABBA or the National Amateur Bodybuilding Association and the WBBG or the World Bodybuilding Guild.
Over the later decades, many more bodybuilding competitions were established and popular bodybuilders like Reg Park and Steve Reeves became well-known. However, bodybuilding became really famous thanks to popular athletes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. Most of these athletes had appeared in the highly popular docudrama PUMPING IRON which also contributed to the rising interest in bodybuilding. Female bodybuilding also gained in professionalism and popularity during this same time. Championships like Ms Olympia were started and athletes like Lydia Cheng, Carla Dunlap, and Bev Francis became very popular. It is during this same time that anabolic steroids gained popularity in bodybuilding as an easy way to get a ‘mass’ body. As anabolic steroids were legal at the time, most bodybuilders used steroids but never actually accepted that steroid use was widespread in the industry. However, by the late 1990s, the use of anabolic steroids in bodybuilding was made illegal.
That’s it for the history: now let’s take a look at how it actually works.
Professional bodybuilders have an off-season in which they prepare for competitions and obviously, competition season. To prepare for competition season, athletes follow workout routines, diet control and the use of supplements to gain the most bulk while losing fat. The competitions don’t focus on bulk but emphasize symmetry, condition and size. The general strategy here is to cut and bulk as much as possible. Approximately 12-14 weeks prior to competition season, athletes aim to lose as much as possible of body fat without losing muscle mass. This is called as cutting and bulking. The cutting phase involves reducing fat while preserving muscle, while the bulking phase ensures that the muscle mass remains in an anabolic phase. We cannot explain the entire process in detail, but the aim of the process is to reduce fat mass which reveals the sculpted muscle in much more detail.
Here are a few ways by which professional athletes prepare for competition season.
During this process, athletes follow a stringent workout routine that involves strength training along with cardio. Weight training aims to build muscle mass by increasing muscle mass and strength. Athletes may follow individual routines that will focus on two kinds of muscle hypertrophy or growth: sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar. Sarcoplasmic growth is triggered by repeated routines and leads to muscle growth. While myofibrillar hypertrophy is triggered by weight lifting routines and it builds athletic strength. As a result, athletes usually tailor their routines to focus on sarcoplasmic growth.
Although weight routines and workouts make up for more than 4 hours in an athlete’s daily life, diet control is what is essential to make up the muscle mass while losing fat. It means a strict daily control and balanced intake of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
- Carbohydrates form an important basis of diet control. They provide energy to recover after training and also influence the release of insulin which regulates blood sugar regulation. Insulin is also responsible for protein synthesis and can influence muscle mass formation significantly. The best carbohydrates for athletes usually consist of low glycemic index carbohydrates like whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes etc. which are digested slowly and release their energy in a regulated fashion. On an average, 0.8g/kg of carbs should be consumed after workouts to increase glycogen stores or energy stores in the body.
- Proteins also form an important part of an athlete’s diet. Currently, researchers recommend an intake of 25%-30% of protein per their total calorie intake to ensure muscle mass formation. Protein is the essential building block of muscles and consuming lean meat, chicken, beef, fish and turkey forms the ideal basis for bodybuilders.
- Fats are technically the bad boys but don’t be fooled into cutting fats out of your diet completely. Fats are required for healthy body functioning. They are categorized as saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monosaturated fats. Having a balanced but low intake of fat is necessary by eating lean meat and dairy sources of fat like flaxseed, olive oil, and sunflower seeds.
To ensure a balanced intake, athletes often split their food intake over 5-7 meals in a day. Eating at regular intervals is absolutely necessary as it ensures adequate muscle growth while reducing the tendency of the body of store fat.
Apart from a balanced diet, supplementation is essential for muscle mass and fat reducing during the bulking and cutting phase for athletes. A wide variety of supplements are available, and they are used to build muscle mass, improve energy levels, cut fat, and improve joint health. At the same time, these supplements also contain essential nutrients that will reduce nutrient deficiencies and ensure overall health. Supplements like creatine, whey powder, meal replacement products, thermogenic products and protein bars are highly popular with athletes and are regularly consumed.
However, the medical fraternity and the fitness industry are sharply divided on how the supplements work and even if they actually do work. For example, mislabeling and product contamination have resulted in numerous complaints about adverse effects. At the same time, prohormones are being considered the most popular products at present due to their similarity to steroids and similar body reactions. The products are not actually illegal, but they do seem to work particularly well in building mass and reducing fat. Some supplements do work, but research is still on to understand exactly how the supplements work and whether they are effective.
The bottom line
Fitness is important. In this increasingly dangerous world that we live in, being fit and healthy can help you fight off almost an illness quickly and reduce downtime. However, getting fit can take a lot of time if you are doing it the right way. And you should do it the right way. Find a professional trainer, eat well and sleep well and you should be back in shape in about 6 months to a year. If you are aiming for a professional career in bodybuilding, it will mean dedication and hard work that will last your entire lifetime. Either way, in these troubled and highly contagious times, we feel that everyone needs to start a moderate amount of bodybuilding to have a healthy body. After all, who wouldn’t want to live a little longer with much loved friends and family.