Bubble Gut: Causes, Solutions, and Expert View

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IG: @kaigreene

The problem of big bellies (AKA bubble gut) among bodybuilders did not escape the attention of the IFBB leadership, which issued a decree describing the change in the criteria for judging. Recalling the basic principles on which bodybuilding was created as a sport, the IFBB confirmed the importance of balance, proportions, and classic attributes of the figure, such as the V-shape and a flat, muscular abdominal.

The decree indicates that a swollen stomach and deformed muscles negatively affect symmetry and natural aesthetics, reducing the overall impression of the figure as a whole. The paper clearly indicates the prevalence of large bellies, which have become a hallmark of modern bodybuilders. It is important for competing bodybuilders to understand the potential causes of this phenomenon.

The problem of bubble gut

There have been numerous discussions, during which the relative contribution to this problem of a number of factors was discussed, some of which were mentioned justly, and some not.

Muscle deformation with the appearance of unnatural lumps and bulges on them is associated with the use of drugs that cause local inflammation, such as Synthol. Injections of these substances lead to swelling of muscle tissue around the injection area. Performed correctly, such injections lead to a significant increase in muscle size, but with poor performance, unsightly bumps appear, resembling a tumor the size of a golf ball, growing in the biceps or delta.

However, bloated abs is a completely different matter. Young bodybuilding fans may not be familiar with the classic look that represented the Golden Era of the sport. At that time, bodybuilders were athletes with powerful muscles, resembling images in ancient Greek temples or in fantastic paintings by Boris Valleggio. In the second half of the 80s, changes began to appear in the figures of professional bodybuilders, culminating in their appearance today.

The days have passed when the waist of a professional bodybuilder was like an aspen. It was replaced by a belly that had become the size of a titanic chest and lower back. When trophies are awarded and bodybuilders hug, congratulating each other, this is more like an element of a sumo wrestler fight. However, unlike sumo wrestlers, bodybuilders are now embossed, and even more so than their more aesthetically looking predecessors.

The causes of large abdomen in bodybuilders

bloated abs

Although strength exercises are still part of many bodybuilder’s programs, such movements are not the cause of a large abdomen. Yes, powerlifters look fat, but this is due to a higher % of body fat, lack of cardio, and a weakened or stretched abdominal wall due to the high internal pressure on it that often occurs during strength exercises. Powerlifters from high loads also have hernias that can deform the abdominal wall.

A direct factor that leads to the appearance of a large abdomen is the excessive use of growth hormone and insulin in modern bodybuilding.

Harm from GH

The growth hormone was originally intended for very limited use in the case of infant dwarfism. They got it from the brains of corpses, so production was very limited. In the 70s, thanks to advances in genetic engineering, relatively unlimited production of growth hormone were made possible using recombination technology. In the late 80s, growth hormone became a relatively affordable drug and was used by athletes in many sports, including American football, cycling, and bodybuilding. It has been found that growth hormone is effective in stimulating connective tissue, accelerating recovery, reducing body fat%, and increasing muscle growth.

As in the case with most types of doping, bodybuilders, through trial and error, determined the necessary dosages and regimens for taking growth hormone to achieve maximum muscle growth. At this time, contracts and prizes were awarded to those who achieved the most impressive muscle growth. This reward system has led bodybuilders to use excessive doses of growth hormone, up to 36 IU (international units) per day.

Despite the relative benefits of extreme muscle growth, bodybuilders began to feel the side effects of growth hormone. For those who were familiar with endocrinology – a science that studies the effect of hormones on the body, these negative effects were not a surprise.

The strange, disfiguring growth of the ears, nose, and jaw changed the shape of the face, the hands and feet increased, the stomach fell out under the pressure of the increased internal organs of the chest and abdominal cavity.

All these changes are similar to the problems experienced by people with acromegaly, a disease in which an unlimited amount of growth hormone is produced due to a tumor in the body. Acromegaly is identical to gigantism – a painful condition that begins in childhood and leads to the extremely large growth of a person, as well as to all the above consequences. The only difference is that acromegaly does not affect growth, because growth areas in bones in adults have already closed, and growth changes are no longer possible even with excessive concentrations of growth hormone in the body.

A reasonable question arises: “Why not use smaller amounts of growth hormone?

It is not known which of the bodybuilders was the first to use growth hormone, but most likely, the pioneers imitated the dosages used by doctors to treat dwarfism in children. They were given 0.3 mg per 1 kg of body weight per week. These figures were extrapolated to the weight of massive adult bodybuilders, which ultimately gave a calculated dose of 15-25 IU per day.

When the price of growth hormone fell due to the start of imports from Asia, some bodybuilders began to exceed even these dosages. Since the anabolic effect of growth hormone directly depends on the dose, many sought to increase it due to their financial capabilities. The more growth hormone, the more muscle (as well as the head, internal organs, hands, and feet). However, as revealed on the stage and in clinical trials, exceeding reasonable doses of growth hormone leads to problems.

Studies about bubble gut

hgh gut

Studies have shown that doses above 6 IU per day lead to the first signs of acromegaly and lead to physiological changes – affect insulin sensitivity and disfigure the appearance. Growth hormone therapy can be safely used for years if IGF-1 levels are monitored in order to exclude excessive levels of the hormone. IGF-1 is a growth factor that is produced by the body in response to the presence of growth hormone. It is he who is responsible for many anabolic effects in the body.

The irony of the situation is that, although growth hormone therapy can bring surprising benefits at dosages to a certain extent, but when the hormone exceeds the level that the body positively perceives, symptoms of acromegaly can occur and “metabolic syndrome” develops, which is a set of risk factors, leading to poor health and early death.

The main features of the metabolic syndrome are:

  • obesity (especially around the internal organs),
  • dangerous levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood,
  • fat deposition in the liver,
  • insulin resistance,
  • high blood pressure,
  • diabetes of the second stage,
  • heart attacks.

Different types of inflammation can also be part of the metabolic syndrome. The excess amounts of growth hormone used by some bodybuilders create a predisposition to metabolic syndrome and interfere with the body’s ability to respond to insulin.

This leads to simultaneously high levels of both insulin and blood sugar, makes fat cells grow, makes it harder to burn stored fat, and use sugar as energy.

The fat-burning effect of growth hormone is strong enough to neutralize the effects of this situation on subcutaneous fat cells, but another important store of fat in the body – visceral fat surrounding internal organs, is growing. As the amount of visceral fat in the body increases, visible changes occur, and the state of the cardiovascular system worsens.

huge belly

These effects, combined with the effects of anabolic steroids, put some bodybuilders at great risk of a heart attack.

In addition to the effect of growth hormone on the increase in the abdomen due to the growth of internal organs and an increase in visceral fat stores, there is also an effect of insulin. Bodybuilders not only increase their own insulin levels, reducing their sensitivity due to the abundant growth hormone therapy but also inject insulin because of its anabolic effect.

Insulin is the primary anabolic hormone in the body that delivers sugar and other nutrients to active tissues, as well as creating the stores of fat needed for periods of fasting. Although it is now less popular than 5-10 years ago, bodybuilders use insulin injections before meals along with daily injections of growth hormone to achieve their enormous size. In a sense, they are right, because the mass that they are gaining is impressive. Unfortunately, insulin can lead to a severe hypoglycemic reaction, fatally destroying blood sugar. For this reason, insulin was often used as a weapon for killing, for example, serial killer William Archerd in California.

Insulin gives bodybuilders size, but not quality. Muscles grow, but fat also, plus water retention occurs. All fat cells due to insulin will grow and visceral fat cells too, which also leads to a large stomach. Bodybuilders reduce the amount of subcutaneous fat with the help of fat-burning drugs (growth hormone, clenbuterol, etc.), they struggle with water retention with the help of diuretics, but it is more difficult to deal with visceral fat. Given the lack of significant additional muscle growth, the potential risks, and the need for additional medications to balance the negative effects of insulin, its use is no longer so popular.

The Bubble Gut Dilemma: Expert View

What is the sense of HGH gut dilemma? There is no doubt that participation and popularity for all the “newer” divisions like Figure, Men’s Physique, Bikini, Women’s Physique, and Classic Physique are growing by the year at the amateur level, while numbers for bodybuilding are stagnant if not dropping. Are those of us from the “old school” clinging on too tightly when we insist that bodybuilding should still be the main event in competitions? If the masses want to see other divisions, eventually, will we just have to accept that even though all of this sprang from bodybuilding, its time might be fading away?

Kevin Levrone about bubble gut

bubble gut bodybuilders
IG: @kevinlevrone

The bubble gut is a direct result of adding more muscle mass than your frame can carry. It even happened to Ronnie Coleman once he got to a point where he was weighing over 280 pounds in contest shape. There’s a point where you cross that line, and your gut starts going out there. It got out of control, and it didn’t look pretty anymore.

We’re starting to see it happen more and more with these guys today. It bothers me when you see someone with a great physique and great talent, and their gut pushes to that point where it’s a distraction and detracts from the overall look. It bothers me because bodybuilding is an illusion. The smaller your waist is, the bigger the rest of your body is going to look. The waist is the center point of your physique. You want it to be as tiny as possible. You certainly don’t want it to get bigger and bigger every year. Bodybuilding is an illusion, and you always need to keep that in mind. You wonder why guys back in the day like Shawn Ray, who competed for around 210 pounds, would routinely beat guys like Markus Ruhl, Paul Dillett, and Nasser El Sonbaty, who outweighed him by 50, 60 or 70 pounds. How was he able to do that? Simple.

Shawn beat them because he had a perfect blend of size, shape, and symmetry. It wasn’t about how much he weighed. It never should be about that. The overall look of the physique is what wins or loses.

How to beat this issue?

bubble gut bodybuilding
IG: @kevinlevrone

My advice to the pros out there today is to work hard on giving us that illusion. Bring back the tiny waist. Bring back those classic poses. Have that mass with class. You guys are walking out there at 250, 270, close to 300 pounds, but you forget about the midsection. Keep it tight! If you can walk out on stage at 260 or 270 pounds and your waist is a 32, now we’re talking. We’re talking about some real freaks now, and I mean that in the best sense.

Keep in mind that Lee Haney was 240-250 pounds onstage, and his waist was never more than a 32. I think he actually said it was more like 31! Flex Wheeler was a complete freak who used to beat pretty much all of us, with a 29inch waist. At my heaviest contest weight, 257 pounds, my waist was still 32 inches. Earlier in my pro career, it was a legit 29 inches. These guys today walk around in the offseason all the time with waistlines over 40 inches. Of course, you’re going to have a bubble gut if you let that happen! It’s crazy. Where is the illusion? I guess the big question is, what causes the bubble gut? Let me tell you something.

Bring back the tiny waist. Bring back those classic poses. Have that mass with class. You guys are walking out there at 250, 270, close to 300 pounds, but you’re forgetting about the midsection. Keep it tight!

Kevin Levrone

Nobody needs 10,000 or 12,000 calories a day to grow muscle mass. So number one, it’s overeating. You’re stretching out your belly with all that food you don’t need. It’s excessive. It’s probably also the GH and insulin. They worry more about being big and bloated instead of being in shape and creating a physique that can be freaky and beautiful at the same time. Is it too late to stop this proliferation of bubble gut? It’s never too late to turn back, and I think the NPC and IFBB are trying to do something about it by the creation of Classic Physique.

Soon, I think we will start seeing pro shows that feature Classic, but no open bodybuilding. How about that? You go to NPC shows now, and you don’t see a lot of bodybuilders onstage anymore. Yet the Men’s Physique and Classic Physique classes just keep getting larger all the time. I might even promote a Levrone Classic Pro show that only features Classic. Why not?

It’s still bodybuilding. That would send a message. Just raise the weight limits a bit, and Classic would be ideal, in my eyes. You know for damn sure there wouldn’t be any bubble gut.

In addition, you have a great chance to get to know first how to exercise while having blood pressure issues.

What is more, we’ve prepared a guide on how to cut body fat.