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How healthy is the large muscular physique?

by on May 18, 2016

We have known for some time that while bodybuilders are the epitome of health, they actually suffer from shortened life expectancy. A new study that is soon to be released shows that this reduction in longevity is actually quite dramatic.

Now if you read popular websites, the blame seems to go squarely, and justifiably, on performance enhancement drugs.

But is it all the drugs? How can we know for sure. I can tell you that bodybuilders probably abuse drugs more than just about any other sport, except possible cycling. PED were (maybe still are) rampant in cycling. Yet a study of Tour De France riders actually show that they live longer than the average person. Unlike the bodybuilders, they truly are healthy. 

There are a million reasons this could be true. Though they do use steroids and growth hormone, they are more likely to use EPO and lower doses of steroids compared to the bodybuilder. Maybe it is the aerobic training, though some studies argue that long term aerobic challenges can damage the heart. Maybe it is muscle distribution issues.

Of course, I just wonder how diet plays into this. If you look at a typical cyclists diet it is very high in carbs, as carbs are generally thought to be the best energy for the cyclist. The bodybuilder, on the other hand is very high protein. Protein increases IGF1 and we know IGF1 can contribute to cancer and shortened life expectancy. They also intake huge doses of leucine that, through mTOR pathway, may shorten life expectancy.

What about plant based bodybuilders. Well, I have no idea who is using and who is not and there are not enough plant based bodybuilders that they have been able to be studied.

Jim Morris was a vegan bodybuilder who died at 80, which is not old, but much older than your average bodybuilder…. This however is just an n of 1. I also know that jim did eat high levels of protein, though it was plant based protein. Plant based protein can increase IGF1 also, though it does tend to also increase IGF1 binding protein, there by limiting the effect.

I think the only definite take away point is that looks can be deceiving. The large muscular physique may not be as healthy as it looks. I also think that PED definitely have a role in the poor health, but I seriously wonder how the dietary choices contribute.

A prospective study in bodybuilders tested regularly for PED would be the only way we would know for sure.