Most people who invest in a gym membership intend to work on their bodies and improve their overall health. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Bodybuilders have often dropped dead in hotel rooms, swimming pools, or even on stage due to heart attacks.
It is particularly alarming considering that bodybuilders are typically assumed to be in peak physical condition; for them to suffer such an abrupt and sudden demise is especially concerning.
The underlying cause of these deaths is often attributed to steroid abuse and/or weight-cutting practices employed by bodybuilders, as well as pre-existing issues such as coronary artery disease or congenital heart defects, which may remain undetected until it's too late.
The worst part?
For far too long, the frequency of deaths due to heart attacks has been significantly higher than what is considered normal or expected. This increased rate has been particularly evident since 2019 and cannot be ignored or dismissed as merely coincidental anymore.
Shawn Rhoden, a professional bodybuilder and the champion of the 2018 Mr. Olympia, passed away suddenly on November 6, 2021, apparently due to a heart attack. His abrupt demise shocked the bodybuilding and fitness communities.
Rhoden was not an average athlete. In addition to his gigantic quads and monstrous shoulders, he created history in 2018 by being the Mr. Olympia winner and was the oldest bodybuilder (at 43 years and five months old).
Unfortunately, one of the contributing factors is the use of steroids. However, Stan De Longeaux asserted that Rhoden was unquestionably not abusing steroids excessively. He added that the deceased bodybuilder had seldom used them in the years before his passing.
But, it is impossible to refute Stan De Longeaux's assertions on Shawn Rhoden's sparing use of steroids. The way each person's body reacts to chemicals varies, though. While some people may get away with abusing steroids severely, others may still have side effects from even occasional use. So it's highly possible that steroids played a role in Shawn Rhoden's tragic death.
Unfortunately, he is not the only one found dead this way.
Ashley Gearhart, only 37 years old, passed away in her sleep on January 29. Before passing, Gearhart had attained stardom in the sport after dominating top-tier bikini competitions for almost ten years.
Gearhart recently finished second in her division at the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness Baltimore Classic Master's pro in November and December 2020.
So, Is Bodybuilding Safe?
It is one of the most pervasive and oft-asked questions when a tragedy strikes the bodybuilding community.
People who think the powerful physique of men and women with 4% body fat on the Olympia stage are “healthy” are likely unaware of the implications of such a low level of body fat.
But Is bodybuilding safe?
Yes, if your goal is to get into shape and you do not plan to take part in any competitions or use any performance-enhancing drugs, then bodybuilding can be a great exercise.
Forget bodybuilding; this risk is pertinent to high-stakes sports at the highest level. For example, NASCAR, MotoGP, skiing, polo, and rugby – all of these activities come with a certain level of danger that professional sportsmen have no choice but to face to be successful. It is a fact that such athletes knowingly put their lives on the line as they battle for victory and strive to reach the pinnacle of their respective disciplines.
Experts say severe weight gain, weight reduction, exercise, and diets can burden the body and strain the heart when applied to certain aspects of the sport.
In 2014, a study published the mortality rate among active professional wrestlers. Data collected over 26 years from 1985 to 2011 provided insight into their life expectancy and revealed that wrestlers were 3-4 times more likely than the general public to die between the ages of 30 and 50.
Bodybuilding & Heart Attacks
At first, when athletes passed away due to suspected steroid use, the deaths were attributed to rookie bodybuilders who did not understand the potential consequences of their drug use.
However, as reports started to emerge of professional bodybuilders and even Mr. Olympia champions losing their lives prematurely due to heart failure, it became clear that this was a much more pervasive problem than initially thought.
It opened up a dialogue around the dangers of using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in bodybuilding and put pressure on authorities to regulate them accordingly.
Many professional bodybuilders and gurus have raised their voices recently to call for regular pro-bodybuilder health examinations.
Should we anticipate any changes shortly? Although we are unsure, it is encouraging to see a top-level discussion taking place on this issue.
The 6'1" 300 lb bulk monster was a rising celebrity in the bodybuilding industry, and experts predicted that he would win the Mr. Olympia competition. Dallas McCarver began working at 21 and received his professional card.
Although it was initially believed that he had choked on food before passing away, his postmortem report indicated otherwise. Three months after his passing, it was discovered that Dallas had significant cardiomegaly or abnormal heart enlargement.
The autopsy of Dallas McCarver, a professional bodybuilder, revealed an incredibly enlarged heart, weighing in at 833 grams - almost triple the size of a normal human heart, which typically weighs around 300 grams. The cause of this cardiomegaly was determined to be due to McCarver's use of anabolic steroids and Human Growth Hormone (HGH). It was further confirmed as the cause of death due to an ‘unwitnessed acute cardiac event’ - ending any speculation that he had choked on food.
Some athletes feel that as long as body size and shape continue to be emphasized for top-level titles, nothing will really change. However, experts contend that by implementing strategies to reduce the harm done over time, the next generation of athletes can be saved from sacrificing their health to become a well-known name in sports.
Building an enormous physique is a sport in and of itself, and it is an extreme pursuit regardless of whether drugs are used or not!
Bodybuilding is not without its risks, and those who take up the sport to build large amounts of muscle mass can face some dangerous side effects. Longtime coaches and medical consultants have warned that these athletes are taking a chance with their bodies, as pushing them to extreme levels can lead to various issues.
According to Brandon Wadas, a natural bodybuilder, lowering body fat to competition levels can be difficult and grueling. This extreme dieting, often necessary for bodybuilding competitions, decreases testosterone levels and subsequently causes symptoms such as fatigue, loss of libido, and mood changes.
Gaining too much weight to add massive muscle can have health consequences.
When athletes are trying to put on extra weight, they must consume an immense amount of calories each day, usually around 3,800. In addition to adhering to a strict nutritional and fitness regimen, this can also lead to a higher risk of overuse injuries from strenuous physical activity and training in the gym.
George Farah, a former bodybuilder, believes that bodybuilders want to gain size at any cost. She said, “Many people forgo regular aerobic exercise that offers many advantages to conserve as much bulk as possible.
Some athletes also avoid eating the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains recommended by doctors in favor of "dirty bulking" with high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.
She added, "They appear to be afraid of fruits and vegetables because their only goal is to gain weight. What will occur if you consume a strawberry?"
You see, it’s alarming that these individuals are not seeing the consequences of bulking up without eating healthy…
Throughout the years leading up to his death, bodybuilder Rich Piana was vocal and outspoken about the effects his 27 years of steroid use had on his body.
He spoke out openly about how he believed that taking a combination of growth hormones, testosterone boosters, and insulin alongside steroids had assisted him in achieving his impressive physique - though it had also left him with numerous side effects.
Piana suffered from high blood pressure and issues related to hair loss and acromegaly (caused by excessive growth hormone production).
He experienced muscle cramps and joint pain due to an imbalance in his hormones, which could be traced back to inaccurate dosages taken over the years. Despite this knowledge of the risks associated with steroid use, Piana still opted to take them throughout much of his career.
Police discovered 20 bottles of steroids at Piana's residence the day he passed out. It’s sad!
All Professional Bodybuilders Take Steroids!
Tom O'Connor, a doctor specializing in educating people on steroids, stated that being a professional bodybuilder requires taking steroids. O’Connor believes this is an unavoidable truth and is universally accepted throughout the bodybuilding industry. He argued that if someone wants to become a successful professional bodybuilder, it is essential for them to use steroids as part of their routine.
Although it is unclear to what extent bodybuilding has become more hazardous over time, research suggests that certain powerful performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are now more accessible than ever before due to the ease of online ordering.
One particular drug, trenbolone, has been referred to as a 'monster steroid' by O'Connor. It was first created to help cattle gain huge mass before being slaughtered for food. However, in the 1980s, a prolonged version of the drug was developed and adopted by bodybuilders. Despite this, it is essential to note that trenbolone has never been approved by any medical authority to be used by humans.
This steroid rapidly gained traction amongst those looking to increase their muscle mass. While its anabolic properties are attractive and effective, its potentially dangerous side effects have meant it remains banned in many countries worldwide due to concerns over its safety.
Although it got banned in 1997, the drug quickly found its way onto the black market and was even sold online in cattle implants for illegal human use, according to researchers.
What Do Performance-Boosting Drugs Do?
Performance-enhancing substances are a significant component of bodybuilding and can help competitors reach their goals. In particular, these drugs can help build lean mass, increase muscle definition, and cut weight to achieve the desired look.
Human growth hormone (HGH) is one example of a bodybuilding drug that helps increase muscle size and enhance overall performance. Steroids, meanwhile, refer to more than just testosterone; they include synthetic versions of human hormones that can build muscle mass and pack on pounds in a relatively short amount of time.
Research shows steroids are linked to cardiovascular diseases, mainly myocardial infarction, fatal arrhythmias, and cardiomyopathy. O'Connor said, "Steroid use has been shown to hasten heart disease considerably. The blood pressure skyrockets.”
The 'Bigger the Better': Driving Force Behind Steroid Use and Bigorexia
Some of the past's most renowned and successful bodybuilders may seem small compared to today's champions. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized in 2015 that the judging criteria for modern bodybuilding seemed to prioritize mass over all else.
He noted that it seems to be about having the “thickest necks” and not necessarily about overall athleticism or muscular proportions anymore. These days, competitors seem to be judged primarily based on their sheer size and bulk rather than a combination of attributes.
The rise of the "mass monster" era of bodybuilding in the 1990s saw an explosion of interest in prioritizing size over other aesthetic attributes, with size taking precedence. Previously, muscular size was appreciated, but it was also essential to maintain a certain level of proportionality and the classic V-shape tapered look.
The bodybuilders of the 1970s, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, were amongst some of the largest and most impressive individuals that had ever been seen in professional bodybuilding.
With Schwarzenegger weighing in at around 250 pounds during his prime, he was indeed an imposing figure. However, by the mid-1990s to late 2000s, this weight had drastically increased to about 270 pounds for those taking out titles at significant events.
The most successful competitors in today's sports industry have amassed millions of followers, particularly among younger athletes. These individuals aspire to mimic the professional competitors they admire and internalize their seemingly unattainable standards.
Proof suggests that social media has significantly contributed to body dysmorphia, a psychological condition marked by an obsessive preoccupation with one's physical appearance and an excessive focus on fixing perceived flaws.
Social media influencers have come to be seen as celebrities of sorts, and with that comes a certain level of admiration for their seemingly perfect physiques.
Unfortunately, many of these famous figures are setting an unattainable standard of beauty by using steroids and other unhealthy tactics to keep themselves slim and muscular, all while keeping the details secret.
Among younger men, psychiatrists are observing a growing prevalence of a particular form of body dysmorphia called "bigorexia". It is characterized by a perpetual sense of feeling too thin or scrawny and an intense urge to achieve substantial mass through any means necessary.
Young adults suffering from this disorder often feel inadequate compared to their peers and are eager to bulk up with muscle. As a result, they may grow obsessed with physical fitness and excessively focus on training regimes and diet.
Such persons may go to great lengths to supplement their workouts with protein shakes, steroids, and other performance-enhancing substances to achieve their desired physique.
Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way for them to do so, leading some sufferers into cycles of binging and purging that can have serious health consequences. Even individuals who have reached the desired level of muscularity may still feel unsatisfied with their appearance due to unrealistic standards perpetuated by societal norms.
Things Can Be Made Right!
O'Connor highlighted the potential benefits of creating more realistic expectations for what athletes could achieve, even with chemical enhancements. He believes that if the younger generation had a better understanding of the risks associated with taking such shortcuts, they would be less likely to repeat their predecessors’ mistakes.
Increasing accountability among coaches and trainers, who often promote performance-enhancing substances while providing few medical safeguards or expert guidance, could help mitigate the potential threats associated with such products.
According to Farah, it is not embarrassing to admit that you are not an expert in something. Yet, coaches tend to think they understand everything and only concentrate on getting results. It is a problem because it fails to consider the complexity of any given situation or task.
Reducing the usage of steroids in bodybuilding requires a holistic approach that includes education, prevention, and regulation. Education is essential for individuals to understand the short and long-term health risks associated with steroid use.
It can be done through informative lectures by trusted sources such as healthcare professionals or engaging materials like pamphlets or posters.
Prevention efforts must ensure that individuals are not exposed to an environment where steroid usage is considered normal or acceptable. Regulations like setting up strict guidelines on when and how to use steroids may also help reduce their usage.
Finally, people who have already been using steroids should be given access to support networks and recovery resources to transition off of them safely.
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