Huge – it is not enough. There have been bodybuilders who stood taller and larger than their peers, only to stand back during callouts. There is an under-appreciation for the need to melt every globule of fat from subcutaneous adipocytes to present an unobscured view of striated muscle and turgid veins. The level of body fat on these competitors is so low, human physiology actually has systems in place to combat the relative absence of adipose tissue (body fat). Competitors reach body fat percentages in the low single digits; the body responds to this as a metabolic crisis. To achieve and maintain this degree of “leanness,” it is necessary to block protective pathways and augment the release and oxidation (calorie burning) of stored fat.
In this context, fat will refer to subcutaneous adipose tissue, the fat you can pinch around your waist, thighs, etc. Once believed to be metabolically inactive storage cells, adipocytes (individual fat cells) are now known to be in a constant flux of absorbing storing-releasing-dissembling-secreting fatty acids and glycerol, the components of triglycerides (fat); they also produce hormones and signaling factors (adipokines) that affect nearby tissue (paracrine) and others that affect tissue located elsewhere in the body or the metabolism (endocrine).
Professional bodybuilders have increasingly become professional businessmen – hiring trainers and consultants. Celebrated gurus direct the diet; directing intake in minute detail, dictating exactly what, when, and how much is eaten. Feedback and measures are taken weekly during the pre-contest period; daily as the event approaches. There has been a divergence amongst gurus, with most turning away from very low carbohydrate diets to a more balanced macronutrient ratio. Though there are advocates of all types of diets, and times when certain diets may be of greater benefit, the recent champions and top competitors tend to be guided by the balanced-ratio gurus (25% to 40% carbohydrates by calorie). Believe it when the pros say that it all starts with diet and training. It matters not if you have a subclavian catheter placed to allow continuous infusions of every drug known to man and aliens; if you don’t have a disciplined diet and rigorous training schedule, there will be no success.
Calories in and calories out is way oversimplified, but these men are diligent in adhering to a hypocaloric diet during the precontest phase. Their training regimens may not burn as many calories as Michael Phelps consumed during his Olympic swimming days, but their routines would leave many athletes exhausted, nauseous and in pain for days. Professional bodybuilders are conditioned, strong and disciplined.
More Detailed Than an Anatomical Chart
Extremely lean physiques have been a hallmark of bodybuilding for nearly 40 years. Some men achieve such lean and dry status (lacking detail-blurring subcutaneous “water”) that their bodies are more detailed than an anatomical chart – but not without cost. The most tragic example is Andreas Münzer, who in 1996 died as a consequence of multiple organ failure. Münzer was renowned for being insanely lean and dry year-round.1 If he was aware of the damage and risk he was taking and continued to do so, the argument could be presented that he was in an unhealthy psychological state. The late Nasser El Sonbatybelieved he was strongly coerced by his employer, suggestive of the self-destructive behavior exhibited by some victims of abuse-of-power by workplace supervisors or caretakers.1 I do not say that to insult Andreas Münzer – an extremely well-liked and highly regarded person – but self-sacrifice is productive and admirable only when the cause and cost are rational. There are things worth giving your life for (e.g., loved ones, liberty, safety of innocents); few people would agree that a bodybuilding career is worth an agonizing death at the age of 31. Obviously, there are many who disagree, even among young men who do not compete. Youth often voice, “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse” frivolously. Close friends and family of Andreas Münzer would likely disagree passionately.
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