Bodybuilding diet risks

by Jennifer Bowden / 03 November, 2012
Bodybuilders’ restricted eating regimes are bad for their long-term health.
Bodybuilding - diet risks


Question: A friend recently entered a bodybuilding competition. I was shocked by her diet before the event. She was restricted to eating chicken and the odd protein bar. How would this a¬ffect someone’s mood, health and fertility? This crazy dietary behaviour, especially when condoned by nutritionists/personal trainers at a well-known gym, must fuel disordered eating.

Answer: Ask bodybuilders about their lifestyle and they’ll invariably say they have a healthy, disciplined diet and training regime that ensures they’re in peak condition. In contrast, a study published in Qualitative Health Research this year concluded the bodybuilding community has a fanatical obsession with building muscle, which means when it comes to achieving this goal, there are few health costs considered too severe. So, what do bodybuilders eat in their quest to build muscle and lose body fat? In the bulking or muscle-building phase, a high level of energy is needed to fuel a heavy training regime and increase muscle mass. Typically, a low-carbohydrate, very high-protein diet is adopted, with between five and seven meals of predominantly lean meat, fish, egg whites, green vegetables, small portions of rice or kumara, protein bars/shakes and dietary supplements.

Although some of these foods provide important nutrients, the proportions of protein and carbohydrates often don’t meet dietary recommendations for long-term health. Bodybuilders also tend to consume a limited range of foods, says Claire Turnbull, a UK-trained dietitian and personal trainer, such as eating only chicken and broccoli six times a day for several weeks. “They don’t vary their vegetables; they believe broccoli is the best vegetable, therefore they only eat broccoli.” In the weeks before a competition, the focus is on cutting or losing body fat, so food and energy intake is severely restricted. Dehydration and severe carbohydrate restriction in the last day or two pre-competition further reduces weight. These periods of semi-starvation can lead to striking behavioural changes. Turnbull had a bodybuilding flatmate who would “accuse me of stealing food, was argumentative, crazy, detached; how he was safe to drive a car I don’t know”.

After these extended periods of food restriction, it’s not uncommon for bodybuilders to binge for weeks afterwards, before reverting to a strict diet in preparation for their next competition. This eating cycle sets up a disordered dysfunctional relationship with food, says Turnbull, and makes maintaining a healthy body weight long-term extremely difficult. Unhealthy eating practices are common in sports and activities that require low body weight or body-fat levels. A 2009 study in the journal Eating Disorders found female bodybuilders had high rates of weight and shape preoccupation, body dissatisfaction, bulimic practices and anabolic steroid use. It’s unclear whether women with disordered eating gravitate towards bodybuilding or whether bodybuilding cultivates disordered eating and bulimia nervosa – which is characterised by episodes of uncontrolled binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, dieting or fasting.

Male bodybuilders also have disproportionately higher rates of bulimia and disordered eating,
revealed a 2006 study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. “If you’re severely restricting your nutritional intake, you have a dysfunctional relationship with food, and you have an abnormally low body-fat level where your periods stop and you’ve got dysregulation with your menstrual cycle, that is logically not a healthy way to respect your body,” says Turnbull. Athletes competing in sports that emphasise thinness or a specific weight are much more likely to report menstrual dysfunction, according to a 2005 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Turnbull has previously counselled bodybuilders on healthier ways to achieve their goals. But when competition dates loomed, they would invariably revert to extreme dietary behaviours to lose body fat. She now refuses to accept bodybuilders as clients. “I would be potentially endorsing a disordered relationship with food.” Many qualified dietitians and nutritionists take a similar view; but remember anyone can adopt the title of nutritionist, whether they’re qualified or not, and these people won’t necessarily provide science-based, ethical nutrition advice.

Email: nutrition@listener.co.nz, or write to “Nutrition”, c/o Listener, PO Box 90783, Victoria St West, Auckland 1142.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Complaints against Ministry for Vulnerable Children double, call for watchdog
76953 2017-07-26 08:02:47Z Social issues

Complaints against Ministry for Vulnerable Childre…

by Phil Pennington

Formal complaint numbers hit 917 last year, a near doubling from 2012, as calls mount for an independent investigation body to monitor them.

Read more
Work visas for New Zealand hit an all-time high
76950 2017-07-26 07:41:55Z Economy

Work visas for New Zealand hit an all-time high

by Mei Heron

The number of work visas issued in New Zealand has hit an all-time high and the number will keep rising, according to the government.

Read more
Why Paula Bennett is trouble for the National Party
76812 2017-07-26 00:00:00Z Politics

Why Paula Bennett is trouble for the National Part…

by Graham Adams

With the solo-mum-to-Cabinet humblebrag getting old, and not enough attention paid to her portfolios, the Deputy PM is now a liability for National.

Read more
Smuggled stories of totalitarianism from North Korea
76852 2017-07-26 00:00:00Z Books

Smuggled stories of totalitarianism from North Kor…

by James Robins

The Accusation has sparse and simple stories of ordinary people caught up in North Korea’s regime.

Read more
Kiwi experts zero in on new possible cause of rheumatic fever
76629 2017-07-26 00:00:00Z Health

Kiwi experts zero in on new possible cause of rheu…

by Catherine Woulfe

Experts are starting to rethink the causes of rheumatic fever.

Read more
A ride-on mower made me the man I've always wanted to be
76810 2017-07-26 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

A ride-on mower made me the man I've always wanted…

by Greg Dixon

Aucklander-gone-countryman Greg Dixon fulfills his lifelong obsession: owning a ride-on mower.

Read more
Media warned over 'carte blanche' use of social media posts
76909 2017-07-25 13:31:44Z Social issues

Media warned over 'carte blanche' use of social me…

by Max Towle

“Just because it’s viral, doesn’t mean it should be broadcast as news.”

Read more
Win a double pass to The Dinner
76907 2017-07-25 12:21:03Z Win

Win a double pass to The Dinner

by The Listener

The Dinner is based on the international best-seller by Herman Koch, which follows two successful couples over one evening.

Read more