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Something has gone wrong. Something has gone drastically wrong. The beautiful sport of Bodybuilding, known for words like pain & sacrifice, symmetry & size, beauty & proportion; was replaced by words like bubble gut, ugly & big, monster & mass, distorted.

It’s unacceptable the way bodybuilding is going. We don’t want to see stomachs sticking out. We want to see the most beautiful man, the most athletic man.”

                                                                                                                                     Arnold Schwarzenegger

Bodybuilding has turned upside down. The downfall started in the early 90s, with Dorion Yates being the first of the kind of freakish mass monsters to enter the world of bodybuilding. What could have stopped there and then, had Yates wouldn’t have got the massive publicity and wins he got, actually turned out to be a norm, which changed the eye-popping gesture of the audience and the ‘wows’ and ‘oohs’, to ‘yuk’ and ‘gosh’.

Pregnant men? I mean seriously? Is that how low this game has stooped to. Take up any national and international bodybuilding event, and you would see, men looking more like banyan trees than Greek Gods, with protruding/bulging bellies, also called the Bubble Gut, everywhere. Pregnant men would be a more appropriate term.

I’m sick of this, and the issue no longer is a mystery. Anything which destroys a sport, is a serious issue to be dealt with and dealt with firmly. Bubble guts need to go. The athletes with protruding belly or bubble gut are to be disqualified, no questions asked. Its either they themselves or their stupid coaches, who are doing this to them.

I checked on various organizations and their top bodybuilding athletes, be it IFBB, IBBF, WABBA, etc. distorted guts or bubble gut is a commonality they share. Most people wonder what causes these large guts to protrude out, despite the extremely low-fat percentages.

Anabolic steroids, Growth Hormones, Insulin, IGFs, etc. are no longer a hidden secret or a coach’s secret concoction. The Bubble Gut is said to be caused due to prolonged abuse of Human Growth Hormone, Insulin & IGF. But, there are extremely limited studies, highlighting this aspect of bodybuilding.

Insulin, may not be an issue, because, diabetics around the world, take much higher doses every day than a bodybuilder, but you won’t see diabetics with big guts unless of course, they are fat.

When it comes to GH, the average intake of a bodybuilder is around 4-8iu for intermediate ones, to maybe 18-30iu or more/day for advanced bodybuilders. But doctors prescribing their patients GH, for a growth retardation issue, or any other related medical problem, don’t tell their patients of any such side effect. But I didn’t find many reports on normal people taking GH or insulin, even in high doses, having a problem of bubble gut.

Richard Holt, a British researcher, in his 2013 study in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism, suggests that many athletes are taking much higher doses than those used therapeutically, it is possible that features of acromegaly may become apparent with prolonged use. Additional long-term effects may include fluid retention, which may lead to ankle swelling, hypertension, headache, diabetes, and cardiomyopathy. There is also a potential for increased risk of certain cancers; including colorectal, thyroid, breast, and prostate cancer.

But there is still no mention of bubble gut in these and more such studies.

However, there is no study which has studied bodybuilders taking massive amount of GH, insulin or IGF, throughout the year, for years together.

In the language, if Bodybuilding, this bubble gut has been given the name ‘Palumboism’, after the bodybuilder Dave Palumbo, who developed one of the worst guts ever.

bubble gut

According to, “Dave Palumbo is a retired national level bodybuilder, but he was known as one of the freakiest bodybuilders of all time and nicknamed Dave ‘Jumbo’ Palumbo. His nickname makes perfect sense since Dave is renowned for competing at body weights close to 300 pounds. Interestingly, from 1995 to 2004 Dave attempted to turn professional in 16 qualifying events but always came just short of earning the highly coveted IFBB pro card. His best placing was at the 2003 NPC USA Championships, where he won the super heavyweight class and lost the overall by a one-point decision.

However, as impressive as a bodybuilder Dave was, he is more famous for being the CEO and founder of the online magazine RXmuscle and the supplement company Species Nutrition. Additionally, Dave Palumbo is also a contest prep coach who is well known for the ketogenic diets he regularly makes competitors follow.”

Not everyone agrees with the GH, insulin and IGF abuse theory. The reasons we discussed above. Author and coach John Romano blames this gut to simply extreme muscle mass, which the athlete possesses. “Muscle mass is at an all-time high today, more so than in the ’80s and ’90s, with just a small handful of exceptions. More muscle mass also includes abdominal muscle mass”, says Romano.

Romano also blames the huge intake of carbohydrates in combination with lack of water and salt, and use of diuretics during competitions as one of the reasons, due to which the gastric emptying is very slow.

Though I do not agree with Romano on this, because the contest preparation strategies have not changed drastically in the last 4-5 decades. The amount of food taken in by the old school bodybuilders was more or less similar, with water and salt depletion to go with. But the vacuum pose which the yesteryear bodybuilders glorified is virtually missing.

On the other hand, I am also not fully convinced with the GH, insulin, IGF-Gut theory, because not all bodybuilders get the problem of bubble gut, despite of taking nearly the same amount of gear. It can be an issue of genetics and sensitivity to these hormones in some, but then again, there is no study about that.

The other school of thought on this subject is that stacking insulin and GH causes increased fat storage behind the abdominal wall. On the other hand, the theory that with an increase in muscle mass, the abdominal muscle size also grows, is also quite prevalent. The thought is that there is not just an increase in mass in the Rectus Abdominis, or “the six-pack”, itself, but also in the muscles that lie underneath it, such as the Transverse Abdominus and the Internal Obliques. This causes the entire midsection to grow and protrude out.

bubble gut

Having extremely large calorie diets is another contentious issue. Having 10,000cal diets means having a humongous volume of food, which can stay in the stomach for a long time, and push the gut out as a bubble gut. Again that’s, not exactly a valid reason, merely a hypothesis. Michael Phelps is well known for his 10-12,000 cal/day diets and he is as lean as it could be.

The most convincing reason still is the abuse of GH, insulin, and IGF. This is clearly evident in before and after pics of top bodybuilders, who distorted their guts (and their physique) with massive use of gear. Ronnie Coleman & Dorion Yates are two famous names to go with. If you look at three holders of the Mr. Olympia title in the 1980s and 1990s, you will see a tremendous rise in muscle mass. Lee Haney weighed 110 kg and was 180 cm tall, Yates had 120 kg of weight and was 177 cm tall, and Ronnie Coleman has 138 kilos of ripped mass and 180 cm of height. So, belly enlargement may be connected with the need to maintain much bigger muscles than before.

bubble gut

The biggest relief is that; the Bubble gut is not permanent. Once you are off the gear, the gut is likely to get back to normal with time. On the other hand, even if we consider the diet-gut health hypothesis correct, the problem is actually real. Most bodybuilders and especially coaches have no idea what is bulking and cutting. Athletes are made to consume anything in the name of bulking and literally starve in the name of cutting. Both approaches are bull, the real approach is somewhere in the middle. Control your eating. You are not a pig, but a human. Eat like one. eating tons of food, and sitting in the toilet five times a day, is not bulking. It is simply called overeating, and getting fat.

So, the overall conclusion for having a Bubble Gut is:

  • Genetics
  • GH, Insulin, IGF
  • Large amount of food intake
  • Water retention

The old school bodybuilders probably did everything mentioned above, but just not in the dose, it is abused today.