Friday, May 21, 2010

Looking Healthy vs Being Healthy

I read a blog the other day that discussed the gap between BEING healthy and LOOKING healthy. These two things are NOT the same, yet so many people confuse them and link them together.

So let me set the record straight. When fitness, figure, and bodybuilding competitors are standing on stage, they're very unhealthy at that point. They're at an unnaturally lean body composition, they're starving, and they're dehydrated. And yes, many are pumped full of illegal (in the U.S.) substances.

Sure, their muscles are bulging and their skin looks tan, both of which are considered "healthy" things. But the reasons their muscles are bulging is not because they're "healthy"; it's because they starved themselves to an unhealthy lean body mass, depleted their bodies of essential nutrients, and dehydrated themselves either through natural (sodium, water) manipulation or unnatural (prescription diuretics) means. Their skin is tan because they're wearing paint the color of a dark tan. Yes - it's just paint. Applied with either an actual foam paint brush or a soft car wax-type applicator. The paint either stains the skin like a dye, or soaks in like a protective coating, clogging the pores and sweat glands, and staining clothes. Still think these competitors are "healthy"?

My tan of choice: Jan Tana

Now let's talk about how they feel while preparing for a show.

Contest prep can be very stressful and exhausting. It requires 100% consistency, dedication, and focus. And at times can seem to overtake everything else in one's life. It can become all-consuming. Life is an endless cycle of cardio, meal, train, meal, sleep ... lather, rinse, repeat. Time is spent shopping for food, cooking food, preparing food, measureing food, packing food, eating food, and thinking about food. In between all that, time is spent planning cardio, training, and meal times.

It's a very structured, disciplined, regimented existence. There's very little variety in anything. And everything has a purpose. Every exercise, cardio session, and movement is done for a specific reason; no movements are wasted, as anything more than a necessary movement requires energy the competitor doesn't have to spare. How is that healthy?

What about a social life? Competitors respond, "What's a social life?" What about holidays? Competitors respond, "What's a holiday? That's no excuse to miss a workout, cardio session, or meal. It's no excuse to not follow the diet." What about travel and vacations? Competitors respond, "I pack all my food and bring my cooler with me."
I have one just like this, but in Pink!

The week of the show ...

Competitors have very little energy, and do as little as possible the week of the show. Many take time off work a couple days before the show because they can't think straight. Others try to lighten their workload until they return from the show. For many, the diet changes the last week. Some introduce new food that hasn't been in the diet at all up until this point: pancakes, candy, jelly, burgers, soda, chocolate. Healthy food? I think not!

Common "carb up" food

The day of the show ...

Almost every competitor I've talked to (including me) doesn't sleep well the night before a show, and they're up at the crack of dawn, putting on that last coat of paint, or eating food to "carb up." Many shows begin at 9 am, with check-in at 8 am. Competitors need to be ready to go and at the venue before then. At this point, most competitors have stopped drinking water or have drastically reduced their intake to a small percentage of what they normally drink. Most are hungry, tired, and thirsty. It's very common to have at least one competitor cramp up at some point during the day, and some are light-headed from lack of nutrients and electrolyte imbalance.

There are 2 parts to a show: Pre-judging and the Evening show. It's rare for the Evening show to end earlier than 10 pm, which makes for a very long day for competitors. After the show, gluttony is the name of the game! Since they've been deprived of so many foods for so long, competitors are well known to eat after the show until they can't move. And they're not just eating healthy food - they're eating whatever the heck they want to eat!!

Jerry enjoying calamari after the Lehigh Valley show

So tell me again how similar LOOKING and actually BEING healthy really are! I'll be the first to admit that competitive bodybuilding is not a healthy sport. It's an extreme sport, and just like any other extreme sport, it has its health risks. Do you really think Lance Armstrong is completely healthy? What about marathon runners? Any form of extreme sports comes with its share of unhealthy qualities.

So while physique competitors may LOOK healthy during contest prep, most are actually much healthier when they're in the off-season. Their diets are more well-rounded, they're not overtrained, and they have more balance in their lives. No, they're not going to look as lean, but they're look more "normal." And to me, actually BEING healthy is much more beautiful than just LOOKING healthy.


  1. Well said.. I'm continually conflicted over it. But I know I enjoy competing for all the right reasons and not just vanity. So I suppose it's all about being as healthy as can be outside of that crazy prep time!

  2. Excellent! I'm going to post this on my facebook!

  3. just came across this...LOVE THIS POST!! I compete as well and I try to do it the healthy way with being balanced but it also is stressful whenever you constantly see crazy 6 packs and you start to want to attain that, when it reality, you can't keep your body in that state of low body fat all year.

    So glad you posted this!!