The sport of bodybuilding is killing its competitors

The sport of bodybuilding does not, as do other sports, require its competitors to be tested for performance-enhancing drugs.

Gee, I wonder why:

Bodybuilders around the world are risking their lives and sometimes dying for the sport they love because of extreme measures that are encouraged by coaches, rewarded by judges and ignored by leaders of the industry, according to interviews with dozens of bodybuilders, coaches, judges, promoters, medical professionals and relatives of deceased athletes.

The Washington Post investigated the deaths of more than two dozen bodybuilders, focusing mostly on those who died leading up to or in the aftermath of competitions. A review of hundreds of documents including medical and autopsy records, police reports, 911 calls, emails and text messages, along with interviews with more than70 people, reveals the devastating consequences of a sport that for years has operated under the halo of health and fitness.

Several of the industry’s top coaches, without formal training or medical licenses, supplied their clients with illegal steroids or other illicit substances; instructed them on dosages for using performance-enhancing drugs; or advised athletes not to seek medical care beforecompetitions, The Post found.

Unlike other professional sports, the IFBB Pro League, the largest professional bodybuilding federation in the United States, does not routinely test athletes for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.There’s no health insurance or union to protect athletes. Nearly allsteroids are illegal without a prescription in the United States, but bodybuilders say they are easily obtained and widely used by competitors.

Jim Manion, who runs the IFBB Pro and an amateur organization, the National Physique Committee (NPC), declined to answer specific questions and issued a company statement: “The health, safety and welfare of all our competitors has, and always will be, of utmost importance to us.”

But bodybuilders and coaches say the risks have intensified in recent years as contest judges increasingly reward athletes with nearly impossible-to-achieve physiques. Those who’ve warned against the dangers say they have faced pressure to stay silent and suffered backlash from federation officials and coachesafter speaking out.

Bodybuilders typically spend months preparing for competitions with strict diets and hours of workouts often fueled by stimulants. Many add to that a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs to build muscle and fat burners to get lean.

You want to know another population that uses steroids to excess? Gay men.

I’ve known so many gay men over the years who used steroids. I did, too. Their use was discussed openly at the gay gyms to which I belonged.

I have one friend who was facing having to take steroids the rest of his life — I haven’t spoken to him about it in years — because he did them for so long so heavily that his own body’s natural production of testosterone was unable to recover.

But this particular bill is coming due for many of the people I’ve known who injected steroids heavily.

I had one friend, super educated and smart, who was so bulked up in his chest, back and shoulders that his arms looked weirdly tiny as he walked with them pushed out from his body, T-rex-style.

He had a massive heart attack in the middle of his Boston gay gym and died on-the-spot.

He was in his early 40s. Everyone tsk-tsked “how young he was” to have such a thing happen, even though all of us who knew him at all also knew he was pumping himself full of steroids without even trying to also do the post-cycle round of other drugs to try to counter the effects of artificially elevating his testosterone levels so high for so long. (Is PCT — post cycle therapy — even still a thing?)

Social media has made the need to be muscular even worse, from what I gather. The pressure for all young men to be jacked — not just the gay ones anymore — is everywhere on social media.

I work at a university, and I see it in the undergraduate men. They are far more jacked than they’ve ever been.

I’m not judging. I did it. But there is a price to be paid eventually.

I stopped doing that stuff just as soon as my contemporaries started presenting with serious, life-threatening cardiovascular, liver and kidney problems. And that doesn’t even include the psychological toll of messing with your hormones that much.

Anyway, the WaPo piece — co-written by my friend Jenn Abelson — is disturbing and good.

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