What Is ‘Roid Gut’ and What Is Causing It?

Muscular man pointing to abs

Table of contents

What is a ‘roid gut’?

If you follow bodybuilding competitively, then you’ve probably already seen them. Chiselled, hulking bodybuilders who despite being covered in lean, rippling muscles, also look like they are about to pop out a baby. And we aren’t talking about the ladies here. We’re talking about the men.

It’s real, they exist and it is very strange to see, if you haven’t seen it already.

But where have these guts come from? They definitely didn’t exist back in the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hell, every inch of them looked lean and tapered down to the perfect ‘v’ shape.

Yet this is no longer the case. Instead, what you see now is an oddly fascinating combo of enviable arms and distended stomachs.

So what is the cause? Why are more and more bodybuilders sporting ‘roid guts’?

Why do some bodybuilders develop steroid guts?

Now here is where things get even trickier. Not because there isn’t a reason. But because there are multiple explanations floating around about why it exists.

Ronnie Coleman in 2009
Photo by www.localfitness.com.au

Palumboism

This is the winning theory amongst judges, and stems to the visceral growth your body undergoes during bulking. If this theory is to be believed, steroids are not to blame for the appearance of these guts – although they don’t help. No, it is performance enhancing drugs such as insulin, recombinant human Growth Hormone and occasionally other anabolic peptide hormones.

These trigger visceral fat storage and increased connective tissue, as well as swollen livers, ascites fluid, and the thickening musculature of your pelvis – all of which can leave your stomach looking bloated and distended.

Now, on the surface, the science looks sound. Insulin for instance is linked to visceral and organ fat storage, so raising it could in theory expand your gut. However, given how harsh diets and fat burning drugs are, it is difficult to believe that bodybuilders would still have large amounts of fat trapped in their liver and around their intestines.

Similarly, Human Growth Hormones could potentially trigger GH-induced gut hypertrophy and cause your organs to grow. Yet so can testosterone. Yep, testosterone can trigger this same roid gut. Yet, it is not blamed like these two.

But here is the real kicker – and the reason why this debate is so big – despite drug regimes being more intense and bodybuilders being a hell of a lot bigger; the pharmacological impact of insulin and GH (on your gut) hasn’t changed. So this sudden appearance of large stomachs in recent years, doesn’t entirely make sense under this theory.

Take the following facts:

  • There are no published studies/written evidence that indicates that GH or insulin causes abdominal distention. All the evidence is empirical.
  • Bodybuilders only take 10-12 units of insulin before and after they train. Even if they took double, this is still less than what diabetics use. Do they have distended stomachs? No (mind they aren’t strenuously training in the gym either).
  • In cases of patients taking GH to prevent muscle wastage, they take approx. 9-18 IU a day. Bodybuilders take 4-12 IU a day tops – nowhere near as much.
  • Doctors never tell patients taking prescribed GH or insulin that they’ll experience radical abdominal distention from use. Even bodybuilding websites don’t post this warning.
  • The only people who accuse GH and insulin of causing roid gut are internet experts commenting on contests (post event).

Add all of these together and what these facts suggest is that pharmacological use of GH and insulin – which is taken at much higher levels than bodybuilders – doesn’t cause abdominal distention.

So what is the real cause, if it isn’t entirely down to Palumboism? How are bodybuilders managing to be lean AND have fat stomachs when they have spent months rigorously training with the purpose of looking slim and powerful?

Here are some additional theories:

  1. Slow digestion – this can affect bodybuilders when they use diuretics and then carb-load (to saturate their muscles with glycogen), as they are usually dehydrated. This can create problems, as there is not enough water to make the glycogen they desire. As a result, their abdominal muscles become stretched (as they are so full) and fluid (blood) is drawn to it, leaving them with a big bulge trying to fill this vacuum.
  2. You can’t have a small waist with massive abs – it’s a simple fact. Even Arnie isn’t as massive as some of the bodybuilders you see these days.
  3. Not managing your medicine cabinet – it can be hard getting the balance right between diet, drugs and exercise when getting contest ready. Obviously you want to achieve maximum bulk before you cut; however, make a mistake in this chain and you won’t achieve the definition you want. It is regularly agreed upon that roid guts are a sign of something that went wrong during training – namely, with the drugs/supplements they’ve used. Use them right and you’ll experience minimum side effects. Get it wrong, and you could turn up competition day looking 4 months pregnant.

So is insulin and GH not to blame?

Yes and no.

Whilst there is no denying that there is no pharmacological proof of them being the cause of roid gut, they aren’t entirely innocent either. Can they encourage muscle growth? Yes. Can they enlarge your organs? To an extent.

But the same can be said of actual steroids, androgens, anti-cortisol drugs, some diets and training supplements. All of these can contribute to muscle growth.

And your stomach? Well, this is covered in muscle too and will grow alongside the rest (depending on how it is trained). The more you bulk… the more abdominal muscle you’ll amass.

What substances can accelerate roid gut development?

Kai Greene flexing
Photo by www.localfitness.com.au

We’ve talked about the two biggest contenders already, but in this section we’ll go into more detail so you can see what all the fuss about and discover why so many people are adamant that they are the culprits.

Insulin

Insulin may be best known for its relationship with diabetes, but the thing to remember about this hormone is that our bodies tell us to produce it when we eat. With its help, we are better able to absorb sugar and nutrients into our bloodstream.

Now for bodybuilders, insulin is loved because of its high anabolic effects. It can help you to absorb more sugar from your blood and more protein. Combined this encourages increased protein synthesis and energy for muscle building, making it ideal for bulking.

The problem with insulin though, is that it can trigger heavy water retention. Now this wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t also sporting a massive colon. Together, you can end up looking like you’ve swallowed a cantaloupe – ouch!

Human Growth Hormone

This bad boy usually plays a bigger role in our bodies when we are young as it helps us to grow. As we get older, our growth plates close over, stopping us from getting any bigger.

But this doesn’t mean it becomes inactive…

Alongside helping to stimulate the healing of wounds and damaged cells, it can also encourage muscle growth after they’ve been damaged. And here is where bodybuilding comes in, as weight training does exactly that – it damages your muscle fibers.

Similarly, HGH can help increase anabolic processes in your body, enabling muscle to rebuild whilst you sleep.

Sounds great right? Well, the problem with HGH is that it’s indiscriminate. This means it won’t just increase the size of your muscles. It will also increase the size of anything that doesn’t have a closed growth plate – including your hands, feet, face and organs (hence the problem with hypertrophy).

All growth in your abdomen will cause your stomach to get bigger, and your skin/muscle walls to grow larger in order to accommodate this increased size. And hey presto – you’ve got a noticeable gut despite having little fat on your body. Nice – umm no it isn’t.

Anabolic steroids

When we talked earlier about what causes steroid gut, you might remember us saying that despite the name, steroids actually have very little to do with roid gut. Well, it’s true! They are not one of the triggers.

This doesn’t mean they are entirely innocent. Use them during your bulking or cutting cycle and they will bolster the effects insulin and HGH have on stomach growth. For this reason, you will need to be mindful of what you put into your body because even though steroids are not the cause, in this case they can make the situation worse.

Studies:

A Japanese study in 2013 observed muscle growth in two parts. The first part consisted of an observational study of freshman and senior football players, and the second part an intervention study.

The first compared the differences in body composition between the freshman and senior players. They noted that as a result of intense bulking protocols and resistance training, the seniors weighed 17kg more (on average) than the freshmen (11-12kgs of lean muscle and 5-6kgs of fat mass). They also noted that their hearts, liver and kidneys were significantly heavier and were in proportion to the increases in fat and muscle.

The second study tried to reproduce this change by taking freshmen players and putting them through controlled bulking and training protocols over the course of a year. They witnessed pretty much the same results (but on a smaller scale as it was only for 12 months) as the observational study.

What does this study prove?

The fact is – GH, insulin, even testosterone can all cause increases to organ weight and size!

And considering that none of the participants were taking drugs; this study shows that the huge guts we now see in bodybuilders aren’t actually caused by drugs, but simply by whole-body growth.

Is it dangerous?

We may naturally produce insulin and HGH, but in this scenario, it isn’t entirely safe:

  • HGH can lead to cardiac hypertrophy i.e. enlargement of your heart, which can increase the risk of heart attacks/strokes/heart failure. It can also cause similar growth in your lungs, which can be dangerous considering your rib cage can’t grow to accommodate this increased size.
  • Insulin – funnily enough, taking insulin can potentially lead to diabetes. Hell, overdose on this hormone (in the short term) and it could send you into glycaemic shock or even a coma.

Tips for a healthy and natural bodybuilding

If you’re thinking about ‘how to lose steroid gut’, then the easiest thing you can do is avoid using insulin, testosterone and HGH, and instead adopt for a healthier, more natural way to body build.

Take the following fitness and dietary recommendations:

  • Exercise: focus on compound and isolation exercisesCompound – these will allow you to work out multiple muscle groups at once e.g. squats, bench press, rows, shoulder press and pull-ups.

    Isolation – these are designed to isolate single muscle groups and use lighter weights (done on a higher rep range).

    For a good workout, most of your program should consist of compound exercises, heavy weight lifts and low reps. You should also give yourself sufficient time to rest between sets to allow near full recovery. We suggest resting for 120 secs for compound exercises and 30-60 secs for isolation exercises.

    Still not sure? Take a look at this sample program:

    – Upper body: bench press (4 sets, 5 reps), rows (4 sets, 5 reps), shoulder press (3 sets, 6-8 reps), bicep curls (2 sets, 10 reps), tricep extensions (2 sets, 10 reps) and lateral raises (2 sets, 12 reps)

    – Lower body: squats (5 sets, 3-5 reps), leg press (3 sets, 6 reps), lunges (2 sets, 8 reps), leg extension (2 sets, 12 reps), hamstring curl (2 sets, 12 reps), calf raises (3 sets, 15 reps) and hanging leg raises (2 sets, 15 reps)

  • Diet – food is the raw material for your body. You need it to build more muscle. That is why it is essential that you have sufficient lean protein (0.8-1.2 g or protein/lb of bodyweight – 0.2-0.25g/lb immediately post workout); sufficient carbs (100g or higher per day); sufficient dietary fats (no fewer than 0.35g/lb per day) and a calorie surplus (250-500 more calories than your daily allowance).Just remember to adopt ‘clean eating’ habits; split your meals into smaller portions of 3-6 meals per day, and to eat 2 hours prior to exercise (to help maximize your energy availability).

Safe options that can help build muscle without side effects

Is roid gut real? Very much so. Can it be avoided? Yes!

The truth is – you don’t have to suffer from excess abdominal muscle in order to achieve massive muscle mass gains. Hell, the above training regime and diet alone are proof that you don’t have to subject your body to this. So, while it might appear to be the trend for current bodybuilders to have a gut, YOU don’t have to follow suit.

In fact, there are a whole host of safer, natural and legal steroids alternatives that can help you to achieve the lean gains you crave, without you having to look pregnant at the same time.

Instead you can end your cycle looking lean, chiselled and huge like Arnie, with the very same perfect tapered ‘v’.

CrazyBulk supplies a range of 100% legal bodybuilding supplements that can be safely used to: increase lean muscle mass; cut fat; improve muscle recovery; maximize your physical endurance, stamina and strength, and more importantly, help you to successfully complete your bulking and cutting cycles.

PLUS, there isn’t a distended stomach in sight.

From Testo-Max and D-Bal (for bulking) to Anvarol and Winsol (for cutting) – they can offer you a safer, more natural way to achieve the body you want, with none of the side effects of anabolic steroids. So why wait?

Learn more about legal alternatives here.

Conclusion

So does ‘roid gut’ have to be a part of your competing future? No, it doesn’t.

True, more studies need to be done about what causes steroid gut. However, everything we’ve seen so far points to the fact that as long as you get the right combo – and don’t rely on insulin, testosterone or HGH for muscle growth – you CAN achieve the same gains as all your favourite bodybuilders. Plus, you can do it WITHOUT having to deal with a steroid gut.

And let’s be honest – do you really want to walk around with a gut even if there isn’t an ounce of fat there? No! Unless you shout that fact from the rooftops, no one is going to understand that it is actually muscle. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t attractive and it isn’t a true representation of all your hard work.

So if you’re interested in experiencing real gains with none of the side effects and discomfort, why not take the natural route instead?

Train right, eat ‘clean’, and incorporate a proven, safe and legal steroid alternative into your cycle, and you CAN experience real muscle gains, fat loss AND definition. Yep, enough to rival all your favorite 80s/90s bodybuilding heroes.

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