Stomach Distention in Bodybuilders

Anyone following professional bodybuilding will have noticed the recent trend of stomach distention in bodybuilders, particularly in recent history. The trend has become even more pronounced over the last 5 years, with images of Mr. Olympia contestants like Kai Greene, or current champion, Phil Heath, and even previous champions like Ronnie Coleman showing signs of excessive stomach distention despite having extremely low body fat. Many spectators and fans have been left wondering what causes the appearance of a ‘gut’ on these athletes and why has it become so common. Stomach distention is known in bodybuilding circles as “HGH gut” or “insulin gut,” or more simply, “bodybuilder belly” and “muscle gut.” As these names suggest, the stomach distention in bodybuilders is believed to be caused by insulin and human growth hormone (HGH) abuse.

When combined with proper training, multiple supplements, and a diet that is extremely high in protein, the use of insulin and human growth hormone leads to considerable and significant increases in muscle mass. This causes not only 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. The combined growth of these muscles in turn causes the entire midsection to grow and eventually protrude, giving a ‘blocky’ appearance and contributing to stomach distention. Many bodybuilders also combine HGH, along with other substances, with insulin use - a practice known as “stacking” - which can further increase these effects. Over time, insulin use can cause increased fat storage behind the stomach, known as visceral fat, which would also contribute to a larger abdomen.

As far as healthy adults taking human growth hormone, reliable information is limited. Although it appears that human growth hormone can increase muscle mass and reduce the amount of body fat in healthy older adults, the increase in muscle does not translate into increased strength. It is unclear if human growth hormone might provide any other benefits to adults. 

From what I’ve learned, studies suggest that side effects of human growth hormone treatments might be more likely in older adults than in younger individuals. Because the studies of healthy adults taking human growth hormone have been short term, it is still unknown whether the potential side effects would eventually lessen over time or, alternatively, actually become worse.

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Contributed by Nick Trigili, IFBB Pro Bodybuilder