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What makes Bodybuilding so Hard?

May 29th, 2003

I always hear people talk about how “hard” bodybuilding is. What do you think is the hardest or most difficult aspect of the sport, and what makes it any harder than other sports?

Bill B.
Madison, WI USA

This is a question that is typically easy to answer......the diet is the hardest part. That is what most bodybuilders will tell you, and perhaps it is the “most” difficult aspect, but there are many to consider when discussing bodybuilding.

First of all, bodybuilding is a 24-hour sport, meaning that everything you do, your training, eating habits, work, school, family, financial situation, sleep, stress, and free time are all parts of the sport. How you handle each one of these situations will determine whether you are successful or not. You could still be successful by only managing some of these areas, but you may not reach your full potential.

So let’s discuss some of these areas.

Training—When you train like a bodybuilder you are lifting heavy weights and putting a lot of stress on your muscles, joints, tendons, etc. The fatigue you feel may be equivalent to a game of soccer or basketball, depending on the intensity of your training. Most bodybuilders have a training intensity that matches or exceeds athletes of other sports. Bodybuilders typically train 4-6 days per week (with weights) for approximately 60-90 minutes each session, which is comparable to most other athletes. But training is just one aspect of this demanding sport.

Eating Habits—Your nutrition program will make or break you. This is what sets bodybuilders apart from nearly all other athletes. In no other sport is the diet such a crucial factor, in this case 70% of the equation for successful bodybuilding. Other athletes focus much more on their skill or game and pay little or not attention to their nutrition program. I know this from competing in 5-10 different sports and having friends who play many different sports, some at the highest level. Of course when you get to the professional level of any sport, these athletes will pay more attention to their diet, but by no means even close to what a bodybuilder does. It is not just as simple as high protein, low carbs, moderate fat either. There are too many factors to discuss now, but they involve meal frequency, total caloric intake, total grams of protein, carbs, fat, supplementation, total water intake, sodium levels, essential amino acid levels, vitamin and mineral intake levels, quality calories vs. empty calories, protein bioavailability and absorption, food combing, and other factors. So you can see that there are so many things to consider that make the “diet” or nutritional program the most difficult aspect by far.

Work, School, Family (LIFE)—Life happens, and that can affect your bodybuilding progress. Maybe you are out of town for work and find it difficult to eat healthy meals on a long plane ride, or have difficulty finding a gym to workout at while on vacation. Maybe you have a term-paper due or a presentation to prepare for and you just don’t have time to get to the gym or to prepare the meals you want to eat. Perhaps you have to do unexpected activities like stay home to take care of a sick child or pet and you miss out on the opportunity to train, rest, or eat. You could be stuck in a board meeting for hours, often glancing at your watch because you know you are running late on your scheduled meal. You could be low on funds and simply not afford to eat as much as you would like. Those are just a few examples of some of the billions of situations that could prevent you from sticking to your bodybuilding lifestyle, where as many other athletes wouldn’t be bothered as much by the situations listed above.

Financial Situation—This is a major factor for a lot of people, including myself. Bodybuilding is an expensive sport, bottom line, and most people can’t afford to eat as much as bodybuilders feel necessary to do so. In addition to the large amount of money spent on food, bodybuilders will usually spend money on tanning sessions, tanning oils, supplements, training gear, contest entry fees, and other hidden costs. Anyone who has been to a vitamin shop or nutrition store, knows how much supplements can cost and many bodybuilders use ten different ones per day. Bodybuilders may put in extra hours at work, or sacrifice vacation money to use toward their nutrition program to help achieve their goals. Unfortunately your financial situation will affect your progress as a bodybuilder. There are opportunities to get sponsored and other ways to supplement your bodybuilding lifestyle to help overcome this obstacle.

Sleep/Stress—Just like all athletes, bodybuilders need their rest. Eight hours is a great amount at night plus additional naps during the day to keep your body well recovered. Bodybuilding takes a lot out of you. The intense training, the typical low carbohydrate diet, and the cardiovascular exercise that goes along with the weight training all add up. Bodybuilders also tear down muscle fibers in the gym and need the rest to help the muscles recover. Leading up to a contest could be very stressful so naps during the day will help lower some anxiety and stress levels. Getting a massage will not only help lower stress by allowing you to relax, but it will benefit your muscles by lengthening them, allowing for more blood flow to the cells, for better cell nutrition and ultimately better results.

Free Time—This is where most other athletes will just relax and forget about their sport or competition for a while. Bodybuilders can’t do that. Of course they still enjoy plenty of free time, but they have to prepare meals to take or have with them, vitamins, supplements, etc. All the things necessary for that day or that period of “free time.” Many bodybuilders will take this free time to tan, nap, watch TV, walk their dog, spend time with family or friends, etc. Bodybuilders are not guys or gals who typically go out to bars, stay out late, party a lot, or lead an outlandish late night lifestyle. They simply can’t afford to do that. As I mentioned above, meal preparation, meal frequency, and the amount of sleep they need, are all things that usually keep these bodybuilders away from the nightlife. There are exceptions of course. I will still go out occasionally with my friends but I carry food with me. I take tofu, nuts, protein bars, and other foods that I can eat while I’m out. I don’t ever drink alcohol but if I’m at a bar with friends, I just step outside, go to my car and eat some food for 5 minutes, get some water, and go back in. Then I try to sleep in the next day to be sure that I still get adequate rest and close to eight hours of sleeping time.

In conclusion, I would say that the very hardest aspect of the sport is the nutrition program and the consistency and dedication that you have to have to stick with it. That is also what separates bodybuilding from other sports and like I said it’s a 24-hour sport, which arguably makes it more difficult than other sports. Refer back to each topic above and see if you are following those steps. If not, try to concentrate more on one at a time and watch your progress sail.

Thank you for the question. I hope it helps.

Big Rob