It is very sad that it has come so far with the sport that we have to define a term such as "TRUE Natural Bodybuilding". However, we have to face reality and acknowledge that there is lots of drug use among bodybuilders and so-called natural bodybuilders. Especially hormonal drugs such as testosterone, anabolic steroids, growth hormone, IGF and insulin are very popular among bodybuilders because they are extremely effective in building muscle mass. Let's take a look at my personal definitions and interpretations.
A bodybuilder is someone who tries to induce muscle growth, and simultaneously tries to keep his body fat to a minimum, usually by a combination of weight training, proper diet, food supplements, doping, and sometimes cardiovascular exercises.
Doping plays, unfortunately, a very important role in bodybuilding as the effects of modern doping products are really amazing. Testosterone and anabolic steroids are by far the most popular, and massively used by recreational, amateur, competitive, and professional bodybuilders. My estimate is that about 99% of the bodybuilders that you see in bodybuilding contests have used anabolic steroids at least sometime in their life, and most probably during the last months and weeks before the contest. The 1% who have never used anabolic steroids in their life are very easy to recognize as they usually end at the last place in the contest results. What professional bodybuilders concerns, my estimate is that 100% of the pros of the last 50 years have systematically used anabolic steroids throughout their career.
Since the 1990's, many bodybuilders have started to add growth hormone, and shortly thereafter insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), to their doping regimen. Currently, probably more than 90% of the top bodybuilders are using growth hormones and insulin. In the near future new muscle growth promoting drugs are expected to become popular, such as: selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs), myostatin inhibitors, and even gene doping.
Clenbuterol is another frequently used product that promotes muscle growth and body fat reduction. We also have of course thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), ephedrine and caffeine that are frequently used to burn body fat and increase energy levels. Close to contest time, many competitive bodybuilders also use diuretics to reduce the remaining water under their skin.
Natural bodybuilding was introduced around the mid 1990's, and it was probably intended to be bodybuilding without doping. Or at least it was intended to inspire people who don't want to become as big as a Mr. Olympia competitor, but want to improve their physique by bodybuilding without using drugs. In order to create a profitable business for this big new market segment magazines where published and contests were organized with so-called "natural bodybuilders".
In practice it appeared that there was not much difference between bodybuilders and natural bodybuilders. Some of the less massive bodybuilders of yesterday, just started to call themselves natural bodybuilders. They accepted the fact that they may have a small chance of being tested for a limited number of prohibited drugs on the day of the contest. However, by slightly changing their doping regimen they could easily find a way around. So basically, most competing natural bodybuilders use the same kinds of drugs, and sometimes similar amounts as the other bodybuilders, or at least they have used them in the past.
TRUE Natural Bodybuilding
My definition of "True Natural Bodybuilding" (short: TN bodybuilding) is: bodybuilding without EVER having used any performance enhancing drugs or supplements that do not occur in a normal healthy daily diet. For example, someone who has used a small amount of anabolic steroids 10 years ago for a period of 1 week is NOT a true natural bodybuilder. It is clear that for any of the hormonal drugs (testosterone, anabolic steroids, growth hormone, IGFs, and insulin), it is very important to use this very strict definition because they really can alter your body composition permanently. Although the effects of ephedrine, and its natural equivalent ephedra, which are often used in supplements (so-called fat burners), may not have permanent effects on your body composition, I strongly believe they do not belong in a true natural bodybuilding lifestyle.
Let me try to provide a MINIMAL list of products that a bodybuilder should NEVER have used in his entire life to qualify as a true natural bodybuilder:
any muscle growth promoting hormones such as for example:
anabolic steroids (AS)
human growth hormone (HGH)
insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) such as IGF-1 and IGF-2
any anabolic prohormones, prosteroids or precursor steroids
thyroid hormones such as T3 and T4
norephedrine, ephedrine, ephedra, and ma huang
stimulants such as amphetamines
experimental muscle growth promoting products such as:
selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs)
muscle stem cells
I didn't mention corticosteroids as they are really often used for all kinds of therapeutic reasons such as allergy, asthma and inflammation, and because they have no anabolic effect. I also didn't mention nicotine, alcohol and caffeine as they are not really performance enhancing for bodybuilders and because they are very commonly used in daily life by most people. I also didn't mention protein powder, amino acids, glucose, vitamins, minerals and creatine because they naturally occur in food products that are part of a normal healthy daily diet, and because they are not prohibited by any anti-doping organization.
Please note that the list above is only a minimal list of prohibited products that contains mainly those products that are best known and most frequently used by bodybuilders. I'm sure that there are many other products in the anti-doping lists of sport federations that should also be included (see for example the Prohibited List of the World Anti-Doping Agency).
Finally, true natural bodybuilding is not about using exotic plant extracts, new drugs not yet prohibited by the anti-doping agencies, or high-tech supplements that promote muscle growth. True natural bodybuilding is a healthy lifestyle in which you develop your muscles by hard and smart training, and by a targeted but healthy and natural diet, optionally supplemented with natural nutrients.
Pros and Cons of True Natural Bodybuilding
It is not always easy to be a true natural bodybuilder, and certainly not glamorous. In fact it is often quite frustrating as you have to deal with the following challenges:
It will take very hard work and lots of patience to reach your goals.
You will never get the same results as bodybuilders who use drugs.
You will never be able to compete in contests at a serious level.
You will never get lots of compliments in the gym because there will always be a doped bodybuilder who is bigger and more muscular.
As soon as you start getting serious results, people automatically think that you are on drugs. If you say that you are not, they may think that you are a liar.
You will always have to deal with the temptation of the quick results that you could get by using drugs.
You will never know how successful you would have been as a doped bodybuilder.
Fortunately there are also some attractive advantages of being a true natural bodybuilder as compared to being a doped bodybuilder:
You don't have to buy and use illegal drugs.
You are not taking any health risks. In fact, you are significantly improving your health.
You are saving lots of money.
You won't have to lie about using drugs.
Most women prefer men with natural bodies.
You can really be proud of your results because they exist only thanks to your own efforts, and not as a result of some pills or injections.
Fitness is the little sister of bodybuilding. It is becoming very popular in Europe. It basically is bodybuilding without results. People who practise fitness have usually no idea about what they are doing. They like to chat with each other in the fitness club. Some of them dream about getting a better physique because the sales people of the fitness club promised them that they would get results automatically as long as they continue to pay their membership in time.
The purpose of bodybuilding is to increase the body's muscle mass by developing all its skeletal muscles as much as possible. Although some bodybuilders are very strong, this is rather a side effect of the big muscles and the lifting of heavy weights. Other sports such as powerlifting, weightlifting, and strongman competitions have as main goal to be as strong as possible rather than being muscular.
Developing muscular strength requires very different training methods and exercises than developing muscle mass. To build muscular strength, you mainly do basic compound power exercises, such as squat, deadlift, bench press, barbell press and row, with very heavy weights for a low number of repetitions (1-6) per set, and long rest periods (>3 minutes) between your sets. Each muscle group is trained once or twice per week to get optimal results. This way of training totally differs from typical bodybuilding training. To avoid any confusing, this website is all about bodybuilding, not about developing muscle strength.
The Future of Bodybuilding
One day, gene doping will be a fact. Together with other increasingly effective drugs, gene doping will make it possible for people to be as muscular as a bodybuilder without ever having been inside a gym. I believe this is an unavoidable future that is coming to us within one or two decades. I have no problem with accepting this fact. And if people want to use these drugs, that's okay for me. However, I don't think these people should be called bodybuilders. Let's preserve the term "bodybuilder" for those people who have actually built their body by means of weight training. In fact, I personally think that the only real bodybuilders are the true natural bodybuilders, who didn't use any drugs to build their physiques. Does that make sense to you?
Although most bodybuilders claim to be true natural, true natural bodybuilders are in fact rare. However, true natural bodybuilders do exist. I am one of them, and I am proud of it. As far as I know there exist no magazines nor contests for true natural bodybuilders. I believe there are 2 main reasons for this: it is impossible to test whether a bodybuilder is TRUE natural, and true natural bodybuilders simply don't look impressive enough, especially when you are used to seeing doped bodybuilders.