The reason for abdominal distention and how bubble gut affects 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 ‘bubble gut’ on these athletes and why has it become so common. Stomach distention has become known as a variety of names 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.
Let’s dive into HGH bubble gut and why bodybuilders are willing to go through this in order to achieve their desired results. Does the human drive to win outweigh the health consequences of something like bubble gut? We’ll check this out and see why this is such a big deal, especially for bodybuilders at the top of their game. We’ve all seen it, so let’s find out what it is, what causes it, and ways to prevent it to avoid that bloated, rounded physique.
Anatomy Of The Abdomen
The human abdomen can be broken down into 3 layers. There is the musculature including the rectus and tranverse abdominus and the internal and external obliques. These are of course essential for providing balance and stability during those massive lifts, while also popping out to give you an absolutely shredded aesthetic people will envy.
Then there is the fascia involved which is basically a casing for the muscles to sit in that offers protection and connects your skin to the tissue that is directly underneath it. But deeper is the extraperitoneal fat, omentum, and the actual organs inside the peritoneum. This is the real stuff we want to protect, but using HGH and other substances can greatly affect what we seek to so desperately keep healthy and intact.
What Is Abdominal Distention & Bubble Gut?
Abdominal distention occurs when substances, like air or fluid, accumulate in your abdomen and cause the expansion of your stomach to move past a normal level, being your waist. In bodybuilders, this is known as bubble gut, and it gives off the appearance that they have excess fat and heavy bloating around the gut (1). We’ve all seen it. Although they still have those six-pack abs popping through, the mid section is very much rounded out leaving us wondering just what is going on. Well, it is the effect of HGH and other substances bodybuilders use to get that extra leg up on the competition, and while it may seem to work, it certainly doesn’t look as good as a leaned out flat stomach.
Causes of Bubble Gut In Bodybuilders
When it comes down to it, knowing what causes bubble gut will prove to be important when looking to avoid it. Common causes of bubble gut include:
- Human growth hormone (HGH) abuse: A common side effect is excessive growth of certain tissues and this can really make that stomach bulge pronounced.
- Insulin abuse: Typically stacked with HGH, insulin can increase fat storage behind the stomach giving off that rounded look.
- High Calorie & Carb Diets: Those on high calorie diets most likely have food staying in their stomach for longer periods of time. As for those with high carb diets, the increase in glycogen increases water retention and this can offer a bloated look.
HGH & Effect On The Abdomen
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 (2). This causes not only an increase in mass in the rectus abdominis, or “the six pack” musculature itself, but also in the muscles that lie underneath it, including the muscular layer of the abdomen.
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 abdomen, known as visceral fat contributing to the omentum, which can also contribute to a larger abdomen. With plenty of androgens and Insulin-like Growth Factor floating around in the circulation, internal organs can also be affected. They, like muscles, also have receptors for these hormones albeit in lower concentrations than skeletal muscle.
Why Bodybuilders Still Use HGH
Despite the unfortunate side effect of bubble gut, bodybuilders continue to use HGH and other substances. For many, the obvious choice would be to stop using such substances as they will only hurt in the long term. But with such a competitive mindset, it just isn’t that easy. What HGH use does is it will work to increase muscle mass, enhance bone density, promote better performance, and offer less body fat. Now, as a bodybuilder, that sounds pretty good.
The mindset around simply dealing with the repercussions in order to hold that Mr. Olympia trophy seems like a no brainer. But at the end of the day, bubble gut comes back to haunt many and using HGH and other substances to gain that extra edge is proving to be more detrimental than originally thought. Don’t let you hard work slip away with a rounded, bloated physique come competition day. The drive to win is great but getting there efficiently, safely, and in a healthy way is more important than just taking the victory as is.
How To Prevent Bubble Gut
Bubble gut is not necessarily one isolated problem, especially for those in the bodybuilding community. Let’s say you take HGH and insulin, but also are working with a high carb diet as you look to bulk up. Right there are three things potentially causing your bubble gut, so working in tandem to make those changes is important, especially as we seek to see some real changes that we want most (3). Some ways to avoid and prevent bubble gut are:
- Limit HGH and insulin use: As you get closer to competition and performance time, start to taper off your use of these substances. Since they will continue to help you bulk as you get closer to competition time, you want to be shredded, not rounded. Work to limit the use and avoid gut distention.
- Reduce carb intake: This seems like a relatively easy fix and will help you avoid bloating and bubble gut. Your intake of protein can be high, but just work to lower the carbs a bit. With higher protein intake, you will feel more full and work to boost that muscle growth anyway.
- Try other forms of dieting: This may help your body adapt better to these sudden changes and something like intermittent fasting can greatly affect your ability to cut. By limiting your caloric intake and doing so safely, you give yourself the best chance at seeing those desired changes while doing so in a safe and healthy way.
- Fat-Burning Supplement: bodybuilders can use a quality Fat Burner and a muscle builder supplement that mobilizes whatever body fat they have left, increases metabolism so it burns off, yet protects muscle. Utilizing a Fat Burner with Hydroxy ß-Methylbutyrate (HMB) during a cut, can help carry on shedding fat through your diet and training while protecting that hard-earned muscle. Most fat-burning supplements focus on things like thermogenesis and fatty acid mobilization, which makes sense.
Abdominal distention, or bubble gut, is a wild phenomenon that makes us question just what is going on. But there is an easy answer and potential fix if a bodybuilder so chooses to partake. Using HGH and insulin, while matched by a high calorie or high carb diet, can simply cause problems that you just don’t want or need. That massive physique is already big enough and bubble gut can give off an appearance of stored fat or bloating that no bodybuilders wants. Looking at ways to change these habits can help you avoid bubble gut so you no longer deal with that rounded physique once competition time rolls around. On top of that, your overall health and wellness will greatly improve.
- Malagelada, Juan R.; Accarino, Anna; Azpiroz, Fernando (2017). “Bloating and Abdominal Distention: Old Misconceptions and Current Knowledge”. (source)
- Harvard Health Publishing (2018). “Growth hormone, athletic performance, and aging”. (source)
- Lacy, Brian E.; Cangemi, David; Vazquez-Roque, Maria (2021). “Management of Chronic Abdominal Distention and Bloating”. (source)