This article is the sole opinion of Nick Trigili. Generation Iron Brands LLC does not condone, support, or advocate any form of legal or illegal drug use.
The reason for abdominal distention.
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.
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. Then there is the fascia involved which is basically a casing for the muscles to sit in. But deeper is the extraperitoneal fat, omentum, and the actual organs inside the peritoneum.
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” 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.
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. Because of the limited available information, we only have normal physiology to rely on. We do know that exogenous HGH increases release of IGF-1 by the liver and IGF-1 has a multitude of effects including organ growth. As seen in bodybuilder autopsies, not just muscles are ‘larger than life’, their organs are too including hearts and livers twice the size of an average adult for example.
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.
Clearly, these substances that bodybuilders might use in the name of enhancing their physique, of course, have downsides. To mitigate the downsides and get the most benefit out of performance enhancing drugs, an experienced and qualified coach can guide you to safe use.
Nick Trigili is a respected IFBB Pro bodybuilder and trainer. Check him out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more informative content. Also make sure to visit his official personal training website – World Class Trainers.