Bodybuilding: Super size risks

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Bodybuilding is all about sacrifice and size but where do you draw the line in a world where body image is everything? CARLY GIBBS reports.

Darrel Schumaker pulls his arm over his chest and looks like he might burst through his size XXXXXL T-shirt.

At 1.8m tall and 124kg, the Tauranga builder causes quite a stir when he's out and about and not just because of the three pizzas and bowl of icecream he's capable of wolfing down.

At 50, his mighty presence attracts double-takes from those who haven't seen him before. He answers his cellphone and his giant paw makes it look like he's clamping a coin. His hulking chest stretches as wide as an armchair.

The one-time competitive bodybuilder, strongman, power-lifter and Canadian gridiron player now works out purely for personal satisfaction. He still lifts weights with the ease most people carry laptops, and says with confidence, he could probably lift the four-door Toyota Yaris sitting in his driveway.

He won his first and only bodybuilding competition in 2008 - the over-90kg class in Auckland's Elite Show - and has never competed again because he hates dieting, which the sport demands.

"Bodybuilding is the only sport in the world where you have to train your arse off and diet," he says. "For someone who likes food, it's freakin' brutal. I make no bones about that. When I eat, I eat. And I mean, I can eat."

Schumaker, who lived on a diet of fish, rice, kumara, egg whites, tuna and broccoli leading up to his bodybuilding competition, can knock back 10,000 calories (that's 16 burgers) in one meal, and doesn't have enough appreciation for bodybuilding to live skimpily.

This is in contrast to other bodybuilders Bay of Plenty Times Weekend interviewed, who show sacrifice and willpower is essential in achieving the ideal body.

Schumaker's partner, Kaye O'Neill, makes a living out of training New Zealand bodybuilders to compete. Also 50, she sports arms bigger than a lot of men, even if it is off-season for competing right now.

She joined the gym as a 26-year-old looking to lose weight and was soon sporting muscly arms.

Having competed since 1989, she is the current Ms NZ Overall Figure and Physique Champion for Nabba/WFF and Nabba, and holds national and Pan Pacific titles, as well as as having competed in world championships.

Bodybuilding is growing in popularity in the Bay of Plenty, especially among women and the middle-aged, who have a renewed sense of regaining their figure and more time on their hands to achieve it.

O'Neill says those who don't know a lot about bodybuilding have pre-conceptions about it and associate it solely with the image of "hardcore" muscles and power-glares.

It was, of course, the Austrian former Mr Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who created all that, banging a gong for bodybuilding in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Terminator (1984).

Nowadays there are different classes men and women can enter to create different looks - not all involve being the biggest you can be. O'Neill and Schumaker are hosting a competition in May, and O'Neill says bodybuilding is no different to endurance sports, which requires competitors to be disciplined and train hard. The key is getting the right advice on pre- and post-competition, and those who commit, do it because they love it.

"I plan to be doing this until I'm 70 or 80," O'Neill says.

"I had my son when I was 40. By the time he's 20, I'm going to be 60 and I don't want to look like his grandmother."

Bodybuilders train well in advance for competitions but the going only really gets tough in the last eight to 10 weeks, when workouts, food and practising posing routines become all consuming.

Bodybuilders spend a maximum of two hours a day in the gym, five to six days a week, doing weights and cardio. They eat six to 10 meals a day, removing alcohol, dairy and sugar.

"The food you put into your body is something you need, rather than want," she says. The leaner you are, the more defined you look.

***

Lean is something Owen Turei has worked hard to achieve. He took up bodybuilding a year ago and won titles at three shows. The transformation he has seen in his body is addictive.

"You do get a bit obsessed and want to improve bits and pieces. (At competitions) you do have a look at other men and think 'oh yeah, I probably need that'."

Before becoming a bodybuilder, Turei weighed 100kg and was your typical "pie-eating truck driver".

He's now 75kg (68kg when competing in the men's short athletic class) and, as well as working out at the gym five days a week, eats six meals a day, which he drives around with in a chillybin.

Bodybuilding is all about sacrifice and size, but where do you draw the line?

Stuart Murray, an Australian psychologist, recently completed a PhD on muscle dysmorphia, sometimes called "manorexia", an extreme form of wanting to be really, really big.

Dr Murray says rates of body dissatisfaction among men have tripled in the past 30 years.

"Men with muscle dysmorphia experience guilt and shame because they believe that they're not big enough and it's usually related to size," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

New Zealand bodybuilder Justin Rys, a former Mr Oceania, is the most public face of the disorder, seeking psychological help in prison after being arrested in 2004 importing the drug Fantasy.

At his peak, he weighed 140kg.

Mark Woodgate, owner of Mount Maunganui's Bay BodyFit, says dysmorphia is "definitely real" and is essentially the opposite to anorexia.

"It's quite rare [but] I do know of some individuals who are working out religiously and eating huge quantities of food but never see themselves as being big enough. Their food bills are astronomical."

Woodgate says many international bodybuilders are seen as role models and heroes by up-and-coming bodybuilders who want to emulate them, but the reality is many professional bodybuilders use drugs to achieve their physiques.

"Health problems are not uncommon and there have been cases of premature death among bodybuilders," he says. "Drugs are being used in the sport and it's unlikely this will change anytime soon."

Woodgate tells the story of a Mr Olympia competition in the United States in the early 1990s, which was drug tested and the competitors noticeably smaller.

"The sport relies on freaky bodybuilding physiques to attract the crowds and receive sponsorship. Since that time, the physiques have grown larger and even more freaky year after year."

All sports bodies wanting Sparc government funding are required to adopt rules compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, enabling their athletes to be tested.

While the New Zealand Federation of Bodybuilders was part of the programme until 2006, currently no bodybuilding organisation has adopted satisfactory rules, so none are subject to testing.

This means the opportunity to use drugs without detection is available.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Graeme Steel says the decision to not adopt the rules is disappointing, particularly for those competitors who want a clean competition.

Bodybuilding used to make up 5 per cent of the organisation's drug testing, and accounted for 40 per cent of positive test results.

Steel says illegal performance-enhancing drugs are readily available on the internet, or at gyms, from those game enough to sell them.

"It's a choice which they have to make if they want to get big beyond their bodies natural capacity. There's little option."

However, Woodgate says the majority of New Zealand bodybuilders do not go to such extremes and none of the bodybuilders Bay of Plenty Times Weekend interviewed use steroids.

Woodgate, who himself competed in a bodybuilding competition in 1996, says balance is key.

Working out with weights to maintain bone health, increase strength and burn body fat is great, but when your sole focus is to build huge amounts of muscle at any cost, that's when it becomes a problem.

"A lot of people do it just to impress others but it's all about keeping perspective."

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Keeping her head in the right place is Lyn Wright, who in her third year of bodybuilding, knows there's more to life than what you look like.

Her husband was initially against her training to be a bodybuilder, worried that she would look like a man.

"Now I've turned him right round," says the svelte 47-year-old, who at 1.82m, looks more like a fitness model than a mean, lean muscle machine.

Wright has entered 16 body building competitions and last year took home three firsts, two seconds and two thirds.

She joined the gym at 45 when "gravity started taking over" and, while she never had weight issues, wanted to do something healthy.

"I always thought bodybuilding was about being big and muscular and looking like a man but I didn't want to look like that.

"I found out about figure class and thought 'that's the feminine version of bodybuilding'. I prefer to call it body sculpturing."

Between Monday and Friday, she keeps to a healthy diet but, on the weekend, has treats. She's in the "building stage" at the moment, putting on body fat to help build muscle.

Ten weeks before competing, she will cut out all dairy, alcohol, bad fats, fruit - because it has sugar in it - and baking. She substitutes chocolate fixes by eating vitamin C tablets.

"Basically you're living on salad, rice, fish, egg whites, tuna and protein shakes. People do start saying 'you're looking unhealthy now', but it's only a small part of the year you look like that.

"The rest of time you're on a healthy diet and you look great. I look better now than I did in my 20s."

Keeping her motivated is the desire to look younger than her age.

Before going on stage, competitors drink wine and eat chocolate to exemplify vascularity.

Bodybuilders display their physiques to a panel of judges, who assign points based on their appearance.

Competitors also use the tanning lotion Dream Tan, which combined with lighting, makes the definition of the muscle group more distinct.

"There's a stereotype we're posers," says Wright. "But we look in mirror at the gym not because we're posing at yourself, we're looking in the mirror to make sure we're doing the exercise properly. Bodybuilding is not just about doing weights and going home, it's about getting the right form and getting the right programmes. I call it 'science'."

Her friends call her a mixture of "crazy and disciplined".

***

Owner of GYM101 Robert Binns says bodybuilding is dedicated and disciplined but an art form more than a sport, adding it's only for a small percentage of gym-goers.

Binns says lack of knowledge can lead to injuries and weakness in the body with some body parts getting more attention than others.

He believes the body needs to be worked in a more functional and compound way, than the isolation exercises used in bodybuilding.

Further to this, protein shakes and other supplements are loading the body with too much "crap" that people are not processing.

"Most people don't even know what they are ingesting and yet they shovel it in regardless."

Protein fan and amateur bodybuilder Riki Lindsay, 20, causes quite a stir when he looms into view, having returned home from university in Christchurch.

A super-sized athlete, he began working out at the gym while a student at Bethlehem College and now, studying sport and recreation management, is putting theory into practice.

This year, he'll take to the stage for the first time, having entered in the under-21, physique men's category, of the Bay of Plenty Championships in Whakatane.

Five months out from his first competition, he is working out six times a week and bolting down seven to eight meals a day between 7am and 9.30pm.

He starts his day with a protein shake, and half-an-hour later, two whole eggs and eight to 10 egg whites. Two hours after that, he has a 200g to 300g chicken breast with salad, and three to four cups of brown rice.

Two hours after this, he starts getting ready for the gym and has a coffee and more chicken. At the end of his hour workout, which includes bench presses of 165kg (the equivalent of two washing machines), squats, deadlifts and bent over rows, he has two glasses of orange juice, two glasses of milk with honey, banana and protein.

Two hours later, he has dinner, which consists of lean meat and, before bed, another protein shake. The routine costs him about $100 a week.

"Some mates say 'good on you' but some say 'why would you do that to yourself?," he says. Three mornings a week, he also runs 4-5km.

Closer to competition, he will cut down his calorie intake and, after competing, plans to binge for a couple of days and have a few alcoholic drinks.

Bodybuilders have to ignore the public's perception that they're all attention seekers, he says.

"The sport is actually quite lonely. The only time people will see me at my peak will be when I compete. All the other times, I'm just in the gym. All my training is by myself and you've only really got that one time when people see you in the spotlight," he says.

Gathered to gawp; any bodybuilder could get addicted by the attention. Lindsay never saw himself as a "poster person" before bodybuilding. Honing his body into all billowing muscles has been rewarding.

***

Tauranga's Dr Morne du Plessis says dangers of bodybuilding only exist if people push it too far.

Bodybuilders have shown to have high cholesterol and blood pressure and, this combined with a large body needing constant blood supply, can put strain on the heart. On the flipside, Dr du Plessis says fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) may be lacking if fat is completely cut out of the diet, and women could face infertility problems and osteoporosis.

Dehydration to bring out the muscles is bad but protein shakes and other supplements are generally safe in moderation.

The key to safe bodybuilding is to get a good coach and to stay away from performing-enhancing drugs, which are dangerous without medical supervision, Dr du Plessis says. Muscle dysmorphia can lead some bodybuilders to make some bad choices.

O'Neill says what is normal to bodybuilders may seem extreme to the general public but extremists are prevalent in any sport.

"We often see guys with muscle dysmorphia repeatedly checking their reflection or asking people for reassurance whether they've gotten bigger, which is all aimed at reducing the shame they feel as a result of their pre-occupation with being too small. I know of guys who didn't believe they were big enough to compete, yet had great physiques."

While dysmorphia is not prevalent in the Bay, O'Neill says men are more conscious than they were 20 years ago. They want to look more like male models and want a "six pack".

Owner of FitCo Gym John Richardson says society is pre-occupied with what we look like and that can place pressure on some. "It's like the sunscreen song says 'Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly'."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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