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Stomach Distension: Causes & Cures – Part 3


by Mike Arnold

Having been thoroughly familiarized with the various causes of stomach distension in the prior article, we now have all the information we need to accurately diagnose our present condition. Having done so, we are left with only two options; either accept one’s current situation or begin taking steps to rectify the problem. For those who engage in bodybuilding on a rudimentary level, such a decision is of little consequence, but for those with serious competitive aspirations, it can have a dramatic impact on contest placings and ultimately, one’s future success as a bodybuilder. Given the fact you are reading this article, I will assume you have come to this same conclusion and are ready to move forward. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to emulate the appearance of the golden era bodybuilders, the path to success is the same.

Back in the 1960’s-1980’s, obtaining a classic waistline was more a matter of improving upon what one already had, rather than needing to overcome a slew of problems just to get back to square one. Targeted ab work, regular vacuum training, and adequate muscle control was generally all it took to bring one’s midsection into submission, allowing the bodybuilder to display a tight, concave waistline that looked great in any pose. These days, obtaining a classic waistline is a two-fold process, involving both corrective and transformative action.

Unfortunately, much of the waist expansion we’ve witnessed in recent years has been self-induced; the accumulative result of years of mistakes in multiple areas of one’s program, many of which could have been avoided with a little forethought and planning. The good news is that most, and in some cases all of this damage can be undone. With the right game plan and dedication to one’s goal, dramatic results are not only possible, but likely. The truth is that every recommendation covered here today, aside from perhaps a few less well known techniques, has been known in the bodybuilding community for decades, having been passed down from one generation to the next.

When it comes to playing the blame game, no other factor has been implicated in stomach distension as frequently as growth hormone and insulin. Working to cause distension through two potential mechanisms (i.e. organ enlargement and visceral fat storage), the degree to which this problem can be corrected will depend on which of the two has caused most of the trouble. While organ enlargement is a very real phenomenon, the truth is that this side effect has been highly exaggerated, with years of high dose drug abuse needing to occur before even small visible changes become apparent. In bodybuilders taking moderate amounts, the likelihood of being affected in this fashion to a meaningful degree is low.

If you find this hard to believe, consider the following. It is no secret that many pro bodybuilders use these two drugs with regularity, oftentimes in higher dosages than their non competitive and amateur counterparts. This makes sense. After all, many of these men are not only making a career out of their bodies (necessitating long-term use), but they are also better able to support such use from a financial standpoint as a result of sponsorships, contest winnings, guest appearances, etc. Therefore, one could reasonably assume that the top-tier pros are the most likely to be able to afford and indulge in high-dose, long-term GH-insulin use. By the time a pro reaches this level, he is often more willing to “pick up the pace”, so to speak, in order to either stay on top or ascend even higher in the ranks.

Well, let’s look at a few pro bodybuilders whose appearance contradicts the claim that organ growth is primarily to blame for today’s distended guts. Among the IFBB elite, rumor has it that Kai Green has been less than conservative in his PED use; a rumor that many believe is credible considering its multiple sources. Even without having any first-hand knowledge of Kai’s PED regimen, most would probably assume that GH and insulin has played a central role in his program. After all, it would be hard to believe that someone with Kai’s ranking, financial resources, connections, and drive to become the best in the world would not employ at least moderate doses of these drugs.

For a time, Kai was oft criticized for his ever-growing gut—a problem which assuredly played a role in his 8th place finish in the 2010 Mr. Olympia contest. By this point, many claimed that Kai’s physique had been ruined—that he would never again be able to reclaim the aesthetic appeal which he had so marvelously displayed at the 2009 ASC title. Internet rumblings proclaimed that Kai had used so much GH and insulin in his quest to out-size then current Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, that his internal organs were in danger of bursting forth from his abdomen, but then 2013 happened.

3 years after Kai’s name had been added to the naysayer’s list of deceased aesthetic bodybuilders, Kai walked onstage at that year’s Mr. O’ with a midsection that no one had ever seen from him before. Not only had he regained his lost aesthetic appeal, but he looked to have been the willing recipient of a waist transplant. Shrinking considerably in terms of both width and depth, his newfound waistline was completely void of distension in many poses, giving him a v-taper that most pros would envy and which fans would talk about for months to come. At this juncture one must ask the question “how could a man who was known for having one of the most distended stomachs in bodybuilding almost completely eliminate the problem in just one year”? After all, if Kai’s previously gut issues had been the result of GH-Insulin induced organ hypertrophy, any efforts to reverse this condition would have been in vain, as organ growth is permanent. At a minimum, this single example, which is just one of many, proves quite convincingly that organ growth is not always the reason behind the belly.

While we’re on the subject, let’s also take a look at Kai’s then nemesis, Jay Cutler. 4X Olympia winner and 4X runner-up, Jay Cutler was not only one of the most massively developed bodybuilders of all-time, but had a professional career spanning 15 years and dozens of contests. Taking into consideration the circumstances, it is not illogical to assume that Jay probably engaged in his fair share of growth hormone use over the years. Let’s not forget, he spent 5 years chasing Ronnie Coleman before ascending to the throne, during which time he was “all about the mass”. Despite this, Cutler never displayed even mild distension and in fact, was even capable of pulling off a min-vacuum in poses like the front-double biceps.

If most of the distension we are seeing today is a result of GH-insulin induced organ growth, how would it be possible for a multiple Mr. Olympia winner (Jay Cutler) to hit the stage with a nearly concave stomach throughout his entire career, and for a Mr. Olympia runner-up (Kai Greene) to have drastically reduced his waist size years after having turned pro? What about all the other pros who display a flat midsection on contest day? More so, what about all the amateur and non-competitive bodybuilders who use pro-level doses of these drugs, yet also have flat midsections?

The question then is “why do some bodybuilders seem to escape the side effect of organ growth, while others don’t”? Shouldn’t all high-dose GH and insulin using bodybuilders be subject to this same side effect, being that IGF-1 (the hormone responsible for organ growth) levels rise similarly in everyone who takes these drugs at equivalent dosages? Or, have we simply been looking in the wrong direction, attempting to place blame where blame doesn’t belong? The fact is that there are too many instances where bodybuilders, both large and small alike, have used high dose GH-insulin for many years without any significant distension, while others who do the same thing end up with massive guts? Why the discrepancy?

Before I answer that question, now is the perfect time to tell you a story about a previous client of mine (note: any clues regarding this man’s identity have been omitted), who had trained seriously for over 15 years, was in his early 30’s, and had been taking large amounts of PED’s for well over 10 years. For the previous 6 years, he had been chronically using pharmacy-grade GH at a daily dose of 10-32 IU a day! The kicker here is that he was very wealthy, although not through any means if his own. His had a leisurely job that involved year-round travel to various destinations around the world. When stopping at countries where GH was legal without a prescription, he would pick up as much as he wanted and be on his way. He did this the entire 6 years he was using GH. After reading about this man’s situation, you would probably expect him to be very large. Think again. He was roughly 5’10 and 215 lbs at about 12% BF. Although not small by normal standards, it is far from what one would expect when reading about his drug habits.

If anyone should have had a massively distended gut, it should have been this man, yet his stomach was as flat as a board. I can list many other non-competitive bodybuilder’s I have personally known, who have used GH and insulin for several years at doses suitable for any pro bodybuilder, yet they also lack any type of significant distention. The fact is that when it happens, stomach distension is almost always a big-man’s problem. Rarely will you see a small bodybuilder with significant distension, regardless of his drug habits. There is a good reason for this and it has nothing to do with organ growth.

So, if organ growth is only a minor issue at best, why is GH and insulin being blamed for today’s massive guts? Well, as mentioned above, there is another mechanism through which these drugs can lead to distension—visceral fat build-up. Visceral fat storage is a side effect of insulin resistance—a common and dose-dependent side effect of growth hormone and insulin usage. Therefore, common sense would dictate that the best way to eliminate/prevent the accumulation of visceral fat is to keep one’s insulin sensitivity within a normal physiological range. The most obvious way to accomplish this would be to eliminate growth hormone and insulin from one’s program altogether, but with most considering this course of action unacceptable, bodybuilders began to look for alternative solutions.

Fortunately, the medical community has been hard at work in their quest to treat/cure Type II diabetes. This has led to a vast pool of clinical research on the subject, from which bodybuilders have been able to extract valuable information. Knowledge regarding the relationship between diet, exercise, and insulin sensitivity has expanded, allowing us to manipulate these variables in our favor, while insulin sensitizers/mimetics have also proven tremendously useful. Likewise, we now possess a greater understanding of how to balance our use with the above–mentioned factors, particularly as it pertains to dosage and duration, allowing us to continue using these drugs with minimum metabolic dysfunction.

By taking these steps, the likelihood of developing stomach distension through growth hormone and insulin use is greatly reduced. For those of you who would like to learn more, the internet is full of information on how to utilize diet, supplements, drugs, and exercise to improve insulin sensitivity.

Although GH and insulin remain the center of attention whenever the subject of stomach distension arises, in most cases it is far from the most pressing issue. In reality, the biggest contributors are far less intriguing, with food intake being one of them. No single factor has been more responsible for the bloated belly appearance so prominent today, as is the diet. More specifically, it is the quantity of food consumed that is the issue. With today’s bodybuilders weighing upwards of 250-300 off-season lbs, the amount of food required to maintain, let alone build additional muscle mass is extreme. Diets containing 4,000-5,000 calories are common place, while a decent percentage of individuals exceed even those numbers.

This is a difficult problem to combat, as the most obvious solution—cutting down on food intake—is an unacceptable option for those attempting to build further muscle tissue. The good news is that this problem is only temporary and will subside significantly during periods of reduced food intake, such as contest prep. However, off-season options are limited. While some improvement is certainly possible, the complete elimination of food induced distension is unlikely and all but impossible for those with high caloric intakes. Basically, the more food one eats, the worse this problem is likely to be.

Still, there are a few options which have proven useful. Rather than eating a few big meals per day, try eating smaller, more frequent meals, even as many as 6, 7, or 8 times daily. Doing so will cut down on the amount of food in your stomach at any one time, preventing the acute distension experienced after large feedings. Other options include digestive enzymes and probiotics, which will increase both the rate and thoroughness of digestion. For those afflicted with enzyme deficiencies, digestive enzymes can make a world of difference. Few people in this country have an ideal ratio of intestinal flora, making probiotics and good idea for just about everyone. Even for those who don’t have issues in either of these areas, the sheer quantity of food consume by most BB’rs, as well as the make-up of their diet, necessitates the use of these products if optimal digestion and assimilation is desired. Anytime we can improve the rate and thoroughness of digestion, distension will decrease.

Another closely related, but independent problem is the long-term build-up of digestive waste. This is particularly likely to happen to bodybuilders who consume low fiber, high meat diets, especially red meat. Under these conditions the body is unable to properly eliminate the food we consume, so it stays lodged in the colon. The end result is a distended stomach. There are a few ways to deal with this. First and foremost, all bodybuilders should make sure to consume plenty of fiber in their diet, even if they need to add supplemental fiber (both soluble and insoluble) to their diet.

While most health organizations recommend 10 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed, the typical bodybuilder doesn’t get anywhere close. Unless one is willing to consume primarily whole-grains as their complex carb source and begin implementing a large variety of fruits & vegetables in their diet, the addition of supplemental fiber is mandatory. However, this is a long-term, permanent solution. For those who have already succumbed to significant waste build-up and want to fix the problem as quickly as possible, colonics are a great option. For those who would prefer to do things at home, an intensive stimulant-based laxative program, in combination with a high-dose soluble fiber product (such as Psyllium), may be sufficient. Regardless of whether you require a short-term program like this or not, adjusting your diet so that it contains the proper amount of fiber is crucial to keeping this problem at bay.

While we’re on the topic of diet, now would be an ideal time to bring up food allergies/intolerances. Anyone who continues to experience chronic bloating, gas, water retention, or other digestive issues, despite taking corrective action in the areas above, might want to consider the possibility of a food allergy/intolerance. Due to the proliferation of dyes, preservatives, pesticides, chemicals, and unnatural proteins being added to many food sources, food allergies/intolerances are at an all-time high. Still, not all problems of this nature are associated with these man-made food additives. Gluten intolerance is a great example. Although gluten intolerance can only be tested for by eliminating gluten from the diet and watching to see if there are improvements, most other food allergies can be tested at the doctor’s office. Obviously, a positive diagnosis in any area should be dealt with by eliminating the offending substance from one’s diet.

As mentioned in the Part #2, the transverse abdominis is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It is responsible for holding the organs in place and maintaining the shape of the stomach. However, this muscle can become weak and stretched out, allowing the organs to spill forward and cause distension. Typical causes include repeated over-eating to the point of distension (resulting in elongation), as well as a lack of use (resulting in weakness), but this is not all. Certain weight training exercises can also contribute to the problem. Powerlifters are often taught to hold air in their stomach as they perform a lift, while pushing this air outward against their stomach in order to increase torso stability.

While this may help add pounds to your squat and deadlift, it will also stretch out your transverse abdominis. Keep in mind that this breathing technique does not need to be intentionally employed in order to have a negative effect on the waistline. Many bodybuilders inadvertently do the same thing during training, especially when performing heavy, compound lifts. Rather than make conscious effort to hold the stomach in during training, which may negatively affect exercise importance, one can simply wear a tightly cinched belt as an alternative. The type of belt used should be a powerlifting style belt, or at least a belt which covers the majority of the abdominals. Narrow, thin belts which only cover a portion of the stomach (which includes most bodybuilding style belts) are insufficient for this purpose. By wearing a belt during all training sessions, you will alleviate pressure on the transverse abdominis and help it regain its natural shape.

The most effective way to help the transverse abdominis regain its shape is to train it. The fact that most readers are now asking “how?” is proof that today’s bodybuilders have failed to heed the advice which was passed down to them from previous generations and now they are paying the price. The type of training I am referring to is rarely included in anyone’s program these days, which is a real shame because it not only helps the T. abdominis maintain its original shape, but it can actually redefine the waist’s natural borders, pulling the waist inward permanently.

I am talking about vacuum training. Relatively simple to learn, no other form of exercise can alter the midsection so profoundly. With consistency of effort, it can transform one’s appearance within a matter of months, bringing the individual one step closer to a classic waistline. While the benefits of vacuum training be visibly noticeable at all times, the most dramatic benefits will be witnessed when posing. It’s no secret that many poses look better when executed with vacuum. The front double biceps, front lat spread, and various twisting shots are just a few. As with anything, you will get out of it what you put in. A simple Google search will pull up several websites dedicated to this practice, providing all the information you need to effectively implement this time-proven technique into your program.

With so much emphasis placed on muscle size, many bodybuilders put a lot of time and effort into the basic mass-building exercises, often working up to very heavy weights. Unfortunately, the muscles of the waist respond to weight training just like any other muscle—they get bigger. The larger we get, the more developed these muscles tend to become, an effect that is further exaggerated when performing particular exercises, such as squats and deadlifts. While it is unwise to eliminate such exercises from our training regimen, we can alter the way we perform our many of exercises in order to eliminate unnecessary stress on the abdomen.

For example, if you have the option of performing either standing overhead presses for delts, or a seated machine press, choose the later, as it will minimize stress on the midsection, while continuing to place maximum stress on the delts. Think about the exercises you are doing and take any steps you can to reduce stress on the abdominal muscles, whether that means selecting a different exercise or making simple adjustments to the way you perform a current exercise. Remember, bodybuilding is an art of illusion. It does not matter who is the biggest bodybuilder onstage. What matters is who looks the biggest and reducing one’s waist size will make everything else look bigger by comparison, not to mention increase aesthetic appeal.

The final waist reduction technique were going to touch on is unfamiliar to most bodybuilders, at least in terms of bodybuilding applications. The subject of corsets is usually only brought up in the context of women trying to achieve an hourglass figure, or when referring to Victorian times. However, the applications in bodybuilding are obvious, as no other technique under the sun is capable of decreasing one’s waist size as much as this centuries old practice. In fact, the potential decrease is so extreme that it goes beyond what any bodybuilder would ever need or want.

One should know right up-front that corset training requires intensive commitment for up to 6 months, depending on how far one wants to take things. Regardless of the time-frame, it requires that the apparatus be worn for between 4-12 hours per day, usually at night while sleeping, so as to minimize potential discomfort during waking hours. I am not going to lie—most bodybuilders would not be able to endure this for very long, as corset is very demanding, with only the most determined being able to see it through. Corset training accomplishes its goal by literally compressing the lower torso under high pressure for extended periods of time, so that even the skeletal structure (ribs) becomes permanently compressed, taking on the shape of the corset.

Corset training should never be taken to extremes, as it is both unhealthy and unnecessary. Fortunately, the accompanying misery this technique tends to induce usually stops people from taking things too far. It is also important note that a corset must be tailored specifically to each individual, especially bodybuilders. Bodybuilding corsets are not like women’s corsets—they are not interchangeable, as the shape a woman is trying to obtain through corset training would look wholly unnatural on a man and end up harming his appearance much more than helping it. I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to make sure this is done right, as ill-advised or improper use will result in deformation of the midsection.

One must locate a tailor who is well-versed in such matters and work to create a corset uniquely designed to your own body, so that the finished product is suited for you and you alone. In addition, your bone structure, particularly the hips and ribcage, will determine to what extent the waist should be shrunk in order to obtain the ideal appearance. With corset training it is possible to overcome one’s genetic short-comings, but it must be done intelligently.

Now that you have been provided with the information in this article, it is up to you to decide for yourself where your problem areas lie and whether or not you are going to do anything about it. There is a reason that a classic waistline has become so rare in today’s circles—because making the most of one’s potential in this area takes work—work that most aren’t willing to put in, but for those who are, the benefits are well worth it.

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