Optimal Health and Optimal Fitness – Not Necessarily the Same Thing

March 26, 2014 — Leave a comment

I am currently 18 days away from setting foot on the stage for my next competition as a fitness model. Whenever a competition approaches, I am always asked many questions, and one that always comes up is whether bodybuilding is a healthy sport, to which I always ask “which sport are you comparing it to?”. I think that often people forget that while fitness is an element of health, fitness and health are not the same thing, so to be in the peak fitness is not always going to equate to being at the peak of health, but similarly, to do something that could be unhealthy if sustained for a prolonged period of time does not necessarily mean that it is unhealthy to achieve for a day competing in a sport.
I think that many people have a very vague definition of health, (I will be writing more about this in coming weeks). Health includes how you eat and whether, and how much, and how you keep active. It also includes whether you sleep enough, the quality of your sleep, your psychological well-being (which is quite complex alone), your gut health and so on and so forth. As you can see, health is quite complex. Fitness is only one of the elements of health, and even fitness contains many modalities within itself (which again I want to write about more in future posts).
Bodybuilding is currently receiving a lot of attention through the ‘fitsporation’ phenomenon running rampant through social media (which I have opinions about, but not for right now) with a larger than usual proportion of people wanting to have abs at any cost. It is the “at any cost” that I would like to point out here. For my sport, and for any sport, there are many ways to achieve results. Some people will choose more wisely for their health and others less so. I think that one of the reasons why bodybuilding is getting frowned at a lot lately is because of this whole fitsporation issue. Many people who are not athletes now aspire to look a certain way, and some make less than wise decisions to obtain results quickly, such as aggressive crash diets, which can have some pretty serious health implications.
Yes I diet hard in the lead-up to a show, and yes I push my body to its absolute limit every time that I train. However I also supplement my body and have a whole range of recovery techniques to ensure that my health is not suffering. I am an athlete – I am not supposed to have a normal life nor treat my body in the same way that most other people treat theirs. Similarly, people who are not nor do not intend to be athletes should not attempt some of the things that I do to myself, because they have not developed the work capacity, likely to do not fuel their body adequately, may not have the same muscular or ligament strength etc. etc.
Does this make bodybuilding unhealthy by definition? No it does not, but it does mean that it is not for everyone – specifically it is not for anyone who is not willing to put in the work over time to obtain the results. Is reaching the peak for stage intense? Absolutely. Would keeping that peak have serious health issues? Yes it would, but that’s why you’re not supposed to do that. If you can maintain your peak and not suffer for it, then you probably didn’t peak hard enough. That is the point of sport – to push to your absolute limit. This is not unique to bodybuilding – pro cyclists reach such an extreme level of cardiovascular fitness for their competitions that their heart rate is so slow that it would stop beating if they were to attempt to maintain their peak for prolonged periods of time. MMA fighters, power lifters and many other athletes diet and dehydrate to meet certain weight divisions in their spots, which can also be unhealthy if not done appropriately.
What would be the point of athletes if we did not actually do anything unusual? What we do is not supposed to be achievable to the average individual unless they make some pretty big changes, and that is why the word athlete exists.

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