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Strange guys, those bodybuilders

Bodybuilders must be a different type of person than men and women who do weight training for other reasons. They are more unsure about their body, use legal and illegal substances more often, are more often addicted to training and also diet more often. These are conclusions drawn by Australian sports scientists, at the University of Sydney, in the biggest study of its kind so far.

The researchers did a meta-study, and the findings will be published soon in Sports Medicine. They gathered data from 31 previously published studies and analysed it again. The Australians managed to get data on 1895 bodybuilders and 3523 men and women who trained with weights and resistance machines but did not have the ambition of achieving a bodybuilder's physique.

Participants in all the studies had been given questionnaires to complete that were designed to detect muscle dysmorphia. Other names that psychologists give to muscle dysmorphia include Adonis complex and bigorexia.

Some experts think it's exaggerated to regard muscle dysmorphia as a psychological disorder. But according to a group of psychiatrists and psychologists, muscle dysmorphia is a genuine psychiatric disorder, characterised by compulsive training, use of substances and an unhealthy longing for more and more muscle mass.

Bodybuilders followed a diet more often than people who did strength training for other reasons, according to the first figure below. The second figure shows that bodybuilders used supplements more often than other strength athletes.

Strange guys, those bodybuilders

Strange guys, those bodybuilders

Bodybuilders used pharmacological substances more often than non-bodybuilders, as the figure below shows.

Strange guys, those bodybuilders

Strange guys, those bodybuilders

The figure above shows that bodybuilders were exercise dependent more often than other strength athletes. They didn't feel good if they couldn't train, couldn't function well if they hadn't done a workout, or trained when they would have been better off not doing so, for example when they were ill or injured.

The bodybuilders were more often likely to be ashamed of parts of their body, and to hide them with their clothing, than non-bodybuilders.

Strange guys, those bodybuilders

The researchers found no difference between men and women in the group with muscle dysmorphia. Women had the same symptoms as men.

Most of the participants in the study who had muscle dysmorphia were not particularly troubled by their disorder, but for some of the group things were different. The group with severe symptoms also suffered more often from depression and a negative self-image. They also tended to be perfectionists and anxious. The researchers suspect that the people in this group have underlying problems.

"We suggest that bodybuilding may attract susceptible individuals, and may also be relevant in cultivating advanced symptomatology in bodybuilders with the cluster of psychological features associated with muscle dysmorphia", the researchers wrote. "Further evidence is required to definitively elucidate whether bodybuilding is a cause of muscle dysmorphia, or whether the sport of bodybuilding attracts those predisposed to muscle dysmorphia."

"Longitudinal studies, controlling for the effect of training and non-training days, would enable measurement of changes in muscle dysmorphia symptoms over different stages of bodybuilding preparation and further explicate the nature of the relationship between bodybuilding and muscle dysmorphia symptoms."

Sports Med. 2016 May 31. [Epub ahead of print].

Bodybuilders are made in the school playground 10.01.2009