It’s important to understand the difference between natural and “assisted” physiques.
It could be argued that the line between natural and assisted isn’t a clear one. For example, creatine, caffeine and beta alanine are all legal, legitimate and allowed supplements in most sports, so at what point do we say that taking a “supplement” means that an athlete is no longer natural?
For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll make the distinction thus:
Natural = legal and allowed in the respective sport.
If the supplement is illegal it’s generally because the effects are so profound that they need to be controlled and administered by a medical professional.
In Bodybuilding, however, the issue is somewhat clouded:
- The use of PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) is somewhat accepted within the community.
- Many / Most bodybuilding competitions knowingly allow non-natural participants to compete.
- The most famous/popular bodybuilders (Arnie, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman etc) compete at Mr Olympia and have become the default image of what a bodybuilder looks like. Every single competitor in that event takes huge amounts of steroids.
- People outside bodybuilding often confuse the terms “natural” and “lifetime natural”. Someone could be on steroids or growth hormone for 10 years, create a huge amount of lean muscle and then go “natty” and claim they are natural. Lifetime natural means they have never used banned / illegal PEDs.
Social media also plays a role is blurring the distinction between what is natural and what’s not:
- Growth hormone use has become increasingly popular in young adults who want an athletic physique without having to work hard for it.
- Social media personalities are sometimes motivated by money (e.g. to sell their training programme, or get in shape for a TV programme), or vanity (they want people to think they are naturally athletic), which leads then to lie about whether or not they take PEDs.
All this means that the general public struggle to realise and understand the distinction between what can be achieved naturally, and what can’t; leading to disappointment, frustration and confusion.
The aim of this post is to provide a brief illustration of the differences between natural and non-natural bodybuilders.
Elite Natural Body Builder
This is Dr Andrew Chappell. He is one of the UK’s top natural bodybuilders. He has a PHD in nutrition. He is a Lecturer/Researcher at Robert Gordon University School of Pharmacy and Life Science and formerly a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, teaching in the field of nutritional science, with a specific focus on sports nutrition. He is also President of The World Natural Body Building Federation.
He’s 5ft 8. His on-stage weight is 75kg and his off-season weight is 93kg.
Elite Non-Natural Body Builder
Below are pictures of former Mr Olympia contestants.
Ronnie Coleman. 5ft 11.
On-stage 135 kg.
Off- season 150 kg
Dorian Yates. 5ft 10
On-stage 120 kg
Off- season 138 kg
Warren Branch. 5ft 6
On-stage 109 kg
Off- season 116 kg
You see the difference, right?
Top, elite, natural bodybuilder vs top, elite non-natural bodybuilder – look at the differences in body weight.
One of the key issues we have is getting (particularly male) clients to understand that it’s unlikely they will be 100kg of muscle and ripped at 5 ft 8 if the best natural bodybuilder in the country is only 80kg when relatively lean. Check out our post on the subject of setting a realistic target weight.
This post isn’t particularly concerned with which path you should choose (that’s your decision) – it’s designed simply to illustrate the huge difference between the two.
I will, however, make a few closing points, based on my own perspective, that has served me well in training myself, and training many others, towards a lean, athletic physique.
- I chose the natural route because I didn’t want anyone to say, “Oh well, he’s on the gear!” I felt that would take away from my hard work and achievement. I wanted it to be all me! There’s an old saying, “Give a monkey steroids and it will grow”.
- I was/am scared of the dangers of steroids. It’s well documented that there are a disproportionate number of former bodybuilders, wrestlers etc who used large amounts of steroids who have died or had major health issues in their 40s and 50s. The combination of steroid use, their sheer size, and the fact that their diets were built around gaining muscle, not being healthy, is a recipe for a short lifespan.
If you want to build a natural, muscular, athletic physique and are prepared to learn and practice the principles involved, check out our personal training packages.