Generally speaking, bodybuilding is a safe, challenging sport for women. Women can lift weights, train intensely, and diet down to a lean, fat-free core without harming their body. Done right, there is nothing harmful about female bodybuilding.
Unfortunately, there are some aspects of this sport that can harm women. If you want to get involved in this sport, or know somebody who wants to, consider these dangers first. These factors should not be taken lightly.
The 3 Dangers of Female Bodybuilding
1. Loss of menstrual periods. Called amenorrhea, this condition occurs when your body fat is too low, which is common in women who diet too intensely in preparation for a bodybuilding contest. In order to see good, lean muscle definition, women must lose a significant amount of body fat. It isn’t unusual to see a woman compete with less than 15 percent body fat; some women compete with less than 10 percent. Competing bodybuilders will keep their body fat low for only a short period of time to avoid getting amenorrhea.
Amenorrhea is not a fun break from a menstrual cycle. It is a serious condition that can lead to osteoporosis and infertility. This condition can occur when body fat levels fall under 20 percent, but may occur at higher percentages if the body is stressed out or overworked.
Here’s more food for thought: I developed amenorrhea in my teens at a relatively normal weight. My body mass index (BMI) was 21.6, with a body fat percentage exceeding 25 percent. So why did I lose my menstrual cycle? It’s simple: too much exercise and not enough food. I did 1,000 crunches on a daily basis and ate a sparse diet of vegetables and fruits. It wasn’t enough to sustain me. In some cases, simply overtraining can trigger this condition.
2. Steroids. Women cannot build as much muscle as men because they are not genetically built to be ripped and huge. Building muscle can also take longer, especially if they do not eat or train right. In some cases, women may take steroids to maximize their ability to gain more muscle tissue. Despite its illegality, many top competing bodybuilders cycle anabolic steroids to attain a muscular, lean look.
Steroid use is very dangerous for female bodybuilders. Serious, often irreversible health problems are caused by steroid use, some of which could lead to death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these effects include:
– Facial hair growth
– Loss of menstrual cycle
– Changes to voice tone
– High blood pressure
– Severe, widespread acne
– Lengthening of the female genitalia
– Liver damage
– Kidney failure
Do women need to take steroids in order to become competitive bodybuilders? Absolutely not. Women can still get ripped, lean and muscular from years of healthy eating and training, although they will not be as large as those on steroids. Remember, natural female bodybuilders are more likely to look like fitness models, not big, burly men like Jay Cutler or Ronnie Coleman.
3. Eating disordered behavior. Constantly training, eating clean and competing to display a chiseled physique can be mentally exhausting for most people. In some cases, it can cause eating disordered behavior in women. The three most prevalent disorders in female bodybuilding include:
– Orthorexia, or an intense, mind-consuming fear of foods that not clean or healthy.
– Bigorexia, a type of reverse anorexia where the person’s main focus is to get more muscular, despite the physical and mental harm it creates.
– Bulimia nervosa, a disorder characterized by binging and purging.
These are serious disorders that can lead to malnutrition, digestive problems, and serious mental disturbances. Some people have died from bulimia nervosa. Bigorexia and orthorexia are still relatively new disorders, so little is known about their physical and mental complications.
Some of these problems occur when women are too fixated on eating clean. This is a term used to describe foods that are all-natural, not processed, and have a low fat content. Recent evidence shows that eating clean won’t necessarily maximize muscle growth, however. Eating the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat and calories for your body structure is more important for body composition.
Overall, there are few dangers for women interested in bodybuilding. As long as you play it safe and avoid extremes, you can obtain that ripped, lean look without compromising your physical or mental health.
“Steroids (Anabolic-Androgenic)”, DrugAbuse.gov (accessed June 1, 2011)