The Dark Side of Beauty


Bodybuilding definitely has its good side and its bad side. The good stuff can be really good. The simple awareness of a bristling pump, a new personal record lift and the constant background satisfaction when you know you're growing or leaning out.  And can TRULY make you a different person: confident, bold, even brave in the right circumstances.  But there is a dark side.

At the very top of this steamy pile of really bad things is something called injury. I now understand it. For years I scoffed at injury. It was something that happened to other lifters, not me. I was a juggernaut: Focused. Progressing. Executing proper form. Mo that I've never had a major injury. Never. I only vaguely realized that, as someone with about twenty years of heavy training under his belt, I was doing pretty good.

Then I got hit.

An old but always benign injury to my ankle returned during a simple walk . A lousy walk, of all things! Four times that year I found myself on my back and screaming after "standing" on my 90-degree-bent ankle as if it were the sole of my foot. The stability is now gone. I mean gone. Then my lower back started screaming for attention.

I was indeed mortal, ti my surprise! Many readers are blissfully unaware of injury, but those of us who've met this physique and psyche-ruining invader know it can be a powerful enemy.

"Take six weeks off, ice it, avoid anything that hurts and take 800mg of ibuprofen every four hours." This is something you may have heard from your doctor or physical therapist. It's often good advice (in the VERY short term), but what about the long haul? Is there anything we can do to bolster our defenses?

Fortunately, especially for those of us in our 30's and beyond who are more susceptible, there are a few nutritional and supplemental tricks to consider.

Dorian, Vitamin C and Glucosamine

Dorian Yates, as I recall, was a big proponent of vitamin C during his years of especially heavy training. Did it keep soft tissue injuries at bay (at least for a while)? It may have played a role.

Yates was notorious for abusive training loads; he was a "power bodybuilder" that guys like me could really identify with. Perhaps it was the ability of ascorbic acid to form hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine in soft tissues that kept his muscle tears at bay until later in his superhuman career. Also, any resulting weakened tendons caused by androgen use may have been granted a little more life due to nutritional support like this.

I currently take 500 mg of vitamin C in addition to a "multi" and C-rich foods because, however small I may currently be by late 90's Yatesian standards, I too beat myself down in the gym pretty good. I need as much soft tissue recovery as I can get. This is doubly true as I rebuild injured body parts.

But what about osteoarthritis? Talk to several veteran trainers and you'll see that it does happen. My first mentor, ages ago, had a way-impressive physique (including 18+ inch guns) into his early 50's. But time had taken its toll on his joints. While high dose vitamin C may actually worsen this natural degenerative malady there is indeed something that can fight it and even treat existing articular cartilage breakdown.

Sure, you may have heard that glucosamine might have negative effects on leanness, but the research behind it regarding joints is just too juicy to ignore. Data suggest it just may keep you training by literally regenerating those joints and keeping them working smoothly.

Although far from the recommended 1.2 grams of glucosamine daily that's used in several studies, I seem to benefit even  from 500-750mg tablets in the evening. EVERYDAY.  Along with purposeful hip flexor stretching and a serious effort to avoid cushy, slouchy furniture and laptop use in weird positions (enabled by my wireless network), I'm experiencing remarkable lumbar recovery! I hope my beat-up left shoulder benefits too. Time will tell, but so fare so good.

Fish Oil and Healthy Cartilage

Newer research is showing some fascinating links between cartilage preservation and fish oil.  When combined with the well-established anti-inflammatory effects and potentially anti-catabolic effects of EPA and DHA, this potential cartilage protection is something to get cautiously excited about. How many of you have degenerated discs or mild arthritis?

I use three to six capsules of fish oil on most days. Many bodybuilding writers suggest double or triple this, but I feel it's plenty as a more or less ongoing affair.

Oh, and we can't forget supplemental approaches such as SAMe and MSM and  enhanced bioavailability curcumin. But in my opinion these treatments lack enough direct research support and may not play as much of a role in actual soft tissue rebuilding as some of our other options. Nonetheless, some people swear by them and they may be another possibility for joint pain when other measures are already being taken.

Protein and Calories

From a more traditional standpoint, good ol' protein and calories are also key factors in tissue repair.

Did you know that clinical protein recommendations are typically ramped up by 50% or more (from the usual paltry 0.8 up to 1.2-1.5 grams per kg) for skeletal injury and trauma? Or that related energy (kcal) needs rise by 20-35% depending on your clinical method of calculation?

Granted, you're probably already accounting for the protein if you're anywhere near a gram per pound of bodyweight, but some guys get so busy they have to struggle to get in even 20 grams every few hours. During times of injury repair we simply must not slack off! Portable protein sources such as MRP's, a well designed protein bar or a can of salmon or tuna can help.

Calorie-wise, we need to keep a log to stay on track – not too much or too little – after that aforementioned 20-35% adjustment for a couple weeks regarding hypermetabolism and healing. Of course, we need to be realistic when considering the extent of our injuries; a willy-nilly hike of 30% in kcal intake for a broken pinky finger is more indulgent than it is rational or corrective. Don't take a hammer to crack a nut.

We could go on and on about nutritional healing possibilities, like 1500 mg of daily calcium + 5000iu of Vitamin D3 for skeletal trauma , zinc for wound healing, etc., but I think I've given you enough to consider for now!

The psychological trauma to an injured athlete is far worse than that which merely inconveniences a sedentary guy. It can rob him of his very lifestyle. It's even in the scientific literature, as if we needed such validation:

"The highly motivated athlete requires special consideration of the psychological aspects of coping with injuries or medically-imposed limitations on their activity level." Woodfin

One way to maintain your lifestyle, feel enabled and stay positive is to become part of the treatment process. Nutritional intervention is a good example.

Once when I was talking with an old high profile wise lifter he told me that a major focus of his was to avoid injury. Not to try the latest training gear or trendy training regime, but to just stay healthy and stay under those nosebleed weights of his. This kind of purposeful focus on prevention and ongoing healing is elegant in its simplicity.

Do you do it? I mean, do you actually chart minor and major injuries in your training log? Ah, maybe you're invincible. Heck, I used to be. I didn't notice many things until they were gone. But now I realize that I'm simply not under a heavy bar when I'm struggling with lumbar discomfort or severe tendonitis or arthritic, grinding shoulders. And when I'm not under those weights, I'm not growing. This is unacceptable!

So along with some of the nutritional defenses presented herein, let's all purposefully give some attention to ongoing injury prevention. Learn to stay away from the dark side, and enjoy everything this lifestyle has to offer without hiccups nor unexpected regressions. Become invulnerable!