Warren Pole travels to Sin City to meet the good, the bad and the really ugly from the world of bodybuilding. Do not try this at home...

Photos: Simon Green

(Square Mile magazine)

THE MR OLYMPIA title is bodybuilding’s biggest prize. Held annually in Las Vegas, muscle maniacs flock from around the globe to worship at bodybuilding’s highest altar and to see the pros in action.

With biceps bigger than your head, thighs so wide they roll rather than walk, veins like snakes and that much fake tan you can only tell the white guys from the black by their haircuts, the pros are leviathans. Having shed every ounce of off-season body fat to show their hard-earned muscle in all its glory, these giants move slowly. Partly so you can gawp at them but mainly because when you weigh 20 stone and are so dehydrated and fat-free your body’s on the verge of digesting itself, it’s exhausting getting out of bed let alone walking.

Freaky is where it’s at for the Olympia and none came to Vegas freakier than reigning champ, 35 year-old Jay Cutler, weighing in at 274lbs or almost 20 stone, all of it fat-free ripped up muscle.

Seeing Cutler in the flesh was an experience. Where most folk look smaller in real person than in pictures, he was the opposite and made the chair he was sitting on look like it had been stolen from a wendy house. Each of his vast arms probably weighed more than Kate Moss and his legs were about a Pete Doherty apiece.

Defending champ Cutler (left) busts out poses with the rest of the behemoths

Alongside the contest was a muscle expo where every product in bodybuilding was on offer. There were bars to make you bigger, pills to blitz your body fat, and supplement drinks to make you workout harder. Giving in to the endless string of hotties proffering the latter I glugged one down. It tasted like cold sick. Bodybuilders must be tough just to stomach this stuff.

Another big seller here was photos. Signed photos. Signed photos of big men in tiny pants. Posing. Anywhere else this would be considered odd but not at the Olympia. Here muscle is king and queues for the top player’s autographed shots stretched around the hall.

But oddly there were no weights at the expo because to believe the marketing hype was to believe muscle magically appeared if only you drank the right shakes and chewed the right bars.

Obviously this is cobblers. Use this stuff to double your daily calorie intake without going to the gym and all you are going to get is very fat, very fast. Even so, the biggest question on everyone’s lips when they met a pro was, ‘how do I get big?’ The answers were simple.

From Jay Cutler, the man who that night would be dethroned to come home in second place came a curt, “I trained for 17 years to get to where I am”, while the man who would dethrone Cutler, Dexter Jackson, responded to a query about personal trainers saying, “I didn’t have nobody train me. When you’re 18 and from the hood that’s not really going to happen. I just went to the nearest gym and started throwing heavy shit around”.

Truth is, you want to get freaky big you need the lot: the food, the supplements, the years of pain in the gym, and the drugs. And what works for one body probably won’t work for another so be prepared to become doctor, chemist, nutritionist and trainer in your quest for the top because muscle is fickle. Treat it wrong and it’ll leave you faster than a woman who just found you in bed with her sister.

Dehydrated and fat-free to the point of exhaustion, and with skin like paper, definition is all at the Olympia, no matter how much it hurts getting it

According to former five-times Mr Olympia Dorian Yates, “training in bodybuilding is the toughest anywhere. I’ve had guys throwing up after one workout with me. You can’t just pop pills for a great physique”.

“Maybe drugs are used more in bodybuilding,” he added, “but at the top of any sport, people will do whatever they can to be the best”. And when there’s no natural way the human body can hit the huge mass needed for an Olympia win and do so dry and with body fat all but eliminated, drugs must be involved.

Whenever the pros take the stage the drugs are on show in an assortment of side effects from the swollen guts on some, caused by years of growth hormone swelling their internal organs, to the conspicuous absence of nuts in many of the posing pouches.

But drugs or not, this sport demands extreme endurance. If you thought building the beef was hard, try getting ready for a contest. Here, top players crash diet for four months while still pushing their bodies to meltdown in the quest for maximum muscle with minimal body fat and water. It’s an extreme balance, and one that can go badly wrong.

Take Andreas Munzer, a pro with a reputation for coming in more shredded than anyone who died days after a major contest. He’d pushed the limits and his wrecked organs finally cried enough. Among other things, his liver had melted.

Then there was Paul Dillett who cramped so badly on stage after dehydrating too far he froze solid in a double biceps pose. It took three men to carry him off stage like a giant cardboard cutout.

But, just like fatal crashes never stopped anyone getting in a racing car, so the casualties never stopped anyone bodybuilding and although some may die somewhat on the young side, they do look bloody toned when they go.


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