Why do Bodybuilders have Big Guts (distended stomach)

Maybe you’ve been following the professional bodybuilding scene, the amateur scenes, random dudes at your gym or even yourself. But you’ve noticed it. Bodybuilders have distended guts (or big stomachs). Not all of them obviously, but certainly a high percentage among those who take bodybuilding seriously. It’s a popular discussion for the occasional gym go-er and there’s been a lot of theorizing trying to address the causes of the ”distended gut syndrome”, if we can call it that.

In fact, this must have been an important concern in the bodybuilding community because in 2005, the IFBB instated changes in the judging criteria, from now on favorising thinner waists, V-shape and overall balanced bodies

A lot of reasons explain the phenomena of distended guts, and they’re not necessarily what you think.


A couple examples of bodybuilders with big bellies :

Ronnie Coleman on stage with a really big belly

Here we see Ronnie Coleman, multiple time Olympia winner almost looking pregnant

Kai Greene with a distended gut

Second picture, Kai Greene seen from the side as what looks like a big belly

Another bodybuilder with big guts
Another bodybuilder with big guts

Backstage bodybuilder big belly

Yet another bodybuilder with distended stomach (less blatant this time)

Why the big stomachs and the pregnant look?

1) HGH, IGF-1 and insulin

human growth hormone, hgh, causes big gutsWonder why guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno never shown up on stage looking 8 months pregnant? Because they didn’t have GH back then! These guys were purely on steroids, and probably not elephant-scale doses.

But since the mass introduction of HGH, IGF-1 and insulin in the competitive sports world, fueled by the ”more is better” mindset, we have witnessed many of the unwanted side effects of such drug use. Chronic use (and abuse) of HGH causes :

  • Growth of the organs inside the chest and the abdomen (commonly called visceral growth). It’s not surprising to see a bodybuilder with a distended stomach when his colon is actually the size of a Boa Constrictor;

  • Abnormal growth of the hands and feet (and possibly the face too);
  • High blood pressure, vascular disease, diabetes.

Now add insulin to this potent cocktail and you risk seeing growth of intra-abdominal fat (visceral growth) as well increased water retention. Knowing how popular insulin is nowadays this is no surprise our bodybuilders run into problems. Insulin makes you grow muscle, but it also makes you grow fat (including visceral fat too).

Bodybuilders can use lipolytic drugs (clenbuterol, GH) to control subcutaneous fat but visceral fat is difficult to get rid of when the body has become insulin-resistant.


2) Heavy lifting and core training

Now this is one not much people think about. In any powerlifting or bodybuilding program you will see the main compound exercises : squat, deadlift, benchpress.

Benedikt magnusson deadlifting 1015 pounds

Benedikt Magnusson here deadlifting 1015 pounds like it’s nothing

Most people, when squatting or deadlifting heavy weights, use their abdomen muscles to stabilize their body during the movement. What I mean by that is they PUSH their belly muscles outwards in order to stabilize their core. While this is perfectly good if you are a POWERLIFTER, it’s a definite no-no for any bodybuilder. To avoid this, one must focus on PULLING his abdominal muscles while doing the lift (even if it’s that hard). Focusing on that when doing abs at the end of your workout is also primordial.

3) Eating obscene amounts of food

bodybuilder eating too much (bulking)You’ve probably heard that in the gym : hey man, I’m training a lot and I’m not gaining any weight! I’m in a ”plateau”.

Typical response : ” Eat more dude, eat more. You’re in a bulking phase now

You see guys like Jay Cutler, Kai Greene and Ronnie Coleman eat around 10 meals a day, filled with carbs and protein. It’s no wonder some of them get distended guts. The more they eat the more they force their abdomen to protrude and give it the pregnant look. The muscles are forcing outwards instead of inwards. Add on top of it a little gluten intolerance (bloating) and random subtle food allergies (maybe unknown) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I know you guys all have your opinion made on this subject but personally, I think you should eat just enough to be in a surplus and ensure weight gain.


4) Body structure

This is one you won’t have much control over, but at least you can recognize it. Depending on genetics, some athletes have long legs and a short torso, while other athletes have short legs and a long torso. The long-legged-short-torso is most likely your typical basketball player, while the short-legged-long-torso is your typical football lineman.

Those with shorter torsos tend to have distension issues more often than others. Kai Greene and Ronnie Coleman are good examples of short torsos and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last decade you’ve seen them on stage with big guts. Kai seems so have noticed that problem and has kept his distension on check lately. Props to him!


  1. Reydan says

    What the?? I am sorry to say but this article is full of bull(fill in the rest)!

    You won’t get that pregnant look by heavy lifting! Or even bulking (correctly I might add). The only thing you should’ve said in this article was point 1 and nothing more. The rest is pure broscience.

    Man I am still laughing if you really think you can get a big gut by heavy lifting whaha!

    • Jake says

      You should’ve at least mentioned the overtraining of rectus vs. transversus abdominis muscles. Well, especially how it’s easiest to trains abs correctly (sucked in) on a partly empty stomache.

  2. Niall Geoghegan says

    I have been working out for two years now, and because everybody said it I ate a shit load of food. However, this was a big mistake as it just makes you fat, and end up with a stomach bulge. Now I am hungry all the time just overeating. It is honestly just a myth stemming from steroids.

  3. Tomammy Trozote says

    Great article! Some people attribute those distended bellies to steroids, but I had read over and again about HGH and inner organ growth to be the cause. It’s much better to stay away from that shit. Why look like crap on those drugs and mess up your health? Better look great, with a little more body fat, and less muscle, with great health. The right choice is obvious… at least to me

  4. Mark Neal says

    I’m 5’6″ ,eat clean haven’t competed since 2006,never had a problem with belly..but now 6 years later have a belly weigh 220-230 compete around 198lb,haven’t competed in 6 years ,but going to do masters nationals in July ..I’m sure getting protein up lowering carbs get back to doing cardio twice a day I’m hoping this will down size belly..now there is no body fat in stomach area,I’m hoping getting back to do show and what it takes to get back to 198 will get back to to the everything in per portion.this is one thing I’m worried about,I train abs 3 times a week and have thick abs…just seeing what you may think..
    Thanks for your opinion…mark

    • says

      And I laugh when you think that doing thousands of heavy reps over years and years with the stomach pushed out against the belt has no effect. For these IFBB guys, I’m pretty sure #1 is the primary culprit.

      But, no Adam, your “heavy” 135 lb squats won’t make your tummy big.

  5. PaBa says

    I agree with the compound exercises. Never did them before and I had flat abs. Started doing 5×5 compound and my gut keeps getting bigger. Thanks for the tip on tucking your gut in while doing the reps.

  6. Ste says

    Adam, that’s just ignorance on your part, if you had continued to read you would have been given an explanation as well as a solution to the problem. I myself have fallen foul of pushing my abs/core/ stomach out during heavy lifting on squats and dead lifts. I am drug free and yet have suffered with a distended belly. The advice given is true and I’ve read this in numerous articles over the years even the pro’s like Phil Heath have discussed the issue. Phil used to use a weight lifting belt to help remind him to keep his stomach in during his sessions. For me personally points 2 & 3 are factors. I find certain protein bulking powders cause bloating for me, so it’s trial and error. I’m just glad I don’t have to consider point 1!

  7. says

    To the guy who said “You won’t get that pregnant look by heavy lifting!” :
    Where is your evidence? I see pictures of people with almost zero body fat and they still have a gut. All I seem to here from you is “I don’t want that to be true, so it’s not” or “I’m 20 and I don’t have a gut, so hormones and eating like a bodybuilder won’t give me a gut”.

    Please share the loads of peer-reviewed clinical research you’ve done, guy.

  8. Tommy T says

    I have to agree that the only valid point is the first one. The other points would be negligible at best and certainly not affect a high level natural bodybuilder. Body builders eat often but not such obscene amounts of food at a time that would make their stomachs protrude chronically. Heavy lifting also just doesn’t make your stomach stick out like these guys either. Maybe genetics could play a roll but I really doubt that too, particularly with the pros. Make no mistake at all, bodybuilders with stomachs like this are on or were HGH and/or insulin injections,.

  9. sameer says

    Adam if you’d have had read the whole thing and NOT stopped at after reading just ‘lifting heavy causes a big gut’ probably you’d have had not left that remark… What the author tried to emphasize here on the breathing and focussing technique…he clearly mentioned that pushing muscles outwards to gain balance is a cause which all of us have to agree is one of the causes…
    That’s why we have specific breathing techniques for all exercises.

    And who soever called it BroScience… Yes…its science… And yes simplest in logic to understand.

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