PT on the Net Research

Muscle Meltdown


Question:

My friend has just completed her first bodybuilding competition. She ended up very ill. Her doctor said her liver function is severely affected, and she has muscle meltdown. Can you tell me more about these two conditions?

Answer:

Competitive bodybuilding, like nearly all sports, can present certain health risks. Without knowing more specifics of your friend’s training and diet, it is impossible to provide much in the way of details relative to what happened and why.

Those in the medical profession use the term “rhabdomyolysis” to identify a condition commonly known as muscle meltdown. This condition is estimated to effect one in 10,000 people, regardless of age or gender. Rhabdomyolysis is often mentioned in the same breath as marathon running, particularly in extreme environmental conditions that include high heat and humidity. This does not describe the typical conditions under which a bodybuilder trains or competes, so we have to look a bit deeper.

As you may imagine from the marathon example, excessive exercise, especially in the absence of adequate hydration, is a likely culprit. Although we like to think of bodybuilding as a healthy activity (“a sound mind in a sound body”), let’s face facts: the customary extreme dietary practices used prior to a physique contest place the human body under a great deal of stress.

Bodybuilders generally engage in a bulking phase of training some months before a major competition. The idea is to pack on as much muscular hypertrophy as possible. As the contest approaches, competitors switch to a cutting phase in which food (particularly carbohydrates and fats) are eliminated or greatly reduced. The attempt here is to reduce body fat to its lowest possible level in order to appear more ripped or muscular. During the final days before competition, liquids are reduced or eliminated.

Inadequate hydration, along with a failure to eat a balanced and healthy diet, can wreck havoc on an otherwise healthy body. Add to that the heavy volume of resistance training in which most bodybuilders engage. Under these conditions, liver functions may fluctuate greatly from what would be considered an otherwise normal profile.

Recovery usually occurs with the return to normal hydration and diet. But a question remains: how much damage was done while the body suffered from rhabdomyolysis?