The skinny on bodybuilding and male fertility

The 2017 Mr. Olympia competition – the Super Bowl of bodybuilding - kicks off this weekend in Las Vegas.  This event will bring together the world’s top competitors who have committed themselves 100% over the past year to sculpting their bodies into peak physical condition. 

Bodybuilding is an exercise in discipline and will power unlikely anything else.  Phil Heath – the 6-time reigning Mr. Olympia champion – probably summed it up best: 

“Get over it people, I worked my ass off.” – Phil Heath, 6 time defending Mr. Olympia 

Unfortunately, the sacrifices that men make to chisel their bodies can lead to unwanted effects on their sperm production and reproductive health. 

So here’s a few things that Mr. Olympians who also want to be Father Olympians should know:

 

Steroids will shut down your sperm production.

Period.  

Many bodybuilders use performance-enhancing substances like anabolic steroids and HGH to help build muscle mass.  In addition to other unwanted side effects like liver damage, acne, and gynecomastia (man boobs), most steroids will cause your testicles to shrink and stop doing what they want to do – making sperm.

Why does this occur?  Steroids act similarly to testosterone in the body.  Introducing synthetic sources of testosterone messes with your internal hormone thermostat, and essentially shuts down your body’s natural testosterone production which in turn leads to a low or zero sperm count.

 

Is steroid damage permanent?

Usually not, but it can be.  It really depends on how much you take and how long you use.  Many men will see an eventual rebound in sperm production after stopping steroid use, but long-term exposure at high doses can kill off the testosterone and sperm-producing cells in your testicle, leading to permanent damage.

 

Are there other, non-steroid-related concerns about bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding is all about pushing yourself to the limit in the gym.  But there’s a lot of evidence that over-training your body can lead to diminishing returns in your libido and fertility.  Professional bodybuilders talk about the importance of good sleep and recovery to maximize results.  Your body needs to recover to be healthy, so don’t overdo it.

What about injecting oil into your muscles to help fluff them up on competition day?  We don't know.  It's probably not great for you, but everything in moderation, right?

 

How to compete AND maintain your reproductive health. 

Bodybuilders, we salute you.  Even if Phil Heath claims his seventh-straight Mr. Olympia title this weekend, you’re all winners in our book.  You’re able to reach a level of stature and fitness that 99.9% of us could only dream about.  Your commitment to the sport and drive to compete are admirable. 

But be safe.  It’s always best to work with a physician to help ensure that your training regimen and decisions aren’t going to cause long term damage.  And Trak is a great way to easily measure and track your sperm count along the way.

Especially if you want to have some Lil’ Olympians around some day.

 

References

El Osta R, Almont T, Diligent C, Hubert N, Eschwège P, Hubert J. Anabolic steroids abuse and male infertility. Basic and Clinical Andrology. 2016;26:2.

Hackney AC, Lane AR, Register-Mihalik J, Oʼleary CB. Endurance Exercise Training and Male Sexual Libido. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Jul;49(7):1383-1388.