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Bubble Gut Bodybuilders: Causes, Treatment & Prevention 2023

Lisandra Fields

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

bubble gut bodybuilders

Palumboism. This is the term given to the condition where the stomach appears round and bloated. It was especially rampant during the 1990s to 2000s era when CBD for weight loss wasn’t widespread. This rather unique phenomenon was named after one Dave Palumbo.

Dave was the first pro-bodybuilder to exhibit an unnaturally bloated stomach that was proportionate to his chest. Palumboism goes by many names: bodybuilder belly, muscle gut, insulin gut, bubble gut, HGH (human growth hormone) bloat, and so on.

If you wish to learn more about this condition, we’ve highlighted essential points, including its causes, treatment tips, as well as preventive measures.  

Why Do Pro-BodyBuilders Develop a Bubble Gut? 

Bubble gut comes about as a result of several factors, including increased insulin usage and overuse of HGH injections in the nineties. There’s no one factor that has been medically proven to give rise to Palumboism. For now, the most practical explanation is a combination of different factors. They include:  

  • Water manipulation and carbohydrate loading techniques
  • Insulin abuse
  • Human growth hormone abuse
  • Growth of abdominal muscle mass
  • Exorbitant carbohydrate diets
  • Exorbitant calorie diets

Water manipulation and Carbohydrate Loading Techniques

Most fitness models and pro-bodybuilders implement a unique technique referred to as ‘glyco’ or ‘carb’ loading. This is a process whereby bodybuilders lower their carbohydrate consumption while dehydrating themselves. In most cases, bodybuilders ingest diuretics in a bid to flush out the water from their bodies. 

They then consume excessive amounts of water and carbohydrates to spark a super-compensation of the water within the muscles. This allows for greater muscle volume and definition. 

However, when mistimed, excessive carbohydrate intake and water loss may lead to stomach emptying and slower digestion. More food will remain in the stomach for longer, thereby leading to distension.

Insulin Abuse

Most bodybuilders implement a risky technique referred to as “stacking.” This involves the blending of multiple substances, such as HGH, with insulin. Progressive intake of this insulin will lead to increased visceral fat (fat behind the stomach), which often leads to a more prominent abdomen. 

HGH (Human Growth Hormone) Abuse

Pro-bodybuilders consume incredibly high doses of the human growth hormone. It’s estimated that the average bodybuilder consumes approximately 5 milligrams every day. Continuous abuse of this hormone will lead to irreversible side effects such as the rapid growth of tissues such as the intestines. 

The bigger the intestines, the bigger the stomach becomes. In some cases, the gut bulges up to twice its size, more specifically after heavy meals. 

Growth of Abdominal Muscle Mass 

The muscle mass expands rapidly through the use of HGH/insulin drugs, a host of other supplements, and a protein-rich diet. 

This causes an unprecedented mass increase of the Rectus Abdominis (otherwise known as ‘the six pack’) and in the underlying muscles. These include the Internal Obliques and the Transverse Abdominus. This causes the whole midsection to protrude and grow, thus displaying a ‘blocky’ figure. The growth in muscles may also contribute to stomach distension. 

Exorbitant Carbohydrate Diet

Carbohydrate-rich foods often lead to a spike in glycogen storage within the stomach muscles. This often leads to high levels of water retention since glycogen is known to attract water. The high glycogen in the muscles and the concentration of carbohydrate-rich diet further leads to bubble gut through the ‘bloated’ appearance. 

Exorbitant Calorie Diet

Irrespective of supplements, carbohydrates, or protein, pro-bodybuilders strictly adhere to a high-calorie diet. Some may go over the top and consume more than 10,000 calories per day. The exorbitant calorie diet is equivalent to consuming increased volumes of food. The food stays in the gut for extended periods, thus leading to the bubble gut.  

How Do You Treat Palumboism? 

The absence of clinical research on bubble gut points to the fact that there’s no known treatment. 

However, logic suggests that you should give your body a break from overexertion. Additionally, quit the use of unorthodox additions such as insulin, HGH, and steroids. Pro-bodybuilders Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates have made successful recoveries from Palumboism by cutting the Human Growth Hormone usage. 

The final phase would be to keep in touch with a professional doctor. Find one who deals in muscular conditions that are common among athletes who have abused steroids and other performance-enhancing substances. 

While you may not notice a sudden weight loss after trying all these tips, you’ll eventually see the results and feel encouraged to cut back on the carbs and enhancers.

How Do You Steer Clear from Developing an Insulin Gut? 

Recent studies[1] have indicated a lack of efficacy in the human growth hormone leads to more muscle mass. Ideally, abstinence seems like a better solution compared to medical treatment. 

However, the major reason why most bodybuilders ingest exaggerated portions of these drugs is due to the potential benefit they offer in regards to muscle growth. They also play a huge role in preventing injury and aid in tendon recovery. As such, it won’t make sense to cut off consumption completely. 

On the bright side, there are plausible methods for veteran bodybuilders to avoid developing a bubble gut without cutting off insulin or HGH use. If you’re a newbie bodybuilder, these tips will help to ward off the HGH Gut and maintain your appearance: 

  • Cut down on carbohydrate intake
  • Utilize intermittent fasting
  • Taper insulin and HGH dosage
  • Ensure correct nutrient intake and correct timing when carb-loading

Cut Down on Carbohydrate Intake

Most bodybuilders often boost their carbohydrate intake while cutting (a type of workout technique) to preserve muscle mass. However, because insulin use has either been eliminated or reduced, there’s no extra significance to maintaining a high carbohydrate intake. 

As a matter of fact, maintaining fats and limiting carbohydrates can lead to higher testosterone production while dieting. The decreased volume of food will help keep the bubble gut in check. During this time, you can keep your protein intake sky high by consuming eggs, meat, and supplements such as Grenade Carb Killa Protein Bars.

Keep in mind that boosting your protein during your carbohydrate diet will help a great deal in getting rid of visceral fat from initial insulin use. Also, quit eating out. Most restaurants offer meals that aren’t necessarily low-carb.  

Utilize Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is known to be just as effective as traditional calorie-cutting for fat and weight loss. When correctly timed, intermittent fasting ensures that the amount of food in your digestive system stays low. This, therefore, helps to lower any gut distension as you maintain a high-quality physique.

Taper Insulin and HGH Dosage

From studying pro-bodybuilders who were famous for using HGH all through their careers (e.g., Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates), it’s evident that the insulin gut isn’t a permanent condition. It’s 100% reversible when you lower your insulin and HGH dosage or do away with them altogether. 

Insulin is otherwise considered a ‘bulking substance’ that can literally drawback the cutting process through boosting fat storage. Therefore, cutting down on the amount of Insulin and HGH taken during cutting will give you a chance to take advantage of all the drugs’ benefits while limiting gut distension.

Ensure Correct Nutrient Intake and Correct Timing When Carb-Loading

While using water manipulation tactics, ensure that electrolyte and sodium intake is hiked by adding electrolyte solutions like Genius Electrolytes. The digestive and fiber enzyme intake will help a great deal in ridding your stomach of any visceral fat and excess food. Digestive aids such as Fiberlyze may also prove helpful. 

Ensure that the timing is always perfect. Allow at least 24 hours for complete super-compensation of the glycogen enzyme. 

Bottom Line

Keep in mind that boosting your protein during your carbohydrate diet will help a great deal in getting rid of visceral fat from initial insulin use. Also, quit eating out. Most restaurants offer meals that aren’t necessarily low-carb.

+ 1 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Welle, S., Thornton, C., Statt, M. and McHenry, B. (1996). Growth hormone increases muscle mass and strength but does not rejuvenate myofibrillar protein synthesis in healthy subjects over 60 years old. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, [online] 81(9), pp.3239–3243. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8784075/
Lisandra Fields

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Lisandra Fields is a freelance medical writer from Pennsylvania who creates articles, blog posts, fact sheets, and website content for health-related organizations across North America. She has experience working with a wide range of clients, from health charities to businesses to media outlets. She has experience writing about cancer, diabetes, ALS, cannabis, personality psychology, and COVID-19, among many other topics. Lisandra enjoys reading scientific journal articles and finding creative ways to distill the ideas for a general audience.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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