Is Bodybuilding Bad for Your Heart? An In-Depth Look

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: December 15, 2023
Is Bodybuilding Bad for Your Heart?

Bodybuilding is all about getting big muscles, being strong, and staying fit. But there’s a big question about how it might affect your heart health.

Regular exercise and eating right are important for keeping your heart healthy. However, extreme workouts, diets, and other things that come with competitive bodybuilding might be bad for your heart.

In this article, we’re going to explore the world of bodybuilding and look at whether it can hurt your heart health. We’ll also talk about ways to keep safe and lower any risks.

Can Bodybuilding Cause Heart Problems?

I write about health. It’s important to look at the possible risks of different fitness activities, like bodybuilding. Bodybuilding can definitely make you stronger and more fit, but some parts of it might be bad for your heart.

One worry is how weightlifting affects blood pressure. When you lift heavy weights, your blood pressure goes up for a bit, which could make the walls of your heart thicker over time.

This condition, called “athlete’s heart,” could lead to irregular heartbeats and other heart problems.

Another big problem in the bodybuilding world is the use of anabolic steroids. These are drugs that people sometimes use to quickly get stronger and build muscle.

But using anabolic steroids can cause serious heart problems, like heart attacks, strokes, and diseases of the blood vessels. Using these drugs for a long time can even make the heart grow too big, which puts extra stress on it and increases the risk of heart failure.

Bodybuilders should make sure to get regular check-ups, to keep their hearts healthy. They should include tests for their heart health.

Bodybuilders can lower their chance of getting heart problems by following the right guidelines for weightlifting and avoiding anabolic steroids. They can still enjoy their sport.

Remember, the key to staying healthy in any sport is to train responsibly, eat a balanced diet, and not push your body too hard.

How Drug-Free Bodybuilding Can Prevent Heart Problems

Bodybuilding without using performance-enhancing drugs means using natural training methods and a balanced diet. This can greatly lower the chance of heart problems often linked to more extreme practices.

Doing regular weight training at a moderate level can help your heart health. It does this by increasing your muscle mass, making your metabolism more efficient, and helping your blood flow better.

Lifting weights has been found to raise your HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. This can reduce your risk of getting heart disease.

A really important part of bodybuilding without drugs is following a diet that’s rich in nutrients and well-balanced. This diet supports muscle growth and keeps you healthy overall.

By eating enough lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber, bodybuilders can give their bodies the fuel they need for workouts and recovery. They can avoid eating too much saturated fat or foods high in cholesterol. This can lower the risk of plaque building up in your arteries and leading to heart problems.

Bodybuilders who don’t use drugs can also avoid the bad effects on the heart that anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances often cause. This includes higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, and the heart becoming abnormally large.

Benefits of Drug-Free Bodybuilding

  • Improved Cardiovascular Health: Engaging in regular, moderate-intensity weight training as part of a drug-free bodybuilding regimen can help improve cardiovascular health by promoting better blood flow, increasing muscle mass, and enhancing metabolic efficiency.
  • Reduced Risk of Heart Disease: Drug-free bodybuilders typically follow a balanced diet that supports heart health. By consuming adequate amounts of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber, they can lower their risk of developing heart disease due to arterial plaque buildup.
  • Hormonal Balance: By avoiding the use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, drug-free bodybuilders maintain a more natural hormonal balance, reducing the risk of potential health complications associated with hormonal imbalances.
  • Sustainable Muscle Growth: Drug-free bodybuilding promotes gradual and sustainable muscle growth through consistent training and proper nutrition, which is healthier for the body in the long run compared to rapid muscle gain through steroid use.
  • Stronger Immune System: A well-balanced diet and regular exercise can contribute to a stronger immune system, helping drug-free bodybuilders stay healthy and avoid illness or infection.
  • Mental Well-being: Drug-free bodybuilding emphasizes a holistic approach to fitness, focusing not only on physical strength but also on mental well-being. This can lead to reduced stress levels, improved self-esteem, and increased mental resilience.
  • Long-term Health: By avoiding the use of performance-enhancing drugs, drug-free bodybuilders are less likely to experience the negative long-term side effects associated with these substances, such as liver damage, kidney problems, and cardiovascular issues.
  • Positive Role Model: Drug-free bodybuilders set a positive example for others by demonstrating that it is possible to achieve impressive results through hard work, dedication, and a healthy lifestyle, without resorting to the use of potentially harmful substances.
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healthy heart muscle

Bodybuilders Who Have Had Heart Problems

Over the years, several famous bodybuilders have had heart problems. This is often due to extreme workouts, unhealthy diets, or using performance-enhancing drugs.

One example is Mike Matarazzo, a top bodybuilder in the 1990s, who had heart problems, including a heart attack and having part of his heart removed. Sadly, Matarazzo died from heart failure in 2014 when he was 48.

Daniele Seccarecci, a bodybuilder from Italy, died suddenly in 2013 when he was 33. He had a heart attack, which made people worry about the possible heart risks linked to competitive bodybuilding.

Greg Kovacs, a professional bodybuilder from Canada known for his huge size, also had heart problems. He died in 2013 when he was 44 because of heart failure. People believe Kovacs’ big size and tough workouts might have caused his heart problems.

Andreas Münzer, a professional bodybuilder from Austria known for having really low body fat, died in 1996 when he was 31. His death was caused by many of his organs failing, including his heart. His extreme diet and use of performance-enhancing drugs likely made it worse.

These examples show the possible risks of some bodybuilding practices. They emphasize how important it is to keep a balanced approach to working out, eating, and overall health. This lowers the impact on heart health.

How Do Steroids Affect the Heart?

Anabolic steroids, in particular, can have several bad effects on the heart and overall cardiovascular system. These synthetic substances mimic the effects of testosterone. They promote muscle growth and enhance physical performance.

However, their use, especially when abused, can lead to significant health risks. Here are some ways steroids can affect the heart:

  • Altered Lipid Profiles: Anabolic steroids can negatively impact cholesterol levels by increasing LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol. This change in the lipid profile can contribute to the buildup of arterial plaque. This may increase the risk of coronary artery disease.
  • Increased Blood Pressure: Steroid use can cause a rise in blood pressure, placing additional strain on the heart and increasing the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. Prolonged high blood pressure can also lead to damage to the blood vessels and organs, including the heart.
  • Cardiac Hypertrophy: Long-term use of anabolic steroids can result in an abnormal enlargement of the heart, known as cardiac hypertrophy. This condition occurs due to the thickening of the heart’s walls. It can impair the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively, increasing the risk of heart failure and arrhythmias.
  • Increased Risk of Blood Clots: Steroid use has been associated with a higher risk of developing blood clots, which can obstruct blood flow and potentially lead to life-threatening events such as deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, heart attacks, or strokes.
  • Direct Toxicity to Heart Cells: Some studies suggest that anabolic steroids may have direct toxic effects on heart cells, leading to cell damage and contributing to the development of heart diseases.

Could Diet be the Problem?

Diet can indeed play a significant role in various health issues, including heart problems. A poor diet can contribute to the development of cardiovascular diseases. This is particularly true for diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium.

Some ways diet can negatively impact heart health include:

  • Increased Cholesterol Levels: Consuming foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels, leading to the buildup of arterial plaque and increasing the risk of coronary artery disease.
  • Elevated Blood Pressure: A diet high in sodium can contribute to increased blood pressure, which places additional strain on the heart and increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular events.
  • Obesity: Consuming excessive calories and unhealthy foods can lead to weight gain and obesity, which are significant risk factors for heart diseases and other health issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Inflammation: Diets high in processed foods, added sugars and unhealthy fats can promote inflammation within the body, which is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

To protect heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues, maintain a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.

Some recommendations include:

  1. Consuming lean proteins, such as poultry, fish, legumes, and low-fat dairy products.
  2. Incorporating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your meals.
  3. Choosing healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
  4. Limiting the intake of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and sodium.
  5. Staying well-hydrated and practicing portion control.
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Individuals can significantly improve their heart health and overall well-being by adopting a healthier diet. Coupled with regular exercise, this lifestyle change is beneficial.

Could Exercise Itself Lead to Heart Problems?

Regular exercise is generally good for overall health and heart function. However, in certain cases, it could potentially cause heart problems. Some of these scenarios include:

  • Excessive Exercise: Engaging in an extremely intense or prolonged exercise regimen without allowing the body adequate time for rest and recovery can place excessive stress on the heart, potentially increasing the risk of heart issues such as arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death.
  • Undiagnosed Heart Conditions: Individuals with undiagnosed or pre-existing heart conditions, such as congenital heart defects, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or coronary artery disease, may be at a higher risk for complications during physical activity, especially if they engage in strenuous exercise.
  • Improper Progression: Rapidly increasing the intensity or duration of exercise without gradually building up endurance and strength can put undue strain on the heart, potentially leading to heart problems.
  • Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalances: Intense exercise, particularly in hot and humid conditions, can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which can strain the cardiovascular system and contribute to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or other heart-related issues.

Genetics Also Plays a Part

Your genes can play a big part in deciding if you’re likely to have heart problems or diseases related to your heart and blood vessels. The genes you inherit can affect different parts of your heart health. They can influence how your body controls blood pressure, deals with cholesterol, and the structure of your heart.

For example, certain changes in your genes can lead to conditions like familial hypercholesterolemia. This causes high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and raises the risk of getting coronary artery disease when you’re young.

Genes can also affect the chances of being born with heart defects. They can also affect your chances of getting hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the heart muscle gets too thick. Genes can also cause other heart disorders that you can inherit. These disorders may affect how your heart works, as well as your overall heart and blood vessel health.

Research has found specific genes tied to a higher risk of getting heart diseases. For example, genes involved in inflammation, blood clotting, and how smooth muscle cells work.

These genes can interact with things in your environment and lifestyle. For example, your diet, exercise, and stress levels. This can further influence your chance of having heart problems.

Family history is important in assessing heart disease risk. If a close relative has had a heart attack, stroke, or other heart or blood vessel event, you’re more likely at risk too.

Knowing your genetic background and possible predispositions can help guide steps to prevent heart problems. It can also help with early strategies to intervene and lower the risk of heart problems.

This could include regular check-ups. Keep an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Live a heart-healthy lifestyle through balanced eating, regular exercise, and managing stress.

Understanding the role of genes in heart health helps people take active steps to lower risk and promote long-term heart and blood vessel health.

Final Thoughts on Bodybuilding and Heart Problems

In the end, bodybuilders need to put their heart health first. They should train responsibly, eat a heart-healthy diet, and avoid performance-enhancing drugs.

Bodybuilders can effectively lower the chance of having heart problems. They can do this by knowing the possible risks, keeping an eye on health signs, and thinking about genetic risks.

A full approach to overall health includes eating right, exercising regularly, and managing stress. This makes sure bodybuilders can keep doing what they love while also protecting their long-term heart health.

In the end, the key to enjoying the benefits of bodybuilding without hurting heart health is finding a balance between reaching goals and sustainable practices.

Dave Moffat

Hi, I'm Dave Moffat the founder and Chief Editor of and certified International Personal Trainer and Certified Nutritionist. My passion has always been bodybuilding but with 15 years' experience in weight loss programs too, it's hard not to mention all that when you're working at your fitness level fullest (I hope). When Im not in the gym or spending time away from my family i often think about what advice would help others achieve theirs goals just like these inspired mine.