It’s not a coincidence that many bodybuilders go on to experience heart problems after many years of weight lifting. In a few cases, bodybuilding has just aggravated pre existing heart conditions, with a famous example being Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold was born with a bicuspid aorta, later causing him to have a heart surgery in 1997. In case you didn’t know, a bicuspid aorta basically means a person only has 2 flaps that can control blood flow in and out of the heart. A normal person has 3, and so this is considered abnormal heart function.
However, other bodybuilders around the world (without heart defects) are having problems with their heart health/blood pressure, resulting in heart attacks. Unfortunately, high blood pressure symptoms sometimes can be mild. Meaning yours could be high without even realizing. Despite this, there are some symptoms you should look out for.
Note that we all experience some of these symptoms now and then, and you should only feel the need to get your BP checked if you’re experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis.
Blood Pressure Symptoms
. High body temperature
A high body temperature signals an irregularity with the blood. It is normal for blood pressure to rise i.e. after exercise or a salty meal, this is only a problem when it is constantly a degree or more higher than the average body temp of 37 degrees celcius.
. Shortness of breath
Severe shortness of breath can be experienced in several situations; from going up the stairs to completing your last few reps in the gym.
. Light headed
You can feel light headed when there is a shortage of blood flow to the brain. This is a sign that your blood isn’t circulating as efficiently as it should be.
Headaches are thought to be brought on by physical stress. For example, first thing in the morning you may be dehydrated. If you don’t drink any liquids for hours after waking, this could bring on a headache. This headache is thus brought on due to dehydration and elevated cortisol/stress levels.
. Red spots in the whites of your eyes
When your eyes look permanently “blood shot” and red spots start to appear, this represents broken blood vessels in the eyes. This can also impair vision in some cases.
. Developing varicose veins/spider veins
These veins occur due to excessive pressure on the valves. One of the areas where blood flow is critical is the legs where blood is pumped back to the heart. Due to this demand, any abnormality in blood circulation can result in varicose and spider veins being present at the surface of the skin. Hence why these types of veins are popular in the leg region.
Why bodybuilding is sending your blood pressure sky high
. Excess Adrenaline
When you lift weights, adrenaline levels soar. High adrenaline correlates to high blood pressure. This adrenaline will only spike blood pressure levels in the short term, not causing any problems. It’s the same effect as going on a roller-coaster. However, problems start to happen when lifting weights becomes a frequent occurrence. I.e. lifting every day, or for some, several times each day.
I personally know that my blood pressure goes through the roof when I lift weights intensely every day. Thus a solution in my personal situation is to train all my muscle groups in one big intense session, then rest for 3 days after (to let adrenaline levels return to normal). This way I only spike my blood pressure 1-2 times per week, instead of 7.
So, if you want to train more frequently, your goal should be to reduce adrenaline output. There are several ways to do this and they all include soothing the central nervous system. A stimulated nervous system, causes a release of adrenaline. A calm, soothed nervous system promotes relaxation and the removal of adrenaline.
How to Reduce Adrenaline/Calm Your Central Nervous System
I have literally experimented with hundreds of different ways to soothe the nervous system, but many of these come with unwanted side effects. The best method by far is to eat chicken. I naturally have a lot of adrenaline output due to weight training and genetics, but eating free-range, organic chicken each day helps lower my blood pressure. The reason why chicken is so effective for this is due to its l-tryptophan content. L-tryptophan is an amino acid that works incredibly well for calming your CNS and reducing blood pressure.
An obvious example of this is at Christmas time, after you eat Christmas dinner. Everybody becomes super tired and drowsy after eating their turkey. The reason for this is the l-tryptophan in the turkey. Having carbs with your L-Tryptophan meals will further increase the absoporption of the amino acid, making it even more effective. You don’t have to worry about being drowsy all the time when eating chicken, as the adrenaline-release from lifting weights will give this a nice balance, preventing you from feeling sluggish. If you are feeling like this, you know to reduce your chicken consumption a little. And if you feel your blood pressure/adrenaline is high; you know to increase your chicken intake.
One very effective way to calm your CNS is to expose yourself to heat. I.e. taking a hot bath or having a sauna. The only side effect with this heat is that you don’t want your testicles getting too hot. Several studies have concluded that the cooler your testicles are, the higher your testosterone will be. Taking 1-2 hot, but short, baths a week shouldn’t make too much difference to your T levels though.
Another trick is to listen to slow, relaxing music. My personal favourite is classical music, with beethoven and mozart doing just the trick.
. Creatine supplementation
Through personal experimentation and other people’s experiences, I am sure creatine causes a sharp rise in blood pressure. This comes to no surprise as Creatine causes water retention. And we know for a fact that when the body is holding onto increased fluid; blood finds it increasingly difficult to flow, due to the increased pressure on the vessel walls.
Here are several complaints of creatine increasing user’s blood pressure.
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Although there are no studies (to my knowledge) linking creatine to high blood pressure, it would be naive to rule out an obvious connection here. A study is very unlikely to be published regarding this, due to all the millions of $’s supplement companies earn in revenue from creatine products. They will no doubt stand in the way of this “blood pressure connection” ever being published; with money being the sole reason for the manipulated/corrupt studies of today.
For more info on why creatine is such a popular bodybuilding supplement and how it works, check out my post: what does creatine do exactly?
Caffeine will also stimulate your adrenal glands and give you an adrenaline boost. This in turn constricts blood vessels, resulting in less efficient blood flow. This constriction increases BP. Studies have described caffeine’s increase on blood pressure as “harmful” – (source)
Ironically, caffeine is consumed in large amounts in the fitness and bodybuilding world. This is mainly due to its metabolism and thermogenesis benefits i.e. heating the body up. Funnily enough, Cocaine (also a stimulant) would elicit a larger metabolism and thermogenesis response than caffeine, yet you don’t get fitness professionals recommending crack!
Bodybuilders often consume caffeine in the following forms:
. Pre workout supplements
. Fat burner supplements
. Dark chocolate
As mentioned in my previous post: Best stimulant-free pre workout – Purple Wraath is a good example of caffeine-free pre workout.
In terms of a stimulant-free fat burner, there are several options. CLA, short for, Conjugated Linoleic Acid, is great for removing fat located in stubborn areas.
Raspberry ketones is another option for helping give you that extra boost when trying to reach low body fat %’s.
Those that do not participate in natural bodybuilding, run the risk of elevating their blood pressure to risky levels during a steroid cycle. As you probably know, steroids work by elevating Testosterone levels to unnaturally high levels, resulting in greater protein synthesis and rapid muscle expansion. Unfortunately, when T levels increase, so does LDL levels. LDL is the bad type of cholesterol which increases blood pressure.
The body reacts to this blood pressure rise by increasing healthy cholesterol levels – HDLs. How does the body do this? By producing more estrogen, the female sex hormone. When estrogen rises in this way, bodybuilders turn to anti-estrogen’s because they don’t want this female hormone compromising their muscle gains. As you can imagine, this exacerbates the problem further with an unhealthy LDL to HDL cholesterol balance.
For more information on steroids, check out my post: Steroid Cycling: is it safe? Side effects?
. Excessive Water
Before any confusion develops on this point. Water is healthy for you and has many benefits. Water can even reduce blood pressure via hydration. However, studies have found it to produce a stimulating effect on the CNS, similar to caffeine. 10 years ago water was even used to elevate blood pressure in people suffering from a loss of baroreflexes – the system that regulates your blood pressure within a normal range. In these patients, blood pressure fell too low, so water was used to increase it back up.
Source: Water increases blood pressure
Again, you aren’t likely to experience any significant blood pressure increase drinking a litre or 2 a day. However, bodybuilders aren’t foreign to taking things to the extreme, and drink incredible volumes of water especially in the build up to a bodybuilding show. I can also testament that water increases BP from when I was drinking 6 litres a day to flush out water for increased muscle definition.
As you may know, the primary objective during a bulk is to put on weight in the form of muscle. One of the best methods bodybuilders utilize to gain muscle mass during a bulk is to eat in a calorie surplus.
A side effect of this overeating however is fat gain. With this extra fat weight, the heart has to pump a larger volume of blood around the body. Because of this new demand for a higher volume of blood to be pumped with each heart beat, blood pressure rises. Until a bodybuilder begins “cutting”, this increased blood pressure will remain.
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