Having flabby man boobs – or moobs – is something which is more often associated with men who are overweight, but it’s a phenomenon which can often occur with bodybuilders too.
Gynecomastia, often referred to as “bitch tits” or just gyno in the bodybuilding community, can occur when performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids are taken.
But although gynecomastia is a very real risk, there’s ways to deal with the problem when it arises but early intervention is vital.
Bodybuilders work on their pecs regularly as part of their training and having developed muscles in this area should not be confused with gyno.
With a good set of pec muscles, the area will feel tight and defined with a toned appearance. The contrast with gyno is huge: the breast tissue will feel soft and puffy and almost pillow-like to the touch. This is due to engorgement of the area which lies over the top of the muscle.
The nipples can sometimes feel sore or sensitive with gynecomastia, and can look particularly abnormal when the weather is warmer.
You will notice the symptoms of gyno a while before the condition fully develops. This could be increased sensitivity, itchiness or discomfort in the breast area; take action quickly enough and you could prevent gyno from properly taking hold.
Understanding the cause
Before we turn to possible solutions to treat gyno in bodybuilding, it’s first necessary to understand the root cause.
Gyno isn’t anything to do with eating too much or not training enough; it’s a hormonal condition caused by the abnormal fluctuations created by anabolic steroids.
Increasing testosterone levels is the holy grail for most bodybuilders, as it’s this which allows greater amounts of muscle to be built. Anabolic steroids provide this, but some are more androgenic than others which accounts for the variation in effects.
The hormone required for gynecomastia to flourish is oestrogen, the direct opposite of testosterone. It might therefore seem that taking anabolic steroids would actually decrease the likelihood of gyno occurring but this isn’t the case. Some types of steroid can lead to conversion to oestrogen plus the rise in testosterone can cause the body to naturally produce more oestrogen too. This conversion occurs through a process known as aromatisation, achieved with the help of the aromatase enzyme.
This increase in oestrogen within the body is what causes gyno. If you’ve never had gynecomastia before, it doesn’t mean you’re immune. Some steroids are more likely to have an effect than others, and the length of the cycle and the dosage can have an influence too.
How to get rid of gyno
As a bodybuilder your natural inclination may well be to exercise even harder and eat clean in an effort to rid yourself of your swelling breasts.
However, gyno has absolutely nothing to do with exercise and by creating larger pec muscles which lie beneath the breast tissue, you could inadvertently be making the matter much worse!
It’s important to catch the signs of gyno early because if you leave it too long, surgery will be your only option to reverse the effects. However, swift action could prevent it fully developing and allow you to continue with your cycle without any gyno concerns.
As soon as you start to feel altered sensation in your breast area, limiting the oestrogen in your body is key. In some cases it can be a good idea to take steps to limit the oestrogen when you start your cycle, before any effects are evident.
Drugs are the way to control the oestrogen in the body, either via Selective Oestrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs) or Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs).
Nolvadex (also known as Tamoxifen) is a SERM which has been used widely to try and combat gyno by blocking the binding action of the oestrogen to the receptors. Although this doesn’t reduce the oestrogen in the body, it prevents any effects by blocking the action. This can be sufficiently strong enough to prevent gyno from developing in some users, but it won’t work for everyone.
If SERMs aren’t effective, AIs are a slightly more powerful solution but they can produce side effects so it’s best to only use them if the response to SERMs doesn’t control the gyno symptoms. Arimidex (Anastrazole) and Letrozole (Femara) are two of the most commonly used aromatase inhibitors in the bodybuilding community and can provide excellent control.
Gynecomastia – know your options
Don’t wait until you’ve started to see the symptoms of gynecomastia before you think about taking preventative action because you could be too late. Make sure you research the best solution for you and consider including either a SERM or an AI in your cycle if you’re particularly sensitive to the aromatising effects of steroids or you’re dosing high or cycling hard.