At first glance, the model of perfect health might appear to be the models on fitness magazine covers, and the ripped, muscle-bound and seemingly fit folks strutting their stuff at the gym.
But the fact is that there are a lot of misconceptions floating around as to what it means to be in "good shape" — and having huge muscles or low body fat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in ideal shape, or even healthy.
Here are just three ways that big guys may not actually have ideal fitness:
Low Hormones: Very fit or lean men often have low sex drive, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue and difficulty sleeping due to excessive exercise and depletion of hormone levels. Building big muscles in a healthy manner requires adequate amounts of high-quality protein and lots of healthy fats too, but many big guys simply guzzle down highly-processed protein shakes and avoid crucial hormone building fats—resulting in significant hormone depletion that is not healthy.
High Inflammation: If you’ve ever seen a bodybuilder up close, you’ll often see wrinkled, elephant-like skin that has been produced by free radicals from years of stressing the body day-after-day, combined with excessive exposure to sun and tanning salons and high amounts of inflammation from muscle damage. The skin is just a reflection of what is happening with the connective tissue in the rest of the body, such as hair, nails, bone and muscles, and you’ll often find a very fit individual who has beat their body up in the gym has dry hair, low bone density, brittle nails, and lots of muscle injuries—which isn’t exactly healthy!
Dehydration: To achieve that extremely toned magazine-cover look, many models and bodybuilders severely dehydrate their bodies so that their skin looks “tighter” on the muscles, and they’ll often use diuretics like coffee or dandelion root to achieve this, combined with water restriction. Frequently putting the body through the stress of inadequate water intake can result in damage to the kidneys and inadequate hydration for skin and muscles.
So while exercise is good for you, it is very important to ensure that getting big doesn’t keep you from being fit or damaging your health.
So how can you ensure that you’re both healthy and fit? Here are three ways:
Combine weight training, intense cardio intervals and recovery. Contrary to popular belief, small doses of cardio is not going to keep you from building muscle or getting strong. A healthy way to get big can be three full body weight training sessions per week, combined with 2-3 days of high intensity cardio interval workouts and 2-3 days of active rest and recovery.
Eat natural and toxin-free. For long term fitness and health, avoid the typical “big guy” approach of guzzling down protein shakes and energy drinks, and instead try to choose non-processed, toxin-free nutrient sources such as organic, grass-fed beef, wild cold-water fish, organic coffee without added sugars, and high amounts of healthy fat intake from foods like avocado, olives, raw seeds, nuts, olive oil and even cod liver oil.
Recover the right way. Recovery doesn’t mean you take a day off exercise and stress yourself out with big cheat meals, alcohol, and extra late hours working or socializing. Your body gets bigger and fitter when you rest, so on your easy days, prioritize healthy eating, naps or getting to bed early, and light activity that increases blood flow, such as an easy yoga session, light swim, or brisk walk.
Ultimately, you can be big, fit and healthy at the same time, but traditional body-building and old school nutritional tactics may not be the best way to do it.