True Natural Bodybuilding

What is TRUE Natural BodyBuilding?

It is very sad that it has come so far with the sport that we have to define a term such as "TRUE Natural BodyBuilding". However, we have to face reality and acknowledge that bodybuilders and even so-called natural bodybuilders use lots of drugs and other performance enhancing substances. Especially hormonal drugs such as testosterone, androgenic-anabolic steroids, growth hormone, IGF and insulin are very popular among bodybuilders because they are extremely effective in building muscle mass. Let's take a look at my personal definitions and interpretations.


A bodybuilder is someone who tries to induce muscle growth, and at the same time tries to keep or reduce his body fat to a minimum, usually by using a combination of weight training, proper diet, supplements, doping, and sometimes cardiovascular exercises.

Doping plays, unfortunately, a very important role in bodybuilding as the effects of modern doping products are really amazing. Testosterone and androgenic-anabolic steroids are by far the most popular, and massively used by recreational, amateur, competitive, and professional bodybuilders. My estimate is that about 99% of the bodybuilders that you see in bodybuilding contests have used anabolic steroids at least sometime in their life, and most probably during the last months and weeks before the contest. The 1% who have never used anabolic steroids in their life are very easy to recognize as they usually end at the last place in the contest results. What professional bodybuilders concerns, my estimate is that 100% of the pros of the last 50 years have systematically used anabolic steroids throughout their career.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Admitting Anabolic Steroid Use

Since the 1990's, many bodybuilders have started to add growth hormone, and shortly thereafter insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), to their doping regimen. Currently, probably more than 90% of the top bodybuilders are using growth hormones and insulin. In the near future new muscle growth promoting drugs are expected to become popular, such as: selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs), myostatin inhibitors, and even gene doping.

Clenbuterol is another frequently used product that promotes muscle growth and body fat reduction. We also have of course thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) and ephedrine that are frequently used to burn body fat and increase energy levels. Close to contest time, many competitive bodybuilders also use diuretics to reduce the remaining water under their skin.

Bodybuilders who use prohibited chemical assistance (performance enhancing substances or drugs) such as anabolic steroids are commonly referred to as
"(chemically) enhanced bodybuilders" or "chemical bodybuilders". They practice "(chemical) bodybuilding".

Watch this interview with Mike Morris, former IFBB professional bodybuilder, talking about the use of performance enhancing drugs by today's chemical bodybuilders.

Natural Bodybuilding

Natural bodybuilding was introduced around the mid 1990's, and it was probably intended to be bodybuilding without doping. Or at least it was intended to inspire people who don't want to be as big as a modern Mr. Olympia competitor, but want to improve their physique by bodybuilding without using drugs. In order to create a profitable business for this big new market segment magazines where published and contests were organized with so-called "natural bodybuilders".

In practice it appeared that there was not much difference between bodybuilders and natural bodybuilders. Some of the less massive bodybuilders of yesterday, just started to call themselves natural bodybuilders. They accepted the fact that they may have a small chance of being tested for a limited number of prohibited drugs on the day of a contest. However, by slightly changing their doping regimen they could easily find a way around. So basically, most competing natural bodybuilders use the same kinds of drugs as chemical bodybuilders, or at least they have used them in the past. MuscleMania is a typical example of a so-called natural bodybuilding federation where drug use is very common. Fortunately, there exist some other natural bodybuilding federations that are a bit more successful in controlling the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Listen to this interview with Mike Arnold from, bodybuilding doping expert and coach of professional bodybuilders, talking about the use of performance enhancing drugs by chemical as well as natural bodybuilders. Mike explains which kinds and how much drugs are used and how natural bodybuilders avoid getting caught in drug tests.

TRUE Natural BodyBuilding

My definition of "TRUE Natural BodyBuilding" (short: TN bodybuilding) is: bodybuilding without EVER having used ANY performance enhancing drugs or supplements that do not occur in a normal healthy daily diet.
With "performance enhancing supplements that do not occur in a normal healthy daily diet" I mean any substance different from the basic natural nutrients (water, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, creatine, vitamins and minerals) and their natural building blocks (standard amino acids, monosaccharides and fatty acids) to enhance physical development or performance. If your physique or body composition has been enhanced by non-medical use of non-nutrient substances, you are not a true natural bodybuilder.

true natural bodybuilder in TNBB T-shirt

For example, someone who has used a small amount of anabolic steroids 10 years ago for a period of 1 week for non-medical reasons is NOT a true natural bodybuilder. It is clear that for any of the hormonal drugs (testosterone, androgenic-anabolic steroids, growth hormone, IGFs, and insulin), it is very important to use this very strict definition because they really can alter your body composition permanently. Although the effects of ephedrine and its natural equivalent ephedra, which are often used in sports supplements (so-called fat burners), may not have permanent effects on your body composition, I strongly believe they do not belong in a true natural bodybuilding lifestyle.

Let me try to provide a MINIMAL list of substances that a bodybuilder should NEVER have used in his entire life to qualify as a true natural bodybuilder:

  • any muscle growth promoting hormones such as for example:
    • testosterone
    • androgenic-anabolic steroids (AAS)
    • human growth hormone (HGH)
    • insulin
    • insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) such as IGF-1 and IGF-2
    • any anabolic prohormones, prosteroids or precursor steroids
  • thyroid hormones such as T3 and T4
  • 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP)
  • clenbuterol
  • erythropoietin (EPO)
  • norephedrine, ephedrine, ephedra, and ma huang
  • stimulants such as amphetamines
  • diuretics
  • synthol
  • experimental muscle growth promoting products such as:
    • selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs)
    • myostatin inhibitors
    • gene doping
    • peptides
    • muscle stem cells

I didn't mention corticosteroids as they are very often used for all kinds of therapeutic reasons such as allergy, asthma and inflammation, and because they have no anabolic effect. I also didn't mention nicotine, alcohol and caffeine as they are not really performance enhancing for bodybuilders and because they are very commonly used in daily life by most people. I also didn't mention proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, glucose, fats, oils, creatine, vitamins and minerals because they are nutrients that naturally occur in food products that are part of a normal healthy daily diet, and because they are not prohibited by any anti-doping organization. This is fully aligned with Wikipedia's definition of food that states "Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals..."

Please note that the list above is only a minimal list of prohibited substances that contains mainly those products that are best known and most frequently used by bodybuilders. I'm sure that there are many other products in the anti-doping lists of sport federations that should also be included (see for example the Prohibited List of the World Anti-Doping Agency).

Finally, true natural bodybuilding is not about using exotic plant extracts, new drugs not yet prohibited by the anti-doping agencies, or high-tech supplements that promote muscle growth. True natural bodybuilding is a healthy lifestyle in which you develop your muscles by hard and smart training, and by a targeted but healthy and natural diet, optionally supplemented with basic natural nutrients (water, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, creatine, vitamins, and minerals). The use of non-nutrient substances to enhance physique or performance has no place in TRUE natural bodybuilding.

Also read what the difference is between (chemical) bodybuilding, natural bodybuilding and true natural bodybuilding.

Pros and Cons of True Natural BodyBuilding

It is not always easy to be a true natural bodybuilder, and certainly not glamorous. In fact, it is often quite frustrating as you have to deal with the following challenges:

  • It will take very hard work and lots of patience to reach your goals.
  • You will never get the same results as bodybuilders who use drugs.
  • You will never be able to compete in contests at a serious level.
  • You will never get lots of compliments in the gym because there will always be a doped bodybuilder who is bigger and more muscular.
  • As soon as you start getting serious results, people automatically think that you are on drugs. If you say that you are not, they may think that you are a liar.
  • You will always have to deal with the temptation of the quick results that you could get by using drugs.
  • You will never know how successful you would have been as a drugged bodybuilder.

Fortunately there are also some attractive advantages of being a true natural bodybuilder as compared to being a chemically enhanced bodybuilder:

  • You don't have to buy and use illegal drugs (from the black market).
  • You don't have to worry about the quality of underground produced drugs.
  • You are not taking any health risks. In fact, you are significantly improving your health.
  • You are saving lots of money.
  • You won't have to lie about using drugs.
  • Most women prefer men with natural bodies.
  • You can really be proud of your results because they exist only thanks to your own efforts, and not as a result of some pills or injections.
  • You don't contribute to the bad image that bodybuilding has.


Fitness is the little sister of bodybuilding. It is becoming very popular in Europe. It basically is bodybuilding without results. People who practice fitness usually have not much idea about what they are doing. They like to chat with each other in the fitness club. Some of them dream about getting a better physique because the sales people of the fitness club promised them that they would get results automatically as long as they continue to pay their membership in time. :)

Strength Training

The purpose of bodybuilding is to increase the body's muscle mass by developing all its skeletal muscles as much as possible. Although some bodybuilders are very strong, this is rather a side effect of the big muscles and the lifting of heavy weights. Other sports such as powerlifting, weightlifting, and strongman competitions have as main goal to be as strong as possible rather than being muscular.

Developing muscular strength requires very different training methods and exercises than developing muscle mass. To build muscular strength, you mainly do basic compound power exercises, such as squat, deadlift, bench press, barbell press and row, with very heavy weights for a low number of repetitions (1-6) per set, and long rest periods (>3 minutes) between your sets. Each muscle group is trained once or twice per week to get optimal results. This way of training totally differs from typical bodybuilding training. To avoid any confusing, this website is all about bodybuilding, not about getting strong.

The Future of Bodybuilding

One day, gene doping will be a fact. Together with other increasingly effective drugs, gene doping will make it possible for people to be as muscular as a bodybuilder without ever having been inside a gym. I believe this is an unavoidable future that is coming to us within one or two decades. I have no problem with accepting this fact. And if people want to use these drugs, that's okay for me. However, I don't think these people should be called bodybuilders. Let's preserve the term "bodybuilder" for those people who have actually built their body by means of weight training. In fact, I personally think that the only real bodybuilders are the true natural bodybuilders, who did't use performance enhancing drugs to build their physiques. Does that make sense to you?

Concluding Note

Although most bodybuilders claim to be true natural, true natural bodybuilders are in fact rather rare. However, true natural bodybuilders do exist. I am one of them, and I am proud of it. I hope you also choose for the true natural way of bodybuilding. As far as I know there exist no magazines nor contests for true natural bodybuilders. I believe there are 2 main reasons for this: it is impossible to test whether a bodybuilder is TRUE natural, and true natural bodybuilders simply don't look impressive enough, especially if you are used to see enhanced bodybuilders.