Whilst bodybuilding itself is a complex affair consisting of the manipulation of multiple, very intricate mechanisms, the aim of bodybuilding is really quite straightforward: get your body looking at its best, whatever that means to you (and to the judges, if you compete.)
With this in mind, you train hard, eat clean, and do everything right. If you’re a bodybuilder, this means growing your muscles as much as possible. Other types of athletes do the same, of course: the following applies to any barbell athlete, to any sprinter, any swimmer… anybody who regularly elicits hypertrophy.
But with all that growth comes stretch marks.
You think that they’re ugly. You don’t want them, but you don’t know what to do. How do you prevent them from appearing; how do you get rid of them when they’re there; and what exactly causes them?
What causes stretch marks?
Stretch marks are actually very natural and common and, unless you really want or need to get rid of them for aesthetic purposes, the best course of action is to accept them. They are a sign of your progress as a person and as a lifter. You can be rightly proud of them.
However, if you do want to minimise their impact on your body, you need to know where they come from.
Usually, we hear about stretch marks in conjunction with pregnancy or puberty. Basically, when the human body has a cause to grow quickly, stretch marks appear. Your midsection swells as your baby grows: you get stretch marks. Your limbs and torso lengthen incredibly quickly in your teens: you get stretch marks.
You enter a brutally efficient hypertrophy phase, building lots of muscle, fast: you get stretch marks.
When your body grows beyond the point at which your skin’s elasticity can cope, there is disruption in the dermis layer of your skin as it is stretched. This causes a discoloured, textured scarring to occur: this is a stretch mark.
Stretch marks pose no health risks and should bring no complications: they are simply the scar tissue left behind as the body heals.
However, of course, a bodybuilder’s main goal is to wow others with their perfect body. Judges will take your skin’s appearance into consideration when you’re on the podium. When you’re out and about, wanting to look your best (after all, you worked hard for it) you don’t want visible stretch marks to ruin the effect.
Fair enough. How can you prevent them from occurring in the first place?
Preventing stretch marks from hypertrophy
There are some very simple, very easy and effective preventative methods you can employ to counter stretch marks as you grow:
1. Make use of creams and lotions
Stretch mark creams, solutions and oils are great. Bio Oil is one of the best, but there are many worthwhile contenders. They work to keep your skin hydrated, contain ingredients like aloe vera, coconut oil and Vitamin E for nourishment, and they aid in your body’s production of collagen and elastin.
All of this together will better prepare your body for growth, keeping your skin resistant to stretch marks.
2. Keep your diet on-point
Bodies are built in the kitchen, not the gym: the majority of bodily changes you can elicit will come from dietary factors. The same is true of your skin, and there are a few changes you can make to your diet to help keep yourself free from stretch marks:
Staying hydrated will keep your skin supple and more resistant to stretching and wear and tear.
Avoid performance-enhancing drugs
Of course, you want to grow as fast as humanly possible. But let’s keep it there: as fast as humanly, not superhumanly, possible. Performance-enhancing drugs will dry out your skin, alter your hormonal balances to make you more susceptible to stretch marks, and will ramp up your gains so quickly that your skin will never be able to adapt.
Keep long term goals in mind, train hard and eat clean, and keep away from the funny stuff.
Choose foods that will keep your skin healthy
You want foods rich in Vitamin E, like nuts and seeds, as well as collagen-rich food like garlic and berries. Keep your omega 3 intake up, using supplements alongside foods like walnuts, salmon and cod. Finally, get some gelatine in: eggs, mushrooms and milk are all good for this.
Don’t dirty bulk
Dirty bulking serves no one well. You don’t ever really want to take your energy intake to much more than a 500 calorie surplus, unless you have a very good reason (strength gains, doctor’s instruction etc.) Doing so will bring about fat gain as much as muscle.
Adding this fat gain to the hypertrophy you’re looking for will obviously add more mass- and more stretch. Instead, focus on building lean muscle, slowly, so that you hold unhealthy fat off and give your skin a chance to keep up with your size.
How to get rid of bodybuilding stretch marks
If the damage is done, however, and you have already got stretch marks from hypertrophy, don’t worry too much. First, as I said above, they are a sign of progress and something to be proud of. Second, they can be dealt with.
1. You can use stretch mark removal creams
Much like the creams and lotions mentioned above, they contain ingredients like collagen that are designed to keep your skin supple and healthy. It will be able to repair and recover more efficiently, meaning that the scar tissue around your stretch marks will diminish with time.
2. Another good route to go down is the derma roller
This is often referred to as ‘micro needling’. Sterilized needles in the roller will cause micro-tears in your skin. Your skin will react to this, secreting collagen fibres to heal up the tears. This collagen will be of help in itself, and the increased blood blow elicited will help to heal up and hide the scar tissue.
3. Laser therapy
If all else fails, and you have a bit of spare cash, you could always go for laser therapy. Pulses of light are used to break down the scar tissue’s molecular bonds. Your skin will begin to repair soon after, and within a few sessions, the stretch marks will be gone.