Bubble Gut or Palumboism: The Dark Secret of Bodybuilding!

The world of professional bodybuilding is known for its remarkable physiques with extreme muscularity that are created with outstanding dedication, hard work and discipline. However, this sport has also seen its share of controversies and anomalies, one of which is the condition known as “Palumboism” aka “Bubble Gut.” This phenomenon, characterized by the distension of the abdominal area, has raised concerns and debates within the bodybuilding community since the last decade. In this article, we will explore Palumboism or bubble gut: its causes, its impact on the sport, possible remedies and the ongoing discussions surrounding it. Without further ado, let’s get started.

What Is Palumboism or Bubble Gut?

Palumboism, named after bodybuilder Dave Palumbo, is a term used to describe a specific physical condition seen in some bodybuilders, particularly those at the professional level. The defining characteristic of Palumboism is the noticeable distension of the abdominal area, causing the abdomen to protrude significantly. This distension often results in a pronounced “bubble gut” appearance that is literally the opposite of what an aesthetically bodybuilder should be. Thus, we got the popular terms like bubble gut and Palumboism. There are several other terms that bodybuilding fans use to describe this condition which are: roid gut, HGH gut, insulin gut, muscle gut, bodybuilding/bodybuilder gut, reverse ninja turtles etc.

Dave Palumbo 2002

The reason why this physical condition is named after Dave Palumbo is because in 2002, Dave Palumbo showed a very disgustingly protruding gut in a bodybuilding show. Although, he never turned pro as a bodybuilder, his physique got viral and people started using the term Palumboism which they made obviously after his name. Few years later, it started to get more polular names like bubble gut, HGH gut etc. Dave Palumbo is now running a successful and popular bodybuilding media website and YouTube channel (both named RXmuscle) along with magazines.

Dave-Palumbo Now

Causes of Palumboism or Bubble Gut

The causes of Palumboism or bubble gut are still a subject of ongoing debate even after 2 decades, with various factors potentially contributing to this condition. Here are some of the leading theories and contributing factors.

Growth Hormone (GH) and Insulin Use

One of the most widely discussed factors is the use of growth hormone and insulin by professional bodybuilders. These substances, while helping to promote muscle growth, can also lead to an increase in visceral fat and water retention, contributing to abdominal distension. Furthermore, both HGH and Insulin are known for enlarging not only the muscles but also the internal organs like heart, liver and kidney which also contributes to a distended and bubble gut because of the extra space these enlarged organs need!

Enlarged Organs & Muscles

Prolonged and extreme muscle growth, along with the use of anabolic steroids, can lead to the hypertrophy of internal organs, particularly the intestines, stomach and the liver. This can further exacerbate abdominal distension and create bubble gut. If anabolic steroids are taken in an extreme amount, the chances of bubble gut becomes higher too mainly because of the growth in several internal muscles in the midsection such as TVA muscles in particular.

Many people don’t know that TVA aka transverse abdominal muscle is just under our abdominal and oblique muscles. It acts as a protective layer to make sure our internal organs stay safe physically and don’t get out. Along with all other muscles, TVA muscle also grows and gets large even though no bodybuilder trains them thanks to anabolic steroids. This enlargement of TVA muscle is also a contributing factor in bubble gut.

And as we all know, most of the open category processional bodybuilders take high and some take extreme doses of anabolic steroids. Dallas McCarver is a prime example. Extreme anabolic steroids and insulin abuse took his life at an early age!

Dallas 2017

Overeating and High-Calorie Diets

To support rapid muscle growth, most bodybuilders specifically open category bodybuilders follow extremely high-calorie diets which consist of 4,500 to 5,000 calories during off-season. This can lead to significant fat and water retention, especially in the abdominal area.

Jay Cutler

Moreover, that large amount of food also causes the internal organs to grow in size which again leads to distended midsection and ultimately a bubble gut. Some foods can cause bloating which can also be reason because the huge amount of food especially protein they take, chances of bloating is pretty high.

Not Controlling The Midsection During Posing

It’s far from secret that posing is one of the most crucial part of professional bodybuilding. Posing actually means controlling and flexing your muscles in the best way possible to showcase your strength and hide your weakness as good as you can. So, if a bodybuilder already has a bubble gut issue, he should know how to control it on the stage because everything matters when bodybuilders are on stage and showcase themselves to the world.

Big shows like Mr. Olympia has a long posing duration. In these kind of shows, some bodybuilders get tired at the end and lose their control on the midsection. 7 times Mr. Olympia champion Phil Heath is a prime example of this. He could control his gut during the posing routines and the intervals in the first several minutes but as the posing rounds went on, during the last few minutes, Phil Heath couldn’t control his midsection anymore as he got tired and started breathing heavily and this brought out his gut like a turtle shell in several occasions in Mr. Olympia.

3 times Arnold Classic champion Kai Greene is no amateur in showing off the bubble gut too! From early days of his pro career, Kai couldn’t handle his gut during side poses like side chest and side triceps and all attention went to his distended gut. So, my point is, not practising enough posing and not having enough control on your midsection can also lead to have your gut protruded and it can get worse if someone loses the full control on it as we already discussed.


Genetic factors can play a very crucial role in how an individual’s body responds to the stress of bodybuilding, including the potential for abdominal distension. For example, look at 2 times Mr. Olympia champion Big Ramy. Have you ever seen a bubble gut on his 300+ lbs on stage physique? No! And that’s crazy to think because he should have a bigger bubble gut than Kai and Phil ever had considering how lighter they were compared to Ramy. But his abdominal genetics is outstanding and he really has a great midsection with deep separated abs along with he doesn’t get tired and doesn’t lose control on his midsection during long posing rounds so that’s a contributing factor too.

4 times Mr. Olympia champion Jay Cutler is another great example. He was another mass monster of early 2000s who never had or showed a distended gut unlike his greatest rival Ronnie did. Ronnie Coleman, 8 times Mr. Olympia champion who is also considered the greatest bodybuilder of all time also had a distended midsection! But Jay never had! So, yes, genetics does play an essential role in this condition that’s why, 260lbs Jay and 300lbs Ramy didn’t have bubble gut whereas 235lbs Phil had along with 250lbs Kai and Ronnie too even though Ronnie was 270+ lbs at his best.

Impacts of Palumboism in Bodybuilding

These bubble gut issues has raised various concerns and bad impacts within the world of bodybuilding. Some of the common concerns are as follows:

Aesthetic Discrepancy

The bubble gut appearance is aesthetically incongruent with the ideal bodybuilding physique, which emphasizes a tight, symmetrical, and well-proportioned midsection.

Audience Perception

The emergence of Palumboism has led to audience dissatisfaction and negative perceptions of the sport. Fans and critics often question the methods and substances used by professional bodybuilders.

Health Concerns

The extreme use of growth hormone and insulin, among other substances, has raised health concerns for bodybuilders. These substances can have adverse effects on various physiological systems, potentially leading to serious health issues and even death. Shawn Rhoden, Dallas McCarver, Geroge Peterson, Joe Linder and the list of untimely death in the world of professional bodybuilding goes on.

Sport’s Integrity

The presence of Palumboism has brought into question the integrity of professional bodybuilding competitions. Critics argue that it may reflect a focus on extreme muscle size at the expense of overall health and aesthetics.

What’s the Remedy of Bubble Gut?

Addressing the issue of Palumboism and bubble gut in bodybuilding requires a multifaceted approach. It can’t be cured like any normal illness but it can surely be reversed or reduced to normal condition. Let’s know about the ways and possible remedies of it.

Balanced Judging Criteria

Revaluating judging criteria in professional bodybuilding competitions to emphasize symmetry and aesthetics in addition to muscularity can help promote a more balanced approach because after all, everything matters on the stage so if judges changes their criteria from mass monsters to aesthetically pleasing physique then the athletes will also not rush to get as big as possible. Thus, the chances of using extreme dosages of HGH and insulin will also most probably be lower.

Limiting the Dosages of HGH, Insulin and Anabolic Steroids

It’s no secret that insulin and HGH along with anabolic steroids play a big role in producing the bubble gut as we already have discussed above. So, by limiting the extreme dosages of these stuffs, a professional bodybuilder can reduce his gut size tremendously. There are plenty of examples out there. Bodybuilders who retired from professional bodybuilding and had big bubble guts, now all the distended midsection is gone from their body. Why? Because after retiring, they stopped taking stuffs in extreme dosages.

Steroids purchased through the mail by undercover law enforcement officials, vials of HCG (Human chorionic gonadotropin), and Bacteriostatic water, left, 2 vials of Stanozolo, center, and testosterone (cypionate: enanthate: propionate) right, are displayed with white clompiphenene and green anastrozole pills in Albany, N.Y., Feb. 13, 2007. The Albany, N.Y., Times Union reported investigators expected to arrest more than two dozen doctors, pharmacists and business owners on sealed indictments charging them with various felonies for unlawfully distributing steroids and other controlled substances from an Orlando pharmarcy, court records show. (AP Photo/Albany Times Union, Will Waldron ) **CAPITAL REGION AND GLENS FALLS OUT**

Proper Food Selection & Limiting the Calorie Intake

Same thing goes for food. Retired bodybuilders also don’t consume huge amount of food everyday to get big so their gut also get shrink to normal position after few months of retiring because the organs come back to their normal size.

Now, for bodybuilders who are actively competing, lowering the food intake might not be the good thing but one thing they can do is to select their foods wisely. 2008 Mr. Olympia champion Dexter Jackson said in a podcast that choosing the foods that don’t cause bloating and gas in the stomach helped him a lot in reducing the bubble gut. So, a bodybuilder should choose foods that are easier on the stomach and intestines.

Controlling the Midsection & Practising Vacuum

Bodybuilders who are actively competing, neither can reduce the drug usages that much nor can reduce the food intake. However, they can reverse the bubble gut by practising vacuum and controlling the midsection. Just like 2018 Mr. Olympia People’s Champion, Roelly Winklaar and another open bodybuilder named Ben Pakulski did!

What they did was controlling their TVA muscles through months of posing and vacuum practise to put their internal organs inside and they achieved to pull vacuums from having a huge gut. So, for people who asked whether bubble gut can be reversed, the answer is yes, it can be reversed through posing and vacuum practice, proper food choice, dedication and a iron will to change your physiological issue which professional bodybuilders already possess.


Palumboism and bubble gut represent a complex issue within the world of professional bodybuilding. While the factors contributing to this condition are still being debated, it highlights the potential risks and consequences of extreme bodybuilding practices and the use of performance-enhancing substances. Addressing these concerns requires a holistic approach that prioritizes athlete health, balanced aesthetics, and a commitment to the sport’s integrity. By fostering a culture of responsibility and education, the bodybuilding community can work toward a more sustainable and balanced future for the sport. Hopefully, you found this article helpful enough and learned a thing or two. If you really did then let us know your valuable thoughts in the comment section down below. Thanks for visiting and appreciating our work.

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