In the last week leading up to a contest, bodybuilders usually decrease their consumption of water, sodium, and carbohydrates, the former two to alter how water is retained by the body and the latter to reduce glycogen in the muscle. The day before the show, water is removed from the diet, and diuretics may be introduced, while carbohydrate loading is undertaken to increase the size of the muscles through replenishment of their glycogen. The goal is to maximize leanness and increase the visibility of veins, or "vascularity". The muscular definition and vascularity are further enhanced immediately before appearing on stage by darkening the skin through tanning products and applying oils to the skin to increase shine. Some competitors will eat sugar-rich foods to increase the visibility of their veins. A final step, called "pumping", consists in performing exercises with light weights or other kinds of low resistance (for instance two athletes can "pump" each other by holding a towel and pulling in turn), just before the contest, to fill the muscles with blood and further increase their size and density.
The first U.S. Women's National Physique Championship, promoted by Henry McGhee and held in Canton, Ohio in 1978, is generally regarded as the first true female bodybuilding contest—that is, the first contest where the entrants were judged solely on muscularity. In 1980, the first Ms. Olympia (initially known as the "Miss" Olympia), the most prestigious contest for professionals, was held. The first winner was Rachel McLish, who had also won the NPC's USA Championship earlier in the year. The contest was a major turning point for female bodybuilding. McLish inspired many future competitors to start training and competing. In 1985, a movie called Pumping Iron II: The Women was released. It documented the preparation of several women for the 1983 Caesars Palace World Cup Championship. Competitors prominently featured in the film were Kris Alexander, Lori Bowen, Lydia Cheng, Carla Dunlap, Bev Francis, and McLish. At the time, Francis was actually a powerlifter, though she soon made a successful transition to bodybuilding, becoming one of the leading competitors of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This period also saw the rise of anabolic steroids in bodybuilding and many other sports. In bodybuilding lore, this is partly attributed to the rise of "mass monsters", beginning with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sergio Oliva, and Lou Ferrigno in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and continuing through the 1980s with Lee Haney, the 1990s with Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and Markus Rühl, and up to the present day. Bodybuilders such as Greg Kovacs attained mass and size never seen previously but were not successful at the pro level. Others were renowned for their spectacular development of a particular body part, like Tom Platz or Paul Demayo for their leg muscles. At the time of shooting Pumping Iron, Schwarzenegger (while never admitting to steroid use until long after his retirement) said that "you have to do anything you can to get the advantage in competition". He would later say that he does not regret using anything.
Comer has an athletic build that comes from years of martial arts and marathon training, not to mention amateur competitive bodybuilding, activities that have taken a toll on her now bandaged 40-something-year-old knees. — Quanta Magazine, "The Art of Teaching Math and Science," 16 June 2019 Teresa Giudice, who's best known as a personality on Bravo's Real Housewives of New Jersey, competed in her first bodybuilding contest Saturday. — Carly Mallenbaum, USA TODAY, "'Real Housewives' star Teresa Giudice shows off new muscles at bodybuilding competition," 10 June 2018 His first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, suggested in an interview with Time magazine, with little evidence other than his penchant for bodybuilding and mirror-gazing, that Omar Mateen could have been gay. — Tim Fitzsimons /, NBC News, "What really happened that night at Pulse," 12 June 2018 The physique competition will be held at McGlohon Theater and includes the following categories: bodybuilding, fitness, men’s physique, figure, bikini, classic physique and women’s physique. — Courtney Devores, charlotteobserver, "Your 5-minute guide to the best things to do in Charlotte | June 22-28," 21 June 2018 Fans who have been following Giudice closely on social media have watched the reality star workout in videos, but Giudice hasn't posted publicly about her first bodybuilding competition. — Carly Mallenbaum, USA TODAY, "'Real Housewives' star Teresa Giudice shows off new muscles at bodybuilding competition," 10 June 2018 Carolyn Marvin, who served as the graduate adviser for both Prosper and Nirenberg, pointed to his thesis, an autoethnography about the subculture of bodybuilding. — Josh Baugh, San Antonio Express-News, "Nirenberg knew immediately that he’d eventually marry Erika Prosper," 17 Mar. 2018 The bodybuilding competition is one of two hosted produced each year in Louisville by Kentucky Muscle promoter Brent L. Jones. — Matt Stone, The Courier-Journal, "Bodybuilders, fitness athletes go flex at 2018 KDF Derby Championships," 29 Apr. 2018 Father John Brown is basically a bodybuilding legend, having won two Mr. Universe titles and three Mr. World crowns. — Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Facts you may have missed about each Packers draft choice in 2018," 4 May 2018
Some bodybuilders use drugs such as anabolic steroids and precursor substances such as prohormones to increase muscle hypertrophy. Anabolic steroids cause hypertrophy of both types (I and II) of muscle fibers, likely caused by an increased synthesis of muscle proteins. They also provoke undesired side effects including hepatotoxicity, gynecomastia, acne, the early onset of male pattern baldness and a decline in the body's own testosterone production, which can cause testicular atrophy. Other performance-enhancing substances used by competitive bodybuilders include human growth hormone (HGH), which can cause acromegaly.
The high levels of muscle growth and repair achieved by bodybuilders require a specialized diet. Generally speaking, bodybuilders require more calories than the average person of the same weight to provide the protein and energy requirements needed to support their training and increase muscle mass. In preparation of a contest, a sub-maintenance level of food energy is combined with cardiovascular exercise to lose body fat. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are the three major macronutrients that the human body needs in order to build muscle. The ratios of calories from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats vary depending on the goals of the bodybuilder.
Due to the growing concerns of the high cost, health consequences, and illegal nature of some steroids, many organizations have formed in response and have deemed themselves "natural" bodybuilding competitions. In addition to the concerns noted, many promoters of bodybuilding have sought to shed the "freakish" perception that the general public has of bodybuilding and have successfully introduced a more mainstream audience to the sport of bodybuilding by including competitors whose physiques appear much more attainable and realistic.
Sandow was so successful at flexing and posing his physique that he later created several businesses around his fame, and was among the first to market products branded with his name. He was credited with inventing and selling the first exercise equipment for the masses: machined dumbbells, spring pulleys, and tension bands. Even his image was sold by the thousands in "cabinet cards" and other prints. Sandow was a perfect "Gracilian", a standard of ideal body proportions close to those of ancient Greek and Roman statues. Men's physiques were then judged by how closely they matched these proportions.