Natural bodybuilding is the same as regular bodybuilding but without the drugs.
No steroids, no ephedrine, no growth hormone, and no insulin. Just whey protein shakes, caffeine, and creatine. As you can imagine there is a lot of difference in size between a competitive bodybuilder and a natural bodybuilder.
To make things confusing we need to first address a big issue in natural bodybuilding. A lot of the most successful competitors in natural bodybuilding competitions are also on drugs.
Obviously they aren’t taking it to the same level as competitive bodybuilders (who end up looking nothing like a regular person), they still want to look ‘natural’ but that doesn’t mean they don’t take shortcuts.
Whilst natural bodybuilding competitions try to administer drug tests, it is really hard to catch someone.
or example Insulin is one of the most commonly abused performance enhancers in bodybuilding. But unless you can catch someone within an hour of them taking it, you will have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that they did.
Also the competition cannot afford to take too many tests, and certainly cannot afford random drug tests. So a natural bodybuilder who wants to win a competition can very easily take what they like!
But there are thousands of very good natural bodybuilders who don’t cheat, and we are going to look at how their training is different to steroid users.
Natural lifters can’t train like a juicer
Thanks to all the drugs that they take, steroid taking bodybuilders (juicers) are able to use a really high volume when they train.
Due to the high levels of testosterone in their system, juicers can manage to exercise a lot more because their body has increased muscle protein synthesis.
This means that their body can repair and rebuild a lot more damaged muscle fibres.
A guy with regular testosterone levels would not be able to keep up with this, and as a result his muscles break down at a faster rate than they can be repaired. This can lead to catabolism of muscles (wastage), or it would do if anyone ever did manage to train with the same level of volume.
Remember you aren’t looking to achieve the same level of hypertrophy as a bodybuilder, so you don’t need to exercise as much. This is a valuable point, as many natural lifters have it the other way round.
They believe that because they aren’t taking the drugs, that they need to work twice as hard. Wrong, forget about competing to that standard it’s impossible. If you want to train like a juicer then you need to be taking steroids.
Instead you should follow natural lifters, let them be your new idols. Follow their programs, you’ll find that they mostly train full body, or push/pull. They also keep resistance workouts to 45-60 minutes, rather than the 3-4 hours that non-natural bodybuilders take.
Natural lifters must concentrate on recovery
One of the biggest reasons why growth hormone was so popular in competitive sports was that it sped up injury recovery.
Also, due to the effect that ridiculously high levels of testosterone and HGH on muscle protein synthesis a steroid taker would be able to train again after the kind of session that would leave a regular person unable to move for six days due to DOMS.
So as a natural bodybuilder you are going to need to concentrate on your recovery in a way that a steroid user wouldn’t.
Increasing dietary protein is a great place to start, athletes require twice as much as regular people . This will help increase the rates of muscle protein synthesis, which will help your recovery.
You could also look into taking Omega-3 supplements, a study in 2011 found that they had a positive effect on post exercise muscle soreness. There’s also loads of other benefits to Omega-3 supplementation such as heart health, but that’s a topic for another article.
Improving your sleep quality and duration is also a great way to 1) improve sporting (lifting) performance and 2) increase testosterone naturally.
A study by Mah et al (2011) found that extending sleep led to improved performance in collegiate basketball players . This means that increasing your sleep by an hour or two could help you to perform better in the weights room.
A 2010 study on sleeps effect on testosterone found that there was a correlation between bad sleep and low testosterone, so if you are a natural lifter you will need that extra rest for a testosterone boost!
Diet is different for both steroid users and non-steroid users
This is a tough distinction to make, on the one hand a steroid taker can get away with more calories than a natural lifter, this is because steroids increase your metabolism.
Steroid takers will also most likely be taking other performance enhancing drugs. For example Clenbuterol is used by bodybuilders as a really effective fat-burner. Natural lifters don’t have that same option available to them.
On the other hand, the stakes are much higher in competitive bodybuilding. Because of the increased fame and fortune available the competition is a lot fiercer. So you are unlikely to see a competitive bodybuilder eating worse than a natural bodybuilder.
In practical terms the diet of a bodybuilder and a natural bodybuilder would be very similar. Lots of protein, lots of carbs, and minimal fat.
The calorie targets would be different due to competitive bodybuilders being bigger, and burning more calories (through extended workouts, a higher metabolism, and the use of very efficient illegal fat burners).
There are a lot of similarities between the two types of bodybuilding. You lift a lot of weight with both, you take in a lot of protein, you dedicate your life to achieving your goals.
But the differences lie in the risks taken by steroid users – both health related, and legal risks.
Whilst a natural lifter knows that they are doing something that is very beneficial for their body, a non-natural lifter cannot make the same statement. Insulin use, dangerous fat-burners, and huge doses of testosterone are not medically advised and it is probably not too surprising that a lot of juicers die of heart failure way before their time.
There is one myth that should be laid to rest though, steroid users may be ‘cheating’ but that does not mean they have worked any less than a natural lifter.
In fact it would be accurate to say that they have worked harder – because of the use of drugs they have been able to train for hours per day. They’ve earned their physique, but ultimately is it worth it?
 Tarnopolsky, M., Atkinson, S., MacDougall, J., Chesley, A., Phillips, S., Schwarcz, H. 1992. Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes. Journal of Applied Physiology 73(5): 1986-95
 Jouris, K., McDaniel, J., Weiss, E. 2011. The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise. The Journal of Sport Science & Medicine 10(3): 432-438
 Mah, C., Mah, K., Kezirian, E., Dement, W. 2011. The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. Sleep 34(7): 943-950