Natural bodybuilding and regular bodybuilding have many things in common, they both involve thousands of hours of hard work and discipline, they are both much more difficult to do then people believe, and they have both got a long history with drug use.
The basic idea is that the professional bodybuilders can take steroids whilst natural bodybuilders are drug free, but it is much more complicated than that.
Firstly, whilst steroid taking is accepted as happening it cannot be condoned by the tournament organisers as taking steroids is illegal.
Nor would any bodybuilder be able to go out and say “yes I take steroids” without risking their careers and even their freedom.
So at the moment we have two competitions, one in which competitors take drugs but can't talk about it, and another where competitors aren't supposed to take drugs (but almost certainly do too).
It would be quite interesting to ask a professional bodybuilder what the difference between them and a natural bodybuilder is, because they wouldn't be able to say “They don't take drugs“.
Anyway, as was mentioned earlier the grey area separating the two becomes even more vague when you consider that natural bodybuilders are also taking drugs.
Yep that's right, the majority of successful natural bodybuilders will have taken drugs at some point.
This is not to tar all natural bodybuilders with the same brush, some people would choose to compete drug-free and would therefore compete in natural contests.
But others would take as many drugs as they could get away with (and with the low standards of testing that would be roughly ALL the drugs) to give themselves a better chance of winning.
Sadly these people will be more likely to win, and therefore more likely to be successful and well known.
Another thing to note is that different natural competitions allow different types of drugs to be used, this sounds crazy but with new supplements coming out all the time it is pretty hard for everyone involved to keep on top of which ones are banned and which ones are not.
Strictly speaking would taking high doses of caffeine, or creatine, or even whey protein be considered natural? Probably not, but they're legal.
Ephedrine used to be sold in pharmacies but is now banned in the US and UK, so there was a time when competitions would allow this drug and now they can't.
These are all grey areas that further muddy the difference between natural and unnatural bodybuilders.
Is taking 20 different supplements per day in any way natural? Probably not.
If natural lifters are taking illegal drugs and lying about it and unnatural lifters are taking illegal drugs and lying about it, where is the difference?
One way that they are different is in the expected physiques, if one of the pro bodybuilders entered a natural competition they would stick out like a sore thumb (or would that be a chemically enhanced thumb?).
There is no denying that pro bodybuilders have changed their physique to the point where it does not in any way look natural. Whereas the natural lifter would unquestionably have a body that could be seen as more normal looking.
These days natural bodybuilders will almost seem closer to fitness models in terms of looks then Pro Bodybuilders (and that's saying something). It's not like they are trying to attain a lean look, it's just that natural hypertrophy can only go so far and if they look too unnatural then they would raise more suspicion than they would want.
The Bottom Line
One thing needs to be made clear, if someone enters into a natural bodybuilding competition this does not automatically meant that they are taking drugs.
Sadly there will always be a suspicion as so many natural bodybuilders are cheating drugs tests (that's when tests are taken at all). But non-natural bodybuilders are definitely taking drugs. This is the main difference between the two.
If you are looking to compete as a bodybuilder then you do have options, but obviously the safest option and best (for your health) would be to train as a natural bodybuilder – and actually do it that way.
Follow the rules of the competition (each competition can have completely different banned lists) and enjoy bodybuilding as it should be.
If you are looking to compete as a bodybuilder but are not prepared to potentially risk your life then natural bodybuilding is still the better option for you personally. But you do have to look at the moral issues, it is absolutely a form of cheating – even if most of the other guys around you are also cheating.
Finally if your only goal is to get as big as you possibly can and nothing else matters then you can look into unnatural bodybuilding.
Just make sure that you know exactly what you are doing and are aware of all the risks.
Also be prepared for the ‘supplement‘ bills. You can't put Clenbuterol as a tax exemption!