Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dorian Yates: what do they all have in common? Yes, they’re all legendary, Mr. Olympia-winning bodybuilders, but also, they all have at least one divorce to their name. Coincidence?
Nobody collects data on divorce rates among bodybuilders, but someone definitely should, because anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly suggests that bodybuilders and relationships just don’t mix. And it’s not hard to see why. For a lot of people, having a partner who spends most of their time at the gym and the rest of it prepping the up to seven meals a day they eat isn’t exactly ideal. It’s also not easy to date someone who doesn’t drink, or go to bars, clubs or restaurants (i.e. where a lot of dates happen) that often, and certainly doesn’t go to them during the competitive season. And is anyone really signing up for a relationship with someone whose libido drops off a cliff for at least a month each year? Probably not.
“Bodybuilding,” says three-time 212 Olympian, John Jewett, “is a selfish endeavor. You’re making sacrifices yourself, but whoever you have in your life, whether it's your spouse, girlfriend or your friends, they're making those same sacrifices along with you.
“In previous relationships it was almost viewed as you just work out, like it’s a hobby, but it's not, this is a passion and purpose in my life; it's something that really defines me, and if it's not recognised as that, it can be brushed off as insignificant,” he says. “Eventually, that builds up into resentment and arguments and that's why relationships don't end up working out.”
Jewett explains that to get to the top in professional bodybuilding you have to embrace consistent monotony. That means you have to be prepared to follow the right diet, do the right workouts and take the right supplementation. You have to make sure your sleep is on point, day after day, month after month and year after year. Everything in your life has to revolve around the sport, because that’s what will separate the so-so from the superstars. “Bodybuilding is just 24/7 all involving,” says Jewett.
Making that kind of commitment is difficult enough when you only have yourself to worry about, but when you’re in a relationship and your needs aren’t always going to take precedence: forget about it.
The Problem with Prep
Bodybuilding is a selfish sport, but that’s not the only thing that stops competitors from finding love. As former IFBB pro bodybuilder and host of the Real Bodybuilding Podcast Fouad Abiad explains, the sheer size of a bodybuilder can also be a barrier to romance.
While most of us assume that going to the gym makes you more attractive, he says there is a tipping point and “the spectrum of women that want to be with a guy that weighs 230, 40, 50 pounds and is shredded or lean, shrinks dramatically."
For any partners that aren't put off by size or selfishness, the final test of a relationship usually comes as a bodybuilder is prepping for a show, when a combination of hunger, fatigue and stress can extinguish even the most intense flame.
“I got together with my [now] wife in the offseason and we're going for dinners and everything’s great,” Abiad explains. “Mood swings are very low and everything's normal because you're eating, you're not starving and there's no pressure for a contest, so your brain is functioning normally. Then I started prepping for the contest.
“I become very isolated when I compete, so this person who was very emotional, very giving and was having an awesome relationship with my [now] wife all of a sudden became this very quiet hermit, who was not talkative, looked angry half the time and was stressed the fuck out.
“My wife was taken back. She's like, 'Who's this person?' Because I would get moody and I would get quiet and I would leave the house a couple of times a day just to go train and get out of the house.”
Not that the prep stage of a contest just makes bodybuilders, like Abiad and Jewett, quieter and less sociable. When hunger and fatigue set in the desire for sex and intimacy tends to dip out too.
“Usually around four weeks from the contest,” says Abiad, “it's not that I don't have a libido and I can't have sex, I just don't feel like I want to. I'm very low on energy. I'm hyper focused on the four weeks ahead of me and during that time, I just couldn’t care less. Like if I didn't have sex for the whole four weeks it wouldn't matter to me.
Abiad met his now wife, Sommer, when she was working for the sports nutrition brand, MuscleTech. Working in the industry, she had some understanding of the sport, but she had never competed and hadn’t been up close and personal with a bodybuilder in the weeks and months before a contest. Abiad admits that she had a tough time adjusting and the couple split for a year before reconciling. But if your partner has no knowledge or interest in bodybuilding whatsoever, as was the case with Jewett’s ex-wife, then things like the withdrawal of intimacy can be relationship killers.
“It looked like you would just lack interest and that you weren't attracted to your spouse or the person you're dating because you're not meeting their needs,” Jewett says. “But you don't have the inner drive to do it. You have to like really think about it and it's almost like working. If you tell the other person that it's offensive because they're like, ‘Well, I just want you to do it because you feel like doing it, because you love me.’
“It's like, of course I love you, but the level of discomfort that you have within prep, with hunger, fatigue, libido loss, you're just trying to manage your own self, and to do that for someone else too man, it's extremely taxing.”
Bodybuilder Dating Bodybuilder
Finding a suitable partner when you’re a bodybuilder isn’t just a men’s issue. There are plenty of female bodybuilders who have just as much trouble, if not more, finding someone to share their life with. Renee Jewett, Olympia Wellness competitor and John’s wife, says that men can get very jealous and very insecure about being with a woman who spends all of their free time at the gym.
“I have been in relationships where the other person was not a bodybuilder at all or really even a gym person,” says Renee, “and there was a lot of resentment on their part about the amount of time that I would spend in the gym. It was always like, 'Oh, you're going to the gym again? Why do you have to go to the gym again?' So needless to say that did not work out.”
John and Renee did what most outsiders would consider sensible. Having met in the gym – “Go figure,” he says – they started dating and eventually got married. Who better to understand what a bodybuilder wants and needs from a relationship than another bodybuilder, right?
“We understand how the other person feels when they're in the depths of prep and you're hungry and you don't have a lot of energy and you just want to sit there and be quiet, like the other person gets it,” he says.
And as for the lack of intimacy during prep, who needs it. “[During prep] we're more into looking at what pizza we're going to be eating next and that has more allure and sexiness to it than sex itself,” says Jewett. “We look forward to the offseason when we know we’ll have some intimacy return.”
Still, dating a fellow bodybuilder isn't for everyone, and even Jewett admits that when their schedules aren’t aligned, and one is prepping while the other is ‘relaxing’, life can get more complicated for them too. “It's easy to forget,” he says, “just how you feel when you're getting ready for a show. You forget what the calorie deficit and the starvation feels like because you're feeling good, so to be in the depths of it with them. It helps a lot.”
On his podcast, Abiad describes a house where one bodybuilder is competing and the other isn’t as “hell." Instead, he prefers being in a relationship with someone who understands the sport but also has their own thing going on, which is what he’s found in Sommer.
After some failed attempts both Abiad and the Jewetts found love with a partner who understands exactly what they had to sacrifice to be a professional bodybuilder. They all say that their careers have benefited from having a significant other in their corner, and while they had to overcome a number of hurdles – finding someone who loved their size, could stand their moods and wasn’t put off by a short spell without sex – they’ve found that having a someone else there with them is definitely an advantage in a sport that can be pretty lonely.
But that’s not to say that they aren’t looking forward to the day when their lives are a little less regimented and the need for constant monotony is reduced a little. “I picture us on a beach just sipping margaritas,” says Jewett.
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