Bodybuilding: Varicose Veins Or Vascularity?

Bodybuilding: Varicose Veins Or Vascularity?

What Is Bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding is loosely defined as a physical activity that involves controlled, progressive strength training exercises to develop muscular definition in the body. More often than not, individuals interested in fitness, figure, and bikini competitions with organizations such as the International Federation of Body Builders (IFFB), National Physique Committee (NPC), National Gym Association (NGA), and MuscleMania, do bodybuilding to develop an aesthetically pleasing and balanced physique.

The preparations involved in competitive bodybuilding vary depending on the competition itself. Some competitions emphasize a physical display of the person’s physique through different poses while other events focus on physical strength in conjunction with muscular definition. For many years, competitive bodybuilders received criticism for attaining a body mass and size that was not considered natural or healthy. In the late 1970s, it was determined many of these competitors were using anabolic and androgenic steroids.

While doping tests and other precautionary measures were put in place to deter the use of steroids for bodybuilding competitions, many bodybuilders continued using them to ensure an advantage over their competitors. It wasn’t until the U.S. Congress developed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 when the use of anabolic steroids started to die down.

Today, bodybuilders implement three strategies to maximize their muscle hypertrophy: strength training, specialized nutrition, and dietary supplements. They also make sure they are getting enough rest in between exercises to promote muscle growth.

Vascularity In Bodybuilding

Vascularity is a bodybuilding term that describes having many prominent, highly visible superficial veins. People affected by this condition often have skin that appears "thin” within bulging, ropey veins. This is largely due to the extreme reduction of subcutaneous fat in the body, which allows for maximum muscle definition. 

It is said that a week or two before a bodybuilding contest, competitors make certain changes in their diet to increase the visibility of their veins. For example, they may decrease their water, sodium, and carbohydrate consumption to retain water in the body and reduce glycogen in the muscles. About a day before their show, they may stop drinking water completely and load up on carbohydrates to increase the size of their muscles. To increase the vascularity effect, tanning products and oils may be used in conjunction with a fast weight training session to help veins appear more prominent.

Vascularity Vs. Varicose Veins 

While professional, competitive bodybuilders are known for their vascularity, they aren’t the only ones showing prominent veins these days—athletes, active adults, and people with certain genetics are prone to protruding veins too! Nevertheless, vascularity in bodybuilding is a very controversial topic. Inspectors judge competitors harshly if they don’t display superficial veins, which may cause some bodybuilders to use medications to dilate their blood vessels, according to Iron Man Magazine (

Bodybuilders may also use diuretics to gain more noticeable veins. These practices are not considered “grounds” for disqualification by some bodybuilding associations, but they can be detrimental to a competitor’s health! Regardless, many people question whether or not these veins indicate the presence of varicose veins, a common vein disease that causes blood to flow backward within the veins.

Despite some of the unfortunate quests to gain prominent veins, the vascularity seen in bodybuilders is generally a direct result of low subcutaneous body fat. Because bodybuilders dedicate much of their time to perfecting their body through diet and exercise, their body fat percentages are relatively low. This, in turn, causes their veins to appear superficial against the skin. Ultimately, what you see in a bodybuilder is not varicose veins, but prominent veins from low body fat.

However, there is a type of vascularity that is present in bodybuilders that are not considered healthy, and that is varicose veins. Despite some of the earlier comments, it is possible for bodybuilders to have varicose veins, which is why this topic is hotly debated. To understand what causes varicose veins, you first have to recognize how veins work. 

Healthy blood vessels and veins carry blood to the heart. If everything is in working order, your blood will cycle through your body in one general direction. When small leaflet valves fail, however, your blood gets carried backward in the veins, which raises your blood pressure and ultimately thins the walls of your veins. This inadvertently causes varicose veins.

Varicose veins may be common in bodybuilders for the following reasons:

  • Hormone imbalances caused by anabolic drugs
  • Certain styles of training, i.e. standing on the feet, diet, exercise, etc.
  • Genetics resulting in excess estrogen<strong "> 

The difference between vascularity and varicose veins are how they make your body feel. People with prominent veins experience no adverse effects while individuals with varicose veins experience symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Itchy skin around the veins
  • Leg cramps
  • Heaviness and achy sensations in the legs after a workout
  • Skin ulcer (severe cases)

Studies have indicated anabolic drugs may play the most significant role in the development of varicose veins. Steroids can become estrogen in the body through the actions of the enzyme aromatase. Additionally, older men in the sport tend to lose muscle and gain fat as they age, which predisposes them to higher estrogen counts. Over time, varicose veins may develop from the greater concentration of estrogen and low levels of testosterone found in the body.

Still, certain training styles and genetics can also lead to varicose veins in bodybuilders, so steroids are not always to blame for this phenomenon.

All in all, bodybuilders with prominent veins should consider getting them evaluated by a vein specialist, like the ones at Palm Vein Center. Bodybuilders should also keep in mind the risk associated with taking medications and steroids, or changing their diet, just to achieve vascularity. Call Palm Vein Center today to discuss treatment options for varicose veins. Our team will perform a physical examination and various diagnostic tests to determine whether or not you’re veins are a sign of vascularity or varicose veins.

The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.

For more information on vein diseases and the treatments provided by the specialists at Palm Vein Center or to make an appointment, call 623-201-4777. We look forward to meeting you!