Psychobehavioral characteristics of competitive bodybuilders: A longitudinal study

Mark T. Suffolk *, Terence M. Dovey **, Huw Goodwin *** and Caroline Meyer ****

(*) North Dakota State University, USA
(**) Brunel University ,UK
(***) Loughborough University, UK
(****) University of Warwick, UK


T. Suffolk, M., M. Dovey, T., Goodwin, H., Meyer, C. (2015). Psychobehavioral characteristics of competitive bodybuilders: A longitudinal study. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 46(2), 117-136. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2015.46.117


Competitive bodybuilding is associated with the development of eating pathology, poor social functioning, heightened anxiety, and pathological exercise regimes. This longitudinal study examined competitive bodybuilders (CBs) to assess the severity and temporal stability of these variables during the course of a competitive bodybuilding season. At six time-points throughout the 10-month testing phase, 78 participants in three equal age matched groups of CBs, recreational weight trainers, and non-exercisers, completed validated measures of eating and exercise behaviors, quality of social functioning, and anxiety symptomatology. Selfreport inventories were completed for five consecutive months during competition preparation, and one month after completion of the competitive season. Pre-competition, CBs reported increased disordered eating and a greater commitment to exercise. Post-competition, the intensity of behaviors decreased to baseline levels. No between group differences emerged in the perceived quality of social functioning and levels of anxiety. The findings suggest that the behavioral strategies of CBs are cyclical. Consequently, conclusions drawn from cross-sectional data inferring temporally coherent impaired psychosocial functioning and eating disorder symptomatology may produce false-positives. Therefore, contextual and temporal factors are important research considerations when assessing the psychobehaviors of CBs.

Keywords: Competitive sport and exercise; competitive bodybuilding; psychological disturbance; exercise pathology; eating pathology