Survival of the Fittest

Planet Muscle publisher Jeff Everson isn't afraid to tackle the truth about bodybuilding supplements. Sort of.

Connelly can cite some grim facts regarding the use of illegal steroids and hormones. But if you really want a clear image of what massive amounts of chemicals can do to the human body, you need to watch a bodybuilding competition.


The Olympia contest was founded in 1965 by the Weider brothers. It has been held all over the world: Germany, South Africa, Australia, England, Italy, New York.

Since 1999, the Olympia has been held in Las Vegas, an ideal location. Vegas is all about big facades, brilliant larger-than-life aesthetics that can never entirely hide an undercurrent of desperation and loss. Visiting bodybuilders walking down the Vegas Strip past shimmering casinos look as if they belong here, gambling with their bodies the way others do with mere money.

At the Ms. Olympia, Everson will present the first-place prize. But while he's not on official duty, he sits near the back of the Mandalay Bay events-center arena, far from the shmoozing of the VIP section. He is accompanied by a cheerfully outgoing aerobics instructor named Karen Jo Koumas -- his fiancée.

Everson's marriage to Cory did not survive the pressures of their power-couple relationship. They endured a high-profile divorce in 1993, a year before the breakup of the MET-Rx distributorship.

"Cory was a very reluctant superhero, and all along, she would have much rather had me be the star," Everson says. "But she had that talent; I did not. I believe there were pressures borne upon Cory she hid from me and did not bear up well under."

Koumas says she met Everson in a gym in Hawaii. In his magazine, Everson comes off as a cocky and dominating figure, but in person he is surprisingly mellow and introverted. Everson and Koumas were friends for a year before Everson even kissed her. When he finally did, Koumas says he hyperventilated.

"People think he's stuck up, but he's actually just very shy," Koumas says. "He doesn't really like big crowds. He likes to read a lot. He calls business deals 'plastic relationships.'"

The lights dim, and the Ms. Olympia competitors swagger into the spotlight. The contestants are enormous. Their muscles' muscles have muscles. And since they need to flex constantly during the show, there's a strained tension running though their bodies; their smiles are all gritted teeth. It quickly becomes clear that one of the evening's winners will be Destiny's Child: The band's hit song "Survivor" is the obvious favorite, used repeatedly by the contestants in their flexing routines. It is tougher to choose a winner among the oily women competing to be Ms. Olympia, especially once you know what they've done to get on the stage.

In the weeks prior to the competition, a bodybuilder -- male or female -- will do nothing but eat, sleep and pump iron. They'll overfeed, then drain their muscle tissue of all water and salts, using diuretics to acquire a shredded look. They'll do this over and over. The contents and timing of every meal, drink and chemical prior to competition is meticulously planned to ensure maximum bulk and definition on the night of the Olympia. Backstage, competitors pump their muscles and apply oil. They have to time exactly how long they're going to be on stage so they don't "go flat" while standing in the spotlight.

Their chemical cocktails can include anabolic steroids, insulin, human growth hormones (HGH) and beta blockers. All of these drugs are officially banned by the International Federation of Bodybuilding, the contest's regulatory committee.

The side effects can be horrific. The effects of HGH include heart disease and gigantism -- typified by enlarged hands, feet, jaws and internal organs, while the use of steroids can cause cancer, sterility, blood clotting, hypertension, cholesterol changes, acne and "'roid rage," or increased aggression. Men's testicles shrink. In women, the clitoris grows. Muscle Elegance, a magazine devoted to nude pictorials of female bodybuilders, contains photos showing their enlarged genitalia. Quips Everson, "At least it's easy to find."

In Planet Muscle, Everson rallies against what he calls "steroid training protocols" -- workouts published in muscle magazines that are based on the routines of pro-bodybuilders.

"[The magazines are] so unrealistic for the average working man who wants to improve his body," he says. "He picks up these magazines and reads about somebody whose workout is that of Mr. Olympia. It has no relevancy at all and, in fact, it's detrimental."

At the climax of the Ms. Olympia contest, the bodybuilders stand in a row as the names of the winners are announced. As each name is read, different factions of the crowd boo loudly, a routine occurrence in bodybuilding contests.

After the Ms. Olympia contest concludes, the Mandalay Bay parking garage is full of angry, squealing tires and the smell of impatiently burned rubber. Everson retires to his hotel with Koumas. But for some of the crowd, the party is just beginning.


You know that glaring guy at the nightclub, the steroidal-looking fellow who's about medium height or shorter? He wears black pants and an extra-tight ribbed V-neck shirt. Sometimes he wears a single gold or silver chain, and he always has close-cropped hair set tight with styling gel. He carries a cell phone. He's clean-shaven, encircled by a perimeter of cologne, and is often accompanied by a couple of friends who are exactly like him.

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