Ha! I bet you guys didn't think I could do a fitness/philosophy crossover piece, did you? In all seriousness, that's what I want to attempt to do this week. Mainly I'd like to cover the ethical implications of getting huge.
Many lifting sports have become a fetishization of mass in ways that they previously weren't. Bodybuilding used to be about lean, defined physiques. Now, it's also about being as big as humanly possible while still being cut. I've already argued that I don't find it attractive: being as big as humanly possible isn't aesthetically appealing to me, and I'd prefer a Schwarzenegger over a Coleman or a Cutler any day. But in addition to that, getting that big requires even stricter and more ridiculous diet regimens than even lower weight class bodybuilders have to deal with. Just to get that big they have to spend hours a day exercising and many more hours per day cooking and eating all the food that they need to maintain that mass. They need large quantities of lean protein, and so consume massive amounts of fish, chicken, and other lean meats to get the energy that they need.
Competitive lifters are just as bad. Strongmen don't need to maintain the leanness of bodybuilders, so they have a lot more flexibility in their diet, but this often just means eating non-lean meat and other, less healthy high-calorie energy sources in order to put on as much weight as possible. The exact same thing also happens with heavyweight powerlifting and olympic lifting. As I've remarked before, strength is more about neuromuscular adaptation than it is about actual muscle mass. This means that lifting more will generally make you stronger even if your body composition doesn't change at all. It also means that there's a greater correlation between adaptation and strength than there is between body mass and strength. As such, lighter lifters are always stronger pound for pound while heavier lifters are always stronger overall. For example, the raw powerlifting total record for the 132 pound class is 1375 (over ten times bodyweight!) while the raw powerlifting total record for the heavyweight class (308+) is 2215, at best a little over seven times bodyweight (and likely much worse, since the sky is the limit). (See http://www.powerliftingwatch.com/yearly-rankings/men-alltime)
Yet these sports still often place a great emphasis on mass. Strongman, the sport of 'getting it up any way you can', doesn't care about efficiency. It only focuses on brute, end strength. It doesn't care about efficiency or strength relative to bodyweight, it only cares about maximal strength, so competitors must typically put on as much mass as possible in order to be competitive. Lighter competitors could potentially perform at similarly impressive strength levels, but this isn't important; the only thing that's important is that bottom line.
The diets of lifters in every lifting sport thus require massive amounts of calories, more proteins than the average person, and more importantly these calories are often wasted: in many cases, little effort is made to encourage responsible and efficient lifting, which is to say lifting at a lower overall weight. The vast majority of lifters have no real competitive goals and thus essentially run through calories as a pastime. That's not to say that there aren't different body types, and many people fall naturally into certain weight categories, just that it's hard to imagine anyone who becomes a 350 pound lifter by accident.
This could be a problem because their eating habits shore up largely corrupt and inefficient methods of food production. The meat industry, as any vegetarian can tell you, is in a dire place. The rearing of beef and pork in particular is awful, requiring massive amounts of feed and contributing to global warming with excess greenhouse gases produced. Lean meats such as bodybuilders consume are often more environmentally friendly, but the rearing methods for chickens and turkeys are also more repulsive and cruel to the animals themselves. Fisherman are paid by the catch, so they have no reason not to constantly try to catch more fish; this leads to overfishing and the decimation of natural fish populations, particularly when there's a lot of demand for specific fish, as with salmon. Alternative methods of obtaining clean meat are often expensive and thus unavailable to the general public, and since lifting isn't a high-paying job, this means that lifters are likely to be unable to afford them either.
Further, I've read an article (unfortunately, I can't remember where) that argues that within the next fifty years we may be forced into vegetarianism by a combination of population growth and the massive demand for meat that we currently sustain. The meat industry would be forced to scale back dramatically, or potentially vanish altogether, as the article argues. In a counter argument, one analyst points out that with responsible edits to our current system we could raise beef and pork on much more sustainable diets and thus dramatically cut back on their impact on the ecosystem. However, it can't be denied that there are currently plenty of issues with the system.
Vegetarianism in and of itself isn't such a bad thing. I've always been a balanced and responsible meat eater, and I still laugh at many of the idiotic, rabid vegetarians out there, but for many people vegetarianism really can be a superior diet. That's not to say it's perfect, by any means, as it still contains grain products, some of the most nutrient-devoid calorie-dense foods around. At the very least it's a bit harder to screw up, whereas it's much easier to screw up a meat-eating diet by eating all the wrong kinds of meat. There's plenty of evidence that our current understanding of nutrition is somewhat flawed, and that many athletes can still be competitive while cutting meat out of their diets, including bodybuilders. However, we can be certain that if vegetarianism did take over, there would be a huge shift in our standards in judging aesthetics.
Then of course, there's the social irresponsibility of unnecessary eating in a world in which we already fail to meet our eating standards. While super heavy weight lifters in developed countries gorge themselves over ultimately petty goals like lifting slightly heavier weights, the poor and those in developing countries don't even get the food that they need to survive. Of course, this is an apples to oranges argument: the existence of infrastructure that provides for food availability in developed countries doesn't in any way translate to providing food for starving people in developing countries, and therefore whether or not I eat an extra piece of chicken in the United States may have little to no bearing on the availability of food in Africa or India. But does this make it any more right?
Sites like liftbigeatbig.com, for example, are a great source of alternative nutrition information and healthy weight consciousness, and of course they provide a lot of great advice for future strongmen. But at the same time, they are strongmen. In order to eat the number of calories they need daily, they have had to fetishize the process of eating itself, making it just as important (if not more so) than lifting. In some ways, it seems like an over-correction; out of the frying pan of undereating and into the fire of overeating.
This is not to suggest that all lifters should stop eating and shrink down into Bruce Lee's weight overnight. I myself went from roughly 170 to 200 pounds within the past year by vastly increasing my calorie intake, and I've maintained this weight ever since, partly because I consider this an ideal weight. But in comparison with many of the other lifters, I'm pretty tame; if I have to spend a lot of time focused on eating just to maintain 200 pounds, imagine how much effort strongmen have to put into it! The point is, I can't imagine myself wanting to get too much heavier (I've considered jumping up to 220, but have held off due to personal financial concerns), or really needing to, ever. People's body types and natural weights differ, but no one should have to put on massive poundage above and beyond their natural weight for the sake of lifting a few more pounds. I am also not a vegetarian and have no stake in the vegetarian diet; I simply wish to encourage responsible dietary patterns while still enabling people to enjoy themselves in the gym. My concern is more economic/social than anything else.
As long as lifting continues in its current state, it upholds some of the unpleasant aspects of the capitalist system and serves as hegemonic. If we became more accepting of other dietary patterns within lifting sports, we can open the way for the increased participation of newer sections of the population formerly discouraged from doing so by their dietary procedures. This includes women, vegetarians, vegans, and even those following the standard balanced diet, who are often discouraged by more hardcore lifters with their absurd dietary plans. If we open up the way for more people, then pockets of privilege and disadvantage can vanish, and lifting can develop to be more in line with standard populations and more in accord with who can put the most effort into their training. We can cut out some of the bullshit, and leave more space for lifting.