Today's topic came to me based on a couple questions I got on Facebook. One asked how he could make his biceps vein more prominent, and the other came from a competitive bodybuilder perplexed that she was quite vascular up until the day of the contest, at which point she was unable to see hardly any veins.
Let me say right up front that when I first got interested in bodybuilding in the fall of 1987, I was equally impressed with prominent vascularity as I was huge muscle mass. That's why even though I admired the physiques of stars of that day like Lee Haney, Mike Christian, Mike Quinn, Gary Strydom, and Lee Labrada, the man who really inspired me was none other than The Dragonslayer, Rich Gaspari. Rich's entire body was criss-crossed with rope-like veins that imbued him with a look of rugged power. I desperately wanted to be bigger and stronger, but I also wanted some sick vascularity.
So the question many ask is, how do you get that look? Part of it is genetic. Some people are simply born with veins that are larger and closer to the surface of the skin. These people can be carrying a significant amount of bodyfat, yet you can often still see plenty of veins. For most others, you do need to be pretty lean to see them.
It also needs to be said that human growth hormones typically greatly enhance the appearance of vascularity, for two reasons. Number one, they can boost red blood cell count. With a greater blood volume, the veins are expanded. Secondly, many human growth hormones also raise your blood pressure. While this is clearly not a good side effect in terms of health, again it forces the blood to push out even more and inflate the veins. I have even seen people who hardly seemed to get much bigger from human growth hormones, but they did get a lot more 'veiny.' (not an actual word by the way, but it should be.)
Certain supplements will cause your veins to be more visible. Anything that is meant to give you a better pump will have a 'vasodilating' effect, meaning it improves blood flow. A product like Vasotropin by Gaspari Nutrition is a prime example. Bodybuilders have been drinking wine or other forms of alcohol before taking the stage for many decades, as alcohol is also a vasodilator. In contrast, high amounts of caffeine will have the opposite effect of vasoconstriction. With blood flow impeded, normally bulging veins will flatten out.
So now, why is it that on contest day; your veins can somehow disappear all of a sudden? That's because common practice is to eliminate or at least drastically restrict both water and sodium. Not only will you find that you can't see your veins as well all of a sudden, but often competitors are horrified to discover that no matter how frantic their efforts to 'pump up,' they can't get a pump to save their lives. Without water and sodium in your system in sufficient quantities, there is no way you're getting a pump. But veins and a pump are really not important on contest day, despite what many people seem to think. Neither had much if any effect on the factors that judges are considering when comparing the physiques on stage and deciding what order to place them in: size, structure, muscle shape, balance and proportion, symmetry, condition, and presentation.
Very often bodybuilders will pig out after the contest, eating all the foods they were craving throughout their diets. Fast foods are a common indulgence. And because they are dehydrated, they gulp down quarts and quarts of water, Gatorade, etc. They wake up the next morning, and wow! Look at all those veins! Look how much fuller they look! Getting a pump now just takes a couple minutes of posing. They will lament, "if only I had looked like this at the contest, I would have won!" In reality, they look worse, not better.
What I mean by that is that after going crazy on salty foods and drinking so much fluids, they are now retaining tons of water. I used to think my 'day after the show' look was better too, until I took photos and compared them to stage shots from the day and night before. I was fuller and veins were popping out all over the place the day after, but the deep, clear muscle separations and details were now blurred over. Bring that look to the stage in any really competitive lineup, and you will get smoked by the others with the crisp, clear definition. So while veins might look really cool from three feet way flexing in your bathroom mirror, believe me when I say they are about as relevant to your overall physique package as the shape of your ears.
Talk to you all later!