Excess breast tissue and what to do about it

If you are into the sport of bodybuilding, you may be worried about developing gynecomastia.

For bodybuilders, gynecomastia is a particular concern since the sport revolves around aesthetic appearance. These athletes often take anabolic steroids to maximize muscle growth, which can lead to gynecomastia due to subsequent hormonal imbalances.

This article breaks down everything you need to know about gynecomastia in bodybuilders.

Gynecomastia is the development of breast tissue in men. This can lead to a puffy, swollen, breast-like appearance in the chest and nipple area. The condition is generally harmless, although it can cause psychological and social distress in those who have it.

According to published research, gynecomastia is primarily caused by an increased circulating estrogen-to-androgen ratio (1).

Depending on the progression of the disease, gynecomastia can be reversed in the early stages. However, if the condition persists, the development of nonfatty breast tissue around the nipple area requires surgery to remove it or will otherwise be permanent.

It should be mentioned that gynecomastia specifically refers to the development of glandular tissue around your nipple area, although it can be confused with the storage of fat in the chest area.

Although gynecomastia can be accompanied by body fat around the breast, it is not the result of excess fatty tissue. It is a specific condition that can affect men of all fitness and body fat levels.


Gynecomastia is the physically harmless development of breast tissue in men. If it persists, it becomes permanent and surgery is needed to remove it.

Clinical studies list the symptoms of gynecomastia as enlargement of breast tissue around the pectoral area and nipple, with the presence of a firm, symmetrical rubbery mass that extends concentrically from the nipple.

This development is accompanied by the benign proliferation of glandular breast tissue (2).

As mentioned, gynecomastia can be accompanied by deposition of body fat in the same area. However, it is not a defining symptom of the disease.


Symptoms of gynecomastia include rubbery breast tissue in the nipple area and growth of glandular breast tissue.

While it’s hard to know exactly how often gynecomastia occurs in bodybuilders, it’s far from an isolated phenomenon.

A study of gynecomastia in bodybuilders claims that between 1980 and 2013 in the United States, 1,574 bodybuilders received surgical treatment for this condition (3).

According to additional research, it is estimated that 30-40% of men in the general population suffer from the disease (2).

All in all, it’s safe to say that gynecomastia is not an isolated phenomenon and is likely experienced by many male bodybuilders, especially those who use anabolic steroids.


Gynecomastia commonly affects bodybuilders, although the exact rate of occurrence is difficult to determine.

Studies suggest that there are many causes of gynecomastia, including several different prescription medications (4).

As mentioned, when gynecomastia appears in bodybuilders, it is usually caused by the use of anabolic steroids, such as exogenous derivatives of testosterone. Gynecomastia occurs due to the body’s attempt to eliminate circulating testosterone in response.

Estradiol, a type of estrogen hormone that leads to the development of female secondary sex characteristics, is one of the by-products of testosterone breakdown.

In the case of men with high estradiol, the result includes development and enlargement of breast tissue.

Gynecomastia can also be caused by certain over-the-counter medications and supplements. However, not all individuals experience these side effects.


Gynecomastia in bodybuilders is mainly a side effect of using anabolic steroids.

Exercise is sometimes used to treat gynecomastia. However, this approach is largely ineffective if you suffer from gynecomastia caused by glandular tissue growth, which is common when the condition is a side effect of anabolic steroid use.

Clinical gynecomastia involves the development of glandular tissue, which cannot be reduced by diet or exercise and must be treated with medical intervention.

Gynecomastia is primarily a medical condition and not an indicator of poor form or deconditioning, so exercise is generally not recommended as a specific treatment, although there are many other benefits of exercising. .

Note that excess fatty tissue in the chest area can lead to the development of gynecomastia even if you do not have clinical gynecomastia.

In this case, reducing overall body fat through a calorie deficit can be an effective approach. Exercise can help increase calorie expenditure and promote weight loss in conjunction with nutritional interventions.

On a related note, performing chest exercises can increase pectoral muscle mass, which can help develop a more chiseled chest appearance provided your body fat levels are low enough.

However, most bodybuilders with gynecomastia already perform chest exercises and have substantial amounts of pectoral muscle.


Exercise is not an effective treatment for clinical gynecomastia.

Many over-the-counter supplements are marketed as helpful in reducing gynecomastia. The presumed primary mechanisms are increased estrogen processing, which primarily means prevention of gynecomastia.

These supplements include:

To date, there is little peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of these supplements for the treatment of steroid-induced gynecomastia.

Additionally, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements the same way it regulates prescription drugs, and most claims about supplement effectiveness are unsupported. proofs.

Always consult your health care provider before taking any supplement, especially if your goal is to treat a medical condition.


There are no FDA approved supplements for the treatment of gynecomastia.

Treatment for gynecomastia varies depending on the underlying cause and the level of breast development.

For gynecomastia caused by anabolic steroid use, research supports the use of anti-estrogen drugs like tamoxifen to reduce the amount of estradiol caused by the breakdown of the anabolic steroid (1).

Nevertheless, once gynecomastia is established, only surgical removal of the breast tissue will cause the condition to be completely reversed.

This treatment must be performed by a qualified surgeon and involves removal of glandular tissue and liposuction of additional fatty tissue, if necessary.

Overall, surgical treatment for gynecomastia in bodybuilders is generally successful, with research showing that 98% of patients were satisfied with the cosmetic outcome of surgery (5).

Since gynecomastia due to the use of anabolic steroids is not a life-threatening condition, the primary goal is patient satisfaction with the final appearance of treatment.

Note that gynecomastia is only one side effect of anabolic steroid use, and other steroid side effects may be of greater physical health concern.


Early-stage gynecomastia can be treated with certain prescription medications. Surgical removal is the only effective treatment for fully developed gynecomastia.

Gynecomastia can cause significant psychological discomfort, especially in physique-oriented athletes.

Fortunately, the surgeries discussed earlier have high success rates.

Additionally, a few notable bodybuilders with gynecomastia have risen to the top of the sport.

For example, Lee Haney, the 1987 Mr. Olympia, had notable gynecomastia but was immensely successful in sports.

Additionally, Franco Columbu, the Mr. Olympia of 1981, dealt with significant gynecomastia during his career.

More recently Ronnie Coleman, one of the most successful bodybuilders in the history of the sport, had significant gynecomastia which was very noticeable around his left nipple when he zoomed in during his pose.

Note that when bodybuilders reach the low levels of body fat required for competition, gynecomastia appears primarily as puffy nipples as opposed to pronounced breast growth.

Either way, given the effectiveness of surgical treatments for bodybuilders with gynecomastia, there’s no reason the condition should prevent success in the sport of bodybuilding.


Several successful bodybuilders have had notable cases of gynecomastia.

Gynecomastia is a medical condition that affects many men. When bodybuilders are affected, it is usually a side effect of using anabolic steroids.

Although this type of gynecomastia is not life threatening, it can cause significant psychological and emotional distress, especially in such an aesthetically focused sport.

Fully developed clinical gynecomastia requires surgical treatment to remove glandular and fatty tissue. These surgeries have a high success rate and most patients say they are satisfied with the results.

Although the condition is troublesome and potentially distressing, it does not prevent success in the sport of bodybuilding, with many notable famous bodybuilders having treated the condition and competing at the highest levels of the sport.

If you are concerned about gynecomastia, consult a medical professional. Rest assured, the condition is quite common and completely treatable.

Teresa E. Burton