Imagine being paid to be a bodybuilder. Waking up every morning with “work” being food prep, a 2-hour gym session, and then a load of free supplements. It’s the dream of many a lifter, and for some, it is a reality. But can bodybuilding be a career? If so, how likely is it to occur?
Bodybuilding can be a lucrative career for a very small number of people, who would represent less than 1% of bodybuilders. But there are many bodybuilding-adjacent careers that you can choose instead. Personal training, contest prep, gym ownership, influencer, fitness writer are all jobs that combine bodybuilding with a steady paycheque.
If you are reading this article, then there is a good chance that you are considering bodybuilding as a career. I really don’t want to crush dreams or stop people from chasing them. But I also don’t want to lie to you. A career in bodybuilding is unlikely. It’s also an incredibly expensive hobby to pursue.
Luckily, there are a number of options that are available to you, which this article will reveal.
Yes. For a small number of people, bodybuilding can be a very lucrative career. Arnold Schwarzenegger is currently estimated to be worth $300 million. But obviously, most of his money will have come from his movie career.
Rich Gaspari has an estimated wealth of $90 million, but the majority of this comes from Gaspari Nutrition. Jay Cutler is also a multi-millionaire, but this fortune comes from his supplement company, a housing portfolio, and other business ventures.
Phil Heath appears to be worth around $5 million, and this looks to have come from his bodybuilding career alone. While $5 million is a lot of money, you’d think that one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time would be worth more than that!
As you can see, there is not a lot of money in bodybuilding. Phil Heath is more successful than anyone reading this article is ever likely to be, and he is only a little richer than a moderately successful banker. The bodybuilders who have made serious money have done so through investments in other areas.
Seeing the top 1% struggling to earn a living (keep in mind, that Phil Heath is the top 0.01%) from bodybuilding should give you a realistic idea of your projected earnings in a career in bodybuilding. It’s possible, but having a bodybuilding-adjacent career to fall back on is a wise move.
Most bodybuilders don’t earn a penny from bodybuilding. In fact, most are operating at a net loss each year. The cost of food, supplements, anabolic steroids, gym rent, equipment, and coaching can lead to massive monthly outgoings. Winning first prize in an amateur bodybuilding competition is barely going to cover your food bills for the week. The majority of amateur competitions have no prize money at all.
The Natural Olympia 2020 competition had a top prize of $5,000 if your category contained 26 or more competitors. But you can’t expect to win a competition every month, and you may not win any competitions all year.
There are bigger prizes at stake in professional bodybuilding competitions. But remember that the competition is greater, and the costs can be higher for you personally. Your best bet is to get sponsored by a supplements company, but don’t expect to earn much from that. Free supplements and a contribution to your weekly grocery bill would be the best you can hope for. Unless you manage to qualify for a major competition.
As you can tell, any profits made from competition prizes and supplement sponsorship are massively outweighed by the costs of bodybuilding. Plus, you need to earn more than that to live off it. If this is all putting you off bodybuilding, then please keep reading. There are other ways to earn a living while following your dreams. But first, I want to get real with you.
Everyone thinks that it is anabolic steroids that cost a fortune, but surprisingly, they are not particularly expensive. It’s the food that gets you! That being said, being smart with your money can end up saving you a lot of cash.
Not following a bodybuilder diet myself, I just read a lot of forum posts. Many bodybuilders were spending $300 or more per week on their groceries. Which is insane! But this was often US bodybuilders. A search of UK bodybuilders saw much more reasonable prices. With student bodybuilders spending around £40 per week on food.
I think that the higher estimates come from a combination of bigger daily calorie targets, bad shopping, and perhaps a little bragging. Still, a Pro bodybuilder is going to be spending more money on food than a new lifter. Bodybuilders will also be spending a lot more than regular people.
The problem with steroid use is that for it to really work, you need to be consuming enough protein and calories. This is why calories can be at 5,000 per day. You also want good protein sources, it can’t all be whey protein!
Bodybuilders on a budget can get a lot of their cals/protein from cheap food options such as:
The obvious downside is that it’s not the most adventurous food in the world. Going for organic foods, or more varied meat can lead to a better diet, but also a bigger grocery bill. Check out this YouTube video of Brandon Harding’s day of eating. Then just try and estimate how much it would cost for you to recreate.
If you have been sponsored, then the supplements should be free. But until then you’re looking at around £50-100 per month on supplements (not including PEDs). Bodybuilders go through a lot of supplements, and they often focus on quality, which explains the high cost.
Those are just off the top of my head. There could well be a lot more than that. When it comes to anabolic steroids, the price can range wildly depending on what you are taking. With some estimates being as low as £50 for 10 weeks, and rising up to over £300.
After reading the first half of this article, you may be a little disheartened. But don’t worry, it is perfectly possible to earn money as a bodybuilder by working in jobs that either allow you to do both or in jobs that are bodybuilding-adjacent.
Any job that does random drug tests is automatically out. This is pretty rare in the UK, but in the US there are many jobs that
invade your privacy test for drugs. I have absolutely no idea how Ronnie Coleman maintained his job as a Police Officer while taking every steroid in Arlington.
But jobs that have flexible hours could work really well. Manual labour jobs have always been traditional job for bodybuilders. Often starting early and finishing mid-afternoon, which makes them ideal for bodybuilders who train in the afternoon/evening. They also rarely require you to take work home with you. There are no night shifts (for most manual jobs), and provided you get the job done, you are able to eat your scheduled 5 meals per day quite easily.
Jobs, where you can work from home, are also ideal. Freelancing, IT support, or similar, allow you to train or eat whenever you want. So long as you get the work done.
I am not a bodybuilder, but my entire life has been built around fitness. So I feel very qualified to answer this. There are several jobs that a bodybuilder can do, that are related to it. Some are obvious, some not so obvious.
Personal Trainer/Coach – This is the most obvious job for a bodybuilder. You’re in the gym anyway, there will be loads of guys who look up to you (once you’ve built a good enough physique), and you will have a lot of time to find new clients. Bodybuilders can also benefit from taking PT courses, as it will expand their own knowledge. Learn how to teach someone else, and you will have fully mastered your discipline.
Personal training requires a lot of hours, and is not the most stable of careers, but done right it can earn you a fortune. Thanks to the increase in online coaching, the job is finally scalable, meaning that bodybuilders can earn a fortune from it. Most amateur/professional bodybuilders will provide some form of coaching.
Nutrition Coach – Similar to PT and coach, getting a nutrition qualification is a bit of a no-brainer for any bodybuilder. A lot of diet coaches in bodybuilder are former or current bodybuilders themselves. Problem is, that most are in no way qualified to do so. Getting a qualification could open up a huge new market for you. Nutrition coaches often have even more time to train themselves than PTs.
Physio/Sports Therapist – Learning how to deal with your own injuries is a great idea, so why not take a course and learn how to fix other people’s injuries. While getting paid to do so! Another job where spending a lot of time in a gym is a good idea.
Freelance Fitness Writer – This is my current job (as well as online coaching), and I’ve been doing it for several years. The money is okay but the lifestyle is excellent. Build up a client base, build a name for yourself, and soon you’ll have several clients and a fairly reliable income.
I don’t want to paint this option as a reliable one, because just like bodybuilding, only a small percentage of people will earn a serious income from it. But many amateur bodybuilders have started to turn towards YouTube and Instagram fame rather than trying to win Mr Olympia. Something that I talk a lot about in my article on the future of Bodybuilding.
Earlier, I linked a video from Brandon Harding’s YouTube channel. He’s a UK bodybuilder with a fantastic physique, but not a physique that is going to help him win Mr Olympia. Ten years ago that would have been a problem for Brandon. But today he has 619,000 subscribers on YouTube and another half million followers on Instagram. He also has the Hard Body app, and probably makes a fortune in private coaching (?).
My point here is that thanks to social media, some bodybuilders have been able to find more fame and fortune than many bodybuilders who go down the traditional route. There is a huge market for fitness and nutrition, and as a bodybuilder, you definitely have a way to appeal to this market.
Right, let’s start off with a disclaimer. You are probably not going to become the next Ronnie Coleman or Phil Heath. You probably won’t even become the next Brandon Harding. These are great goals to have, and I wish you the best of luck with them. But this rough guide is aimed at more realistic ambitions.
Also, I am NOT a successful bodybuilder, so please keep that in mind. But I am someone who has managed to stay self-employed in the fitness industry for 10 years, working as a PT and then as a freelance fitness writer. I have the free time and security to pursue a bodybuilding career, I just don’t have the desire (I enjoy sitting just a little too much for that).
Final disclaimer, this guide is aimed at 18-22-year-olds. If you are older then you can still apply some of it to yourself, but you will have advantages (money) and disadvantages that an 18 year old won’t have.
Anyway, let’s get started.
You don’t have to go to University and get a Sports Science degree as I did. I’ll be honest, it is a bit of a waste of time when you’re young. But invest in a Personal Training qualification and I’d recommend the Precision Nutrition Qualification too. Do these qualifications in your own time while working a part-time job.
I’m not here to judge, personally, I would not recommend going down the Pro Bodybuilder route, as the AAS use can be dangerous. But there are different levels of steroid use, from none at all to sensible use, to abuse. Make your decision and stay safe. If you decide to be natural, then learn how to train as a natural bodybuilder (less training volume than Pro). Find out what a realistic end goal is for muscle size, and train for that.
Before becoming a PT, stick to your part-time job and spend the rest of your time training, recovering, sleeping, and eating. Remember, you are aiming to earn money from your body, so now is the time to start sacrificing. If you don’t enjoy it then at least you have found out early that the lifestyle isn’t for you.
Fitness instructing is a great job for aspiring bodybuilders. Your hours are spent on the gym floor, you can train as soon as your shift ends, and you will learn a lot about fitness and nutrition. It’s also great as a stepping stone to personal training. You can use the years that you work as a fitness instructor to build your physique up. So that when you start as a PT you will already look like an amateur bodybuilder.
This is the most sensible career for a bodybuilder, it combines spending time in the gym with earning good money. If you are in the gym for 7-8 hours a day then you will have no problem finding enough clients to earn decent money. Make friends with everyone. Give out tips freely. Offer trial sessions and then work on your sales technique.
By this point you should be ready to enter amateur competitions, this will teach you a lot about the industry which is useful for future work as a bodybuilding coach. Plus, you may see some success, and could then consider going further with professional bodybuilding.
This will take so much more work than you think it will, but building a large social media following is crucial for bodybuilding success. Acting classes may be a good investment, as natural charisma is pretty rare, yet massively important for success. Spend money on professional photoshoots, buy yourself a decent camera and start vlogging.
This is what I did, when getting up at 6 am to personal train people started to lose its appeal. Working on sites such as Upwork can get you a lot of experience and some decent contacts, then reach out to bigger publications. If you can write for them for free it may help to build your profile. Get yourself a website and practice blog writing there.
Personal training is an amazing source of income, but it requires a lot of hours, a lot of early mornings, and a lot of late nights. Also, there is a limit on how much you can work and charge per week. Online coaching allows you to scale your job so that you are earning more and working less per client. Bodybuilding is a great way to attract followers, so online coaching is a natural progression.
If your social media is going well, then you may start to attract supplement companies and fitness brands to you. As I stated earlier in this article, sponsorship will rarely earn you a good income, but it is an added bonus.
The 10 steps I’ve mentioned is no shortcut. It should take up 10 years of your life! Then ideally it will last for years and years. A good online coaching job with supplemental income from sponsorships, freelance writing, and social media advertising income could earn you good money.
This may not sound as sexy as being a professional bodybuilder, but it is a lot more attainable. Allowing you to follow your dreams while also providing a source of income and some stability in your life.
You never know, right around step 2 you may win a bodybuilding competition and get your pro card. Who can say? But the hard truth is that Pro Bodybuilders make up an absolutely tiny fraction of bodybuilders, and many of them barely make enough to cover expenses.
Remember also, one day you will have to retire from your bodybuilding job. Most bodybuilders are finished by 50. This means you could have another 30 to 50 years with no form of income from it. Bodybuilding may seem more important than life or death when you are 20, but at 50 you will have a completely different outlook.
Don’t make the mistake of chasing your dreams with no backup plan.
All of us dream of making money by pursuing a job we love. For a very small percentage of people, that dream becomes a reality. But to get there, bodybuilders have to be prepared to sacrifice more than anyone else. To work harder than everyone else, and to get that slice of fortune that their competitors didn’t.
That is no way to plan your life. For every one person who makes it, there are thousands who won’t. So it is not responsible for me to tell you to chase your dreams. Because it could end in complete failure.
I hope that the 10 step plan I created offers a realistic alternative. But I don’t doubt that most of you who read this will ignore it. That’s okay, I would have done the same thing at your age. Most life lessons are just that; lessons you learn from life.
If you want to give it a go, then put 100% into it and see what happens. All I ask is that you get yourself a good backup plan. Because it might not work out for the best. If you are young, then your ability to take these risks is one of your greatest strengths. Just don’t place all your eggs in one basket.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.