I don’t know how many times I have explained the fact that I don’t dehydrate my athletes so I have to make a post to save myself the time of retyping or explaining my methods 1000 times :D. I’ve got to be efficient people! I am finding the busier I get with my biz that prioritizing my kids, my fitness and my clients is getting harder and harder to maintain. But really, I got this!
Anyhoo, dehydration and sodium restriction are totally common practices during a peak week and have been FOREVA. My competitors will get some flack for drinking a ton ‘O water during peak week right up to show time. Peak week is the last week right before a bodybuilding contest to prepare for show day.
Why do people restrict sodium and water during peak week and on show day? They do this in hopes of pulling out all the water under the skin (between the skin and muscles) so that they will have optimal muscular definition on show day. The problem with this method is your body does not differentiate water loss from under the skin and water loss from in the muscle cell. The muscle cell is 60-70% water which makes them nice and plump looking. Eating carbs also plumps up the muscles as glycogen (carbs) is stored in muscle cells for energy.
Simply put, water restriction = no water in the muscle cell = carbs can’t properly enter muscle cells = flat muscles and less definition. And, no amount of carbs you eat will plump up those cells without water to pull them in.
Now let’s add sodium depletion to that. Your body keeps sodium levels in a very tight range. A Harvard study done by Rogacz in 1990 eliminated sodium from his subjects diets. He found that sodium levels stayed the same in the blood stream but were non existent in the urine by day 6. The body very efficiently pulled sodium from any fluid circulating. What can also happen is the body will retain as much water as possible in an attempt to make sure it can pull any sodium they may be left. Sodium depletion = blood sodium levels stay the same regardless of efforts = water retention causing a soft appearance = no good.
During a peak week, it is common to have normal to high water intake during for the first half of peak week but cut it off several days before and during the show leaving a person dehydrated and stupid thirsty. On top of that, they will deplete sodium a few days out and then have a big ol high carb day. Three things that do not help add muscular definition and fullness.
Bodybuilding has a long history and much of that history involves anabolic steriods among other drugs where dehydration and sodium depletion may be appropriate. The issues come in when we try to apply the same principles assisted athletes use to natural Athletes. Assisted athletes (those using steroids and other drugs to get buff and lean) take diuretics, dehydrate and then deplete sodium for a few days to combat steroid bloat. You have to keep in mind that assisted athletes are not just taking testosterone but estrogen suppressors, growth hormone, drugs like DNP and/or clenbuterol to help shed fat and maintain muscle and diuretics to shed water. Many assisted athletes will cycle through a slew of 6-10 types of drugs to build muslce, look harder, lose fat and shed water.
The problem comes in where people try and apply these dehydration and sodium depletion principles to natural athletes and it just doesn’t hold water. Pun intended.
Let’s work with our physiology instead of against it to optimize our hard work and look our best on stage!
Here’s my deal.
During peak week, I will have my athletes drink excess water and keep sodium intake the same as it has been all prep. Peak week won’t look too much different than other weeks in their prep except I may give them a big carb day and decrease HIIT that week. But that is about it. It’s simple.
On show day, it’s all about a balance of carbs, water and sodium. The plan and numbers will be based on that persons prep. One persons prep will be different from another as their peak weeks will be different too.
It’s simple and not simple.
So how does this extra water method work?
Water itself is a diuretic. When intake is excessive, the body will do some extra work to flush water out to maintain homeostasis. Pair this with a nice high carb day and those muscle cells will look nice and plump. Water and carbs will stay in the muscle cells while the body flushes out the extra water from under the skin, outside of the cells. You may also feel thirsty while drinking all this water too as your bod is in diuretic mode.
Now you have muscles nice and full of water and glycogen…not flat pancake muscles. And, the excessive water drinking causing the diuretic affect flushes water out of the extracellular spaces (under the skin -between the muscle and the skin) leaving your skin tight against your full muscles. BOOM. Definition. Very important concept for show day.
When you dehydrate water, the carbs cannot enter the muscle effectively and float around extra cellularly (under the skin) making you look soft and “watery.” These carbs have no where to go but float around like lost little puppies who have no home making you look like a marshmallow (where bodybuilding is concerned anyway).
Now let’s add sodium depletion to that. As mentioned above, your body keeps sodium levels in a very tight range making efforts to deplete sodium pointless only to leave a person with added water under the skin.
So what do you get from a carbed up, dehydrated, sodium depleted athlete? You get a flat, soft looking dude or dudette.
- high carbs + no water = flat muscles, loss of definition
- no water + no sodium = water retention, loss of definition
- excessive water + regular sodium + carbs = full muscles, definition.
So then why after a night of drinking do I have more defined abs?
Great question. I hear this a lot. Sure, you drank alcohol, you are now dehydrated and your abs look great! But what about the rest of your bod? Does the rest of your muscle groups look flat? If not, how dehydrated are you? How many carbs did you have? What did you eat and drink? All these things come into play. No I don’t recommend you replicate a night of partying with your friends the night before your show. But instead, during your prep when you start to get lean, pay attention to what combo of factors makes you look best.
So keep in carbs, keep in water and keep in sodium. Your prep is the time to pay attention to what intake of water and carbs makes you look best. Especially for very lean athletes like figure, physique and bodybuilding divisions. Less lean bikini girls have more leeway when it comes to this. During your prep, you can take a refeed 1x per week to experiment with how many carbs make you look best and how many days after do you look the fullest and tightest.
What I will do with my athletes that are lean enough is about 4 -6 weeks out, I will have them send me pics or just pay attention to how they look after a refeed day. They may look best on day 1, 2 or 3. Water and sodium intake stays the same. Refeed days could be 150 more grams of carbs than their average daily calorie intake. It could be, 200…it could be 500. It all depends on muscle mass, metabolism and if you are depleting them of glycogen in the days prior.
Say they look best 3 days after their refeed of 500 carbs. For a Saturday show, I would have my athlete carb up on 500 carbs on a Wednesday and increase water intake up to Friday night. On show day, their diet is normally around moderate carb intake, just a bit more fat and lower protein with normal water (3/4 gallon for example) including normal salt intake.
Also note that peak week is more like a taper week. It is not the time to lose those last few pounds or make drastic changes. You should be ready the week before peak week at least. During peak week, figure out which day you need to carb up, increase water from that day by an extra ½ gallon. Nix the HIIT cardio after refeed and take a rest day the day before your show.
Peak Week Examples
Take this super lean beast of a client…
Week before peak week for comparison:
daily: 140 P, 180 C, 35 F + 1 gallon water
- SUN: Legs/abs- heavy
- MON: Pull- high rep + 4 HIIT
- Pics– TUE: Push- high rep
- WED: Legs/abs– high rep
- THUR: REST
- FRI:small refeed- 120 P, 275 C, 40 F Pull- heavy + 4 HIIT
- SAT: Push- heavy
Her peak week was this:
- SUN: Legs/abs- heavy
- MON:s Pull HR* + 4 HIIT
- TUE: Push HR
- WED: Carb up day: 120P, 350C, 40F. 1.5 gal water. Legs/abs HR + 4 HIIT
- THUR: Pull , 1.5 gallon water.
- FRI: REST- 1.5 gallon water. relax, cut water off by 8pm, get all your water in by then.
- SAT: Show Day!!! 120 P, 210 C, 60 F. 3/4 gal water
Now Jenny went into her show doing minimal cardio eating lots of food…. because she sought out a coach in her off season (yours truly) and we set her up for a bomb ass prep. Even though I have had many clients finish off like this, not everyone I have had has been able to eat this much with no cardio and be this lean due to a lot of factors… and time is one of them. Jus sayin.
Here is an example of a bikini client:
Week before peak week for comparison:
High: 140C, Med: 80C, Low: 50C
1 gallon water per day
- Low SUN: Rest
- High MON: Pull + cardio @ PC
- Med TUE: Legs + 9 intervals of HIIT
- Med- WED: yoga or trx + 40 min SS HR 130-140
- Med THUR: Push- 9 intervals of HIIT
- Low FRI: Legs + 40 min SS HR 130-140
- Low SAT: Shoulders/back + 40 min SS HR 130-140
Her peak week was this:
140P, 45F, Med: 80C, Low: 50C
High: 125P, 180C, 40F
1.5 gallons water Mon-Friday
- Low- SUN: Rest
- High-MON: Pull + HIIT at PC
- Med- TUE: Legs + 30 min SS
- Med- WED: yoga or trx + 30 min SS
- Med- THUR: Push-light workout + 30 min SS
- Med- FRI: rest day
- SAT: Show day! 90P, 106C, 60F. 1/2 gal water.
Her cardio is a little less because she was really leaning out and I didn’t want her to keep dropping. I pulled a bit of cardio during peak week which is ideal so we don’t burn off all the glycogen which is why she has no HIIT this week.
Can you miss your peak?
One term that makes me crazy is the term bodybuilders like to call peaking. Have you ever heard someone say they missed their peak and lost their show? It drives me a little nuts…. peak week is technically getting you to your peak body but timing fat loss correctly to peak on your show is kind of silly. If you get lean enough several weeks before a show you can start pulling out cardio and adding calories real slow. A method called reverse dieting. There is such a thing as understanding your physique, diet and metabolic rate so you can hold your physique through to your show. A lean body will change appearance from day to day just by changing carb intake alone.
If you understand your diet and program to write a peak week that is optimal for you, you can easily “peak” on the correct day for your show. And then do it again and again for the next few shows in that same season.
People “miss their peak” when they dehydrate, sodium deplete and then eat a ton of carbs or try to make drastic changes.
Keep it simple. Peak week is a week that looks similar to your other prep weeks with just a few tweaks. The most fail proof peak week plan is the bikini peak week above. Load early in the week, drink water, eat normal salt, stick to your diet and minimize the HIIT cardio.
So drink up buttercup!