7 Scientific Steps To A Camera-Ready Body
If you noticed those three little letters after my name, it should come as no surprise to you that I think science is cool. After all, I am a scientist.
But I don't mean cool in the way that your science professors use the term, where they geek-out about something that no one cares about but them. I mean cool in a hardcore, bodybuilding way.
Bodybuilding is science. How muscles grow? Science. How to increase strength? Science. How to strip body fat? Science.
Taking the fruits of your efforts and impressing the girl on the treadmill? Chemistry.
But I digress. Science is what allows me to weigh 220 pounds with 5-percent body fat year-round without drugs. And when I need to drop my body fat to under 5 percent and squeeze out every ounce of muscle-blurring water from under my skin to achieve an ultra-ripped look, like a magazine cover model, I rely on-you guessed it-science.
Now it's your turn. Maybe you're getting ready for a bodybuilding or fitness competition. Maybe you have an upcoming photo shoot. Or maybe you're going on vacation and want to look peeled in your swim trunks.
Regardless, my seven scientific steps, followed chronologically, will help you hit the mark for "peak day."
Step 1: Load Up on Sodium
About two weeks out from peak day, start loading up on sodium (aka salt). How much water your body holds correlates closely with how much sodium it holds. However, your body will hold only so much water, regardless of how much sodium you consume.
When you first increase sodium levels, your body will hold more water. But after maintaining high sodium levels for several days, your body will adapt.
Now, you'll hold the same amount of water as when your sodium intake was low. This step will help you shed more water when you finally cut your sodium intake. More on that in step four.
Choose higher-sodium foods and, of course, salt your food. While there's no precise daily dose of sodium to hit, shoot for at least 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams per day.
Protein sources like cottage cheese, low-fat cheeses, lean deli meats, sardines, anchovies, canned tuna and chicken, are good sources of sodium. Other sources of extra sodium include canned and jarred vegetables, basically stuff that's meant to last through a nuclear war.
Kidding-Twinkies are definitely out.
Step 2: Drop the Carbs
Serious about looking your best? You should already be limiting your carbohydrate intake to ½ gram per pound of body weight per day leading up to the peak date.
However, one week out, really cut carbs in an effort to deplete your body's glycogen levels. Glycogen is the storage form of carbs in your body. Whether it's the starch from bread and potatoes or the sugars in fruits and candies, your body converts these carbs into the sugar, glucose.
Glucose can be burned for immediate fuel, but it can also be stored in muscles and the liver for later use. To store glucose, the body connects glucose molecules into a long chain called glycogen.
Dropping carbs to as few as possible serves two purposes:
- The more immediate effect is to ramp up fat burning. When you consume no carbs, your body must turn to internal fat stores for fuel. This will help to burn off those last few pounds of body fat, leaving you that much leaner.
- Dropping carbs to nil also depletes your body's glycogen stores. Glycogen stored in muscle holds water. It literally pulls water into the muscle, filling it up much like a water balloon. The more glycogen you store in your muscles, the more water is pulled in and the bigger your muscles blow up.
So why deplete glycogen then? In order to store more glycogen when you carb load later in the week. When you deplete muscle glycogen levels and then carb load, your muscles are able to store significantly more glycogen than normal.
On days 7, 6, and 5 on the countdown till peak date, eat only protein and small servings of vegetables (about 1 cup) for meals. The only time you'll be allowed real carbs is immediately post-workout in your protein shake.
Here you can have 20 to 30 grams of carbs, preferably fast-digesting, such as Vitargo, Wonka Pixy Stix, Wonka Sweet Tarts, gummy bears, sorbet, or angel food cake.
On days 4 and 3 before peak day, drop even the post-workout carbs to fully deplete glycogen levels.
Be sure you are working out, both with weights and cardio every day during days 7 to 3 before the peak day. It's also a good idea to do a whole-body workout, using high reps (15 to 20) and minimal rest (30 to 60 seconds) between sets on day 3 before the peak day. This is essential for depleting muscle glycogen levels.
Step 3: Load Up on Creatine Hydrochloride
With carbs nearly absent during the final week, you'll need a solid energy source to help power through workouts and burn up stored glycogen. Creatine is a great energy source during workouts. Few people realize that creatine's main function in the muscle is as a quick source of energy.
When you're banging out reps, your muscles need ample amounts of energy in the form of ATP to keep contracting. In simple terms, creatine provides the energy needed to make ATP quickly.
Most people worry about taking creatine when trying to peak, due to potential bloating, which can blur muscle definition. Indeed, while the water that creatine pulls inside the muscles keeps them full, any creatine sitting outside the muscles will pull more water there too. And that leads to more water being retained under the skin, which can lead to a bloated, water-retained look. Not what you're after at this late stage.
But, while creatine monohydrate has been shown to increase water levels outside the muscle (under the skin) as well as inside, creatine hydrochloride appears to not draw water under the skin. One study found that subjects taking creatine hydrochloride absorbed significantly more creatine into their blood stream than when they took monohydrate.
I'm guessing that leads to better uptake in muscle cells as well. More creatine taken up in muscles means less sitting around outside the muscle and causing water retention under the skin.
Take 1 to 2 scoops or capsules of creatine hydrochloride (brand name Con-Cret) before and after every workout, including cardio workouts.
Step 4: Drop the Sodium
During the week before peak day, cut as much sodium as possible. Now that your body water levels have adjusted to several grams of sodium per day, dropping sodium levels to just hundreds of milligrams will purge all the excess water from your body.
On day 7 before peak day, keep sodium under 2,000 mg. On day 6, stay under 1,000 mg. On days 5, 4, and 3, stay under 600 mg. And on days 2 and 1 before peak day, try to keep sodium as far below 500 mg as possible.
Read labels on EVERYTHING you eat or drink. Meats, such as chicken breast, beef, and fish, provide about 60 to 80 mg of sodium per 3 ounces. This should be one of your only sodium sources. However, read the labels on the meats you're purchasing to make sure no sodium or saline is added.
A lot of chicken is injected with sodium solutions. Only buy chicken, meat, or fish that lists sodium content on the label. Don't use any sauces or marinades, as these will almost always include sodium. Even read the ingredients of any spices to make sure no salt is included.
Eggs and protein powders are two unexpected sodium sources. One whole egg only provides 5 grams of protein but 65 mg of sodium. That's the same amount of sodium in 3 oz of chicken or beef, which provide 20 or more grams of protein. The protein-to-sodium ratio of eggs makes them less than ideal during this final week.
Many protein powders, especially whey protein, contain almost 200 mg of sodium per scoop (about 20 grams of protein). Stick with protein powders with fewer than 100 mg of sodium per scoop, such as Dymatize's Elite Casein (35 mg per scoop) and Gourmet Protein (75 mg per scoop).
Only use fresh vegetables to keep sodium levels down. Do NOT eat any cooked food out at restaurants. There is no way to tell how the food was stored or cooked, which likely included sodium. The only food that's safe to eat at a restaurant is sashimi.
Step 5: Drink Up
One week from the peak day, it's time to drink a LOT of water. This will flush out any remaining sodium in your body, making all that water you're drinking work to rid your body of excess water. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works!
Drink 1 ½ to 2 gallons of water per day.
Instead of counting every glass of water you drink, an easy way to make sure you're hitting your 1½ to 2 gallon mark is to buy gallon jugs of water. I find that drinking water from larger containers also makes it much easier to consume so much water.
Somehow it seems less daunting to drink 2 1-gallon containers than 30 8-ounce glasses.
Step 6: Cut Water
The last two days before the peak day, you'll need to limit your fluid intake. As I mentioned, the amount of water your body holds is tightly related to the amount of sodium your body holds.
Since you're now limiting sodium and guzzling water, you have only a few days before your body adjusts to the low sodium levels and starts to hold more water despite the low sodium intake. To avoid this, you will need to sharply cut back on water the last two days before the peak day.
On day 2 before the peak date, keep water intake under ½ gallon. On day 1 before the peak day, limit water intake to under 20 ounces. On the peak date you can drink water, but do so slowly.
Watch how your body responds to small sips throughout the day. If your hardness starts blurring from water intake, stop drinking.
To keep dropping body water despite taking in very little water, consider using natural diuretics such as Arctostaphylos uva ursi (bearberry) and Taraxacum officianale (dandelion).
If you experience severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, or sharp muscle cramps, start drinking more water immediately.
Step 7: Carb Load
Two days before the peak date it's time to restock, er, overstock your muscle glycogen levels. You not only want to look as shredded as possible on the peak day, but you also want to look as big and as muscular as possible.
As I explained earlier under Step 2, going for several days on little-to-no carbs depletes muscle glycogen levels. And that allows your muscles to store significantly more glycogen than they normally could.
Since glycogen pulls water into the muscles, this works to full up your muscles like water balloons, not only helping you to look bigger but also helping you get more shredded. As you fill your muscles with glycogen, they pull in water.
A good deal of that water will come from under the skin. So by carb loading in these last few days, you're not only helping your body to look bigger and fuller but also helping your body get that ultra-shredded look.
The first 24 hours is the most critical time window for carb loading. So be sure to pound as many carbs as possible. Shoot for 3 to 4 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.
Carbs can come from fast-digesting sources, such as fat-free candy and white potatoes; or from slower-digesting sources such as sweet potatoes or yams. If you think oatmeal, rice, or pasta are good carb sources, think again.
Remember, you are limiting water intake and these carb sources are made with water, which these carbs absorb. You need carb sources that are as dry as possible. You also need carb sources that provide zero milligrams of sodium.
You'll be getting sodium from your protein sources, so be sure that your carb sources are not a source of unwanted sodium. Be sure to read all labels carefully. Besides potatoes (be sure to bake them and not boil them), good dry and sodium-free carbs include Wonka Pixy Stix, Wonka Sweet Tarts, certain flavors of Bear Naked Granola, and air-popped popcorn that you make yourself.
You can also eat some fruit during the first day of carbing up. But it needs to be freeze-dried and sodium free. During the second day of carb loading I would suggest forgoing any type of fruit. The reason is that fruit contains fructose. One problem with fructose is that the body does not use it well.
The majority of fructose you eat gets converted to glucose by the liver. However, if the liver is stocked with glycogen, it will convert fructose into fat instead.
That's the last thing you want. During the first day of carb loading, your liver and muscles are not stocked up with glycogen, so any fructose you consume will be converted to glucose. But on the second day of carb loading, there's a bigger risk of converting fructose into fat since the liver becomes stocked with glycogen.
This is another reason why I recommend that you stick with Wonka Pixy Stix and Wonka Sweet Tarts. Most candy companies use sugar (which is half glucose and half fructose), or high fructose corn syrup, which has even more fructose. Yet Wonka Pixy Stix are pure dextrose (glucose) and Sweet Tarts are made with just dextrose and maltodextrin (which is simply a chain of glucose molecules attached together.
These are one of the few candies that you can buy that contains no fructose.
So your six-pack is now ready for your big photo shoot. Are YOU?
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nothing is wrong with them, eat them dry and they are perfect - they also have 0 sodium, i get crazy dry cut and full with dry oats. Just don't cook in water Brother. Same with sweet potatoes, cook them/bake them in a foreman like chips, work a charm!
Oats absorb water as stated above,
"Remember, you are limiting water intake and these carb sources are made with water,"
At that point you are not drinking much water because the carbs drag water in from your bodies store an not from water that you drink
I followed this program for my last challenge, and it really helped to get my abs to show! Thanks for the expert advice. Very informative article and easy to follow routine. Thanks, from another Chemist!
I don't believe fructose can be turned into glucose at all. In fact it can only be stored as fat. the only way you won't be storing it as fat is when you are on a caloric deficit so you burn the fat after it's created. Fructose goes through a very complex chemical reaction in the liver and limiting yourself from fructose is the best you can do. whole fruits are ok as they also contain fiber which reduces sugar/fructose intake. The problem lies as stated in the article in candy. This stuff usually does not contain any fiber but all the sweets :)
Thanks for this article, it brushed up my knowledge on how water is stored in the muscle as well as under the skin!
Everything in there sounds like an outstanding strategy to get your body right. I am just a bit skeptical about Creatine Hydrochloride. Creatine Monohydrate is just much more affordable in bulk, and the studies are beyond overwhelming to show that it works. I wouldn't get too hung up on it though.....I like the idea of ramping up the sodium then dropping it pre-contest/photoshoot. That sounds pretty handy. Thanks Doc!
Hey guys - I'm trying all of this right now. I'm at the point where I'm eating no carbs, no sodium. Do you have advice on how to get calories? I find I'm just eating TONS of chicken for all meals to get near 2000 calories even.
Then how do you cook dry oatmeal? Or even dry sweet potato? For Thursday and Friday this week. Is there recipes online? Do you just pan cook normal oatmeal with no water? Thanks!!!
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