For most, the major part of contest preparation is having done the hard work in the preceding months of a contest. This is the most important thing, as no amount of 'peaking' practices will help if you are still fat. However, there are things which can aid a contestant if they are already 'there' in terms of their body fat.
Presented below is what I like to do in order to fill muscle glycogen levels and shed water in order to look my best and peak for a contest as well as the rationale for the practices.
| What Is Glycogen?
Glycogen is the principal stored form of carbohydrate energy (glucose), which is reserved in muscles. When your muscles are full of glycogen, they look and feel full.
Final Week: 2 Phases
The week leading up to the show is split into two phases:
- Carb depletion and water superhydration
- Carb loading and water depletion
Phase 1 - Carb Depletion & Water Superhydration
- Drink 8-10 liters of water daily.
- Continue exercising at normal rate.
- Cut all starchy carbs to a minimum.
- Keep some fibrous carbs, but most of your meals should come from lean protein sources and a small amount of essential fats. Example meal plans include:
- Egg white omelettes and salad.
- Chicken and broccoli.
- Steak and mushrooms.
- Fish and green beans, etc.
Days 1-4 (Monday Through Thursday)
Phase 2 - Carb Loading & Water Depletion
- Eat carbs at every meal (6-8 times a day).
- Ensure carbs are low fat and don't cause water retention (see Allergenic Food Sources, below).
- Good carb sources include rice (white and wholegrain), potatoes, and dried fruit.
- Drink 8-10 liters of water.
- Do a whole body, light session.
- Eat a small amount of protein at each meal.
- Eat three or four carb meals up until late afternoon.
- Drink 5 liters during the period of the day that you're eating carbs.
- Stop fluids and carbs by six o'clock p.m., at the latest.
- Before bed, eat a small steak and possibly asparagus.
- Drink a small glass of wine.
- Take 5-10 grams of vitamin C throughout the day.
- Have a tablespoon of glycerol before bed.
Day 5 (Friday)
Day 6 (Saturday, Day Before Contest)
- Only eat lean protein source (turkey).
- No fluids.
- 5-10 grams of vitamin C.
- Before going on stage, eat a small sugary snack, tablespoon of glycerol, small glass of wine, and two niacin tablets.
- Between pre-judging and the evening show, just have some turkey.
- Post show, eat everything in sight!
Day 7 (Sunday, Day Of Contest)
Allergenic Food Sources
To try and avoid any excessive water retention, it's best to avoid known allergic food types which can include milk and dairy (cheeses, cottage cheese, whey protein, etc.), as well as carb sources, such as oats and wheat and all the derived products.
Rationale For Carbohydrate Cycle
The two phases work together in order to fill glycogen (the muscle's stored form of sugars) to maximal level which will draw water into the muscle and present a fuller appearance to the body and maximise muscle size.
Endurance athletes have used a strategy for a long period in which they deplete their muscles through carbohydrate restriction, high volumes of training, or both - and then load the muscles through a high intake, which because of the depletion, leads to a supercompensation and a higher level than initially present.
This means a short-lived 'muscle' gain can be accomplished before competition. Days one to four (Monday through to Friday) accomplishes this by training the body whilst consuming minimal levels of dietary carbohydrates which will lead to depletion in the short space of time (there is some evidence that long-term use of these dietary processes will not impact glycogen levels once the body adapts).
After the depletion phase, the level of glycogen content will try to be refilled through an increased level of total carbohydrates and calories. Typically, most individuals use a three-day approach which starts off with a moderate intake of carbohydrates and the level rising with each day so the day before the show you are consuming high levels of carbohydrates. Personally, however, I think this is misguided.
The potential negatives of carbohydrate loading is the possibility of 'spilling over' where excess carbs cause either storage of fat or cause water retention as they are not contained intracellularly within the muscle. I think that a muscle is more receptive to carbohydrates the more depleted it is. It makes sense, then, to consume your highest levels immediately after depleting.
In addition, having high intakes of carbs after partial refilling is more likely to spill over as there isn't the same potential for storage capacity. Imagine your muscle is a bucket and the level of sugars you are pouring into a muscle is a tap. If you start to fill the bucket (muscle) slowly at first and as you get closer to the top you increase the rate of flow from the tap you are more likely to overflow than if you turn the tap on fully initially and slowed the flow the closer to the top you get.
As such, I prefer to have a high day followed by moderate intakes of carbohydrates and the total period of filling will usually only last around 24-36 hours not the usual 72 hours promoted by many.
The reason for this shortened time period is due to the time it takes to super compensate the muscle and avoid over spilling, as I would rather be slightly full and tight rather than super full and holding water. I came to the above conclusions through the following math.
A seventy to eighty kilogram individual (154-176 lbs.) will usually have around five hundred grams of glycogen. Four hundred of this will be stored in the muscle, ninety grams will be in the liver, and the last few grams will be present as blood sugar levels. After carb loading, it's possible to get glycogen levels up to around 15g/kg or for a seventy kilogram individual this equates to roughly one thousand grams of stored glycogen.
This means that a depleted individual will be trying to load with an additional five hundred to seven hundred grams of carbs (you will never be totally depleted but you can estimate that for every kilogram lost in bodyweight will equate to a few hundred grams of glycogen as each gram holds an additional 2.7g of water with it).
As such, that's two hundred from depletion plus the additional five hundred from super compensation - this means you will need an additional 2800 kcals in the form of carbohydrates on top of your maintenance calories.
For a typical 70 kg individual this would mean 2500 kcals plus the additional carbs depending upon how many days over which you are splitting the surplus requirements. As stated before, I like a high carb day followed by a more moderate carb day.
Considering the above, I want to add in around seventy percent of the additional carbs on the first day and the remaining thirty percent on the second day. This means in addition to the 2500 kcals I need to maintain weight, I will add an additional 2000 kcals (five hundred) on the Friday and the extra 800 kcals (200g) on the Saturday.
This would mean an intake of around eight to nine hundred grams on the Friday if you follow a low-fat option and around five hundred or so on the Saturday (note the size of meals wouldn't change for either day as I like to stop eating carbs around 6 p.m. or at the same point as stopping water).
If you carb up successfully, you shouldn't have too many problems with water retention as water follows solutes and carbohydrates are a solute - meaning the water will be pulled into the muscle. Having said this, you will want to consume large quantities of water from the Monday all the way through to Saturday afternoon, this will get the body getting used to excreting excess fluids through the release of hormones which cause expulsion of fluids from the body.
When you stop on Saturday afternoon or evening, your body will continue to rid the body of fluids which should aid in drying you out. A small amount of alcohol will stop any reabsorption as it inhibits the hormone which brings water back into the body at the kidneys.
High doses of vitamin C is the only diuretic I use, as it is a water soluble vitamin and any excess will just be flushed from the body - taking with it fluids. To keep energy levels out, I like to use a solid protein source as this has some diuretic effects, as well.
Glycerol should pull any excess water into the muscle with the small amount of sugar taken before going onto the stage and the niacin will act as a vasodilator and cause increased vascularity.