Pre-Contest preparation is the very final phase before a bodybuilding contest. It is where a competitive bodybuilder prepares himself to look the best that he can on stage. The final pre-contest phase is a period of about 10 days prior to the show… 10 days to make those little adjustments that if done correctly are able to change you in a big way! You can change either for the worse or for the better and in this article I'm going to write about the hidden scientific physiological reasons behind it.
Before I start I want to make sure that nobody misunderstands what I just wrote. Ten days worth of preparation can't perform miracles. In this short amount of time you won't get any more ripped in terms of subcutaneous body-fat nor any bigger in terms of lean body mass; these 2 morphological adaptations need a sufficiently longer period of time to help the body make its adjustments (muscle growth, fat loss) according to the right stimulus. These adjustments belong in a completely different article!
The content of this article is merely about how to bring out one's muscular hardness and avoid the smooth look that shows up under the powerful lights of a big show.
Truthfully speaking, writing an article about this is a hard task to be accomplished by anybody, including me. This is because it involves a lot of scientific knowledge from an endocrine point of view and it also includes your personal adjustments too. I'll try to be the most comprehensive possible in giving you the tools to understand how to achieve that goal and I will also write about my personal pre-contest schedule.
This article contains five parts:
- Total Depletion and Replenishment of Glycogen
- Sodium Intake
- Getting Plenty Of Water
- How To Put It All Together For Contest Prep
- An Example - My Current Contest Prep!
This won't be the easiest article you have ever read, but TRUST ME, you will be glad you read the whole thing! Let's get started!
PART ONE: Total Depletion and Replenishment of Glycogen Stores.
This is the very first step bodybuilders commonly use during the pre-contest period. Glycogen (as you already know from previous articles) is the glucose polymer stored either in the skeletal muscles or liver. It serves as fuel for energy, but its release from the skeletal muscles occurs under different stimulus compared to its release from the liver depots.
Liver glycogenolysis (the glycogen breakdown process) occurs in order to maintain an adequate blood level of glucose to satisfy brain requirements; instead muscle glycogenolysis occurs only during emotional and/or physical efforts in order to satisfy the need for energy.
Glucose is a molecule that consists of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen... in fact its chemical structure is: C6 H12 O6. It contains water!
Let's see why that is so important!
In normal conditions the skeletal muscle glycogen concentration ranges from 1.5 grams to 2 grams per 100 grams of skeletal muscle tissue. A Swedish researcher BERGSTROM (1969) has shown that after a low carbohydrate diet that lasts for a period of 3 days accompanied with prolonged physical exercises/efforts one's skeletal muscle glycogen depots fall to a concentration of about 0.6 grams! After this limited 3 day period of carbohydrate depletion, a carbohydrate-rich diet was followed causing a new higher level of muscle glycogen content.
As you may see from figure number 1 above, marathon contestants also use the method of downloading and reloading the glycogen through diet manipulation before the marathon. As shown in the figure, exercise is gradually reduced during the week and the carbohydrate intake of the diet is increased for the last three days. (From Sherman, W.M., et al.: Effect of exercise-diet manipulation on muscle glycogen and its subsequent utilization during performance. Int. J. Sports Med., 2:114, 1981).
The consequences of this study have been of great utility for those endurance athletes whose performance is high and who need larger amounts of ready-to-use energy stored as glycogen. Furthermore, these results apply very well to bodybuilders too. You may be wondering why an increase in glycogen depots should be an aid for a bodybuilder during the show.
Here's the reason:
If the "depleting glycogen phase" has been done correctly, inducing a dramatic lowering of glycogen depots, it creates a "hunger state" for your muscles so that during the next "super compensation" phase they will store more glycogen than in normal conditions. In other words, they could store from 3.5 grams of glycogen to even 4 grams per 100 grams of skeletal muscle tissue. Don't forget that 1 gram of glycogen is linked with 2.7 grams of water. This means that if a bodybuilder has 45 kg (99 pounds) of Lean Muscular Tissue, (don't confuse Lean Muscular Tissue with Fat Free Mass; Lean muscular tissue is in other words "MUSCLE", instead Fat Free Mass consists of Lean Muscular Tissue + Bones + Water) he can increase his bodyweight about 4.86 kg (10.69 pounds) with glycogen and water during the carbohydrate loading phase.
The calculation goes like this:
1) Kg 45 x 10 = 450 hg
(Kg of skeletal muscle converted into hg; 1 kg equal 1000grams, 1 hg equal 100grams)
2) hg 450 x 4 = 1800 grams (total muscular glycogen content)
(the number 4 stands for the maximum glycogen content per 100 grams of muscle tissue)
3) 1800 grams x 2.7 = 4860 grams (final bodyweight achieved)
(2.7 is the grams of water linked to 1 gram of glycogen)
All this weight gained comes from glycogen and water. It's not water retention! Water retention means that water is being kept between the cells (in this case between the muscle cells) giving the muscles that smooth look that won't give you that ripped look that is so hard to reach after all the sacrifices that you made while preparing for competition. The water gained is all carried into the muscle cells because glycogen depots are located only inside and not outside the muscle and liver cells. That's why this loading phase makes the muscles appear bigger and fuller!
To cause this "supercompensation" it is very important to reload the right amount of carbs. The consumption of fewer carbohydrates than those needed won't lead to the desired effect and you may even notice that your muscles feel empty and become smaller. This is what usually happens to competitive bodybuilders! If this does happen, it would have been better NOT to have done the "depleting carb phase" at all.
If the consumption of carbs exceeds the amount needed to refill all your glycogen depots completely, that surplus will be converted into subcutaneous body fat. NOT GOOD.
Now you probably want to know how many carbs you should be eating in order to refill all your glycogen depots while avoiding the risk of reducing your muscle size or gaining bodyfat.
The recommended carbs consumption has been estimated at 400 to 600 grams per day for a period of 3 days after the depleting phase. There are also other very reliable experts on bodybuilding that instead of suggesting the 3 day depleting formula, they opt for 2 days for depleting and 2 days for reloading. My opinion on this is that the difference between the number of days for depleting and reloading is strictly personal and not applicable to everybody; and this is for many different reasons. Even the good results obtained with different schedules on different individuals cannot be simply applied directly to everyone else.
The factors that contribute to the different responses that people get are mainly due to either genetics and/or their personal training schedule during the depleting phase.
(A) Genetic factors
- Personal ratio of FTF (Fast Twitch Fibers) to STF (Slow Twitch Fibers)
Personal Ratio Of FTF To STF
During evolution, the human being developed its muscular structure as well as its muscular functions to adapt himself to the environment. In fact, the muscular skeletal ratio of FTF to STF has been set to satisfy that same purpose: SURVIVING!
Since the STF muscle fibers are characterized by a "resistance" quality and low fatigability, they developed on the body within those areas that are involved in continuous movements (such as walking, long running etc.) and efforts that require (of course) resistance: lower limb, abdominal wall, and so on!
The upper limbs instead are mostly composed of FTF to match different purposes from the other fibers, like rapid movements (such as throwing, fighting), and strength etc., but not resistance. Even though this is the general distribution, each of us has a different ratio of these fibers in our bodies. This is an important factor because the capacity to use glycogen varies enormously in these two types of fibers.
FTF are the glycolitic fibers, meaning that they use primarily glycogen for energy production. STF are the oxidative fibers, meaning that they need oxygen to produce energy and they need oxygen to completely oxidise the organic substrates.
FTF generate energy even when oxygen is not available to them, during pure anaerobic efforts like when weight training with a max rep range of 12 (while using a weight that is heavy enough to only allow you to get 12 reps).
STF are mostly recruited during aerobic efforts, like running, jogging, etc., but also during weight training where the number of reps goes beyond 12.
Returning to our purpose, we aim to deplete our glycogen stores as much as possible and this depends on your genetic predisposition to the fiber ratio as well as the kind of workout you follow. If you do have a favourable ratio of FTF to STF in your muscles, you would hold more glycogen depots than if you had the contrary, and this in turn translates to more glycogen that can be stored during the replenishment phase.
Training Schedule During The Carbohydrate Depletion Phase
The training schedule that should be followed during the carb depletion phase has to aim to cause drastic skeletal muscle glycogen depletion.
(B) Type Of Training
During the 3 days of "Carb Depletion", weight training should be performed on every one of these 3 days. All the muscle group should be trained. Usually a whole body circuit is followed, consisting of one set per muscle group. After the whole body has been hit, a new circuit starts and so on, until exhaustion won't allow you to go on. Usually the circuit is followed 3 to 4 times in a row.
Chest 1 x 8-12
Latissimus dorsi 1 x 8-12
Deltoids 1 x 8-12
Biceps 1 x 8-12
Triceps 1 x 8-12
Abdominals 1 x 12
To be repeated another 2 to 3 times.
As you may notice there's no exercise for the legs! This is because the quadriceps need at least 7 days to get deep cuts and look defined after the last workout.
Other experts work each muscle group with 3 to 4 sets in a row instead of doing one set and moving on to the next exercise. Even though this practice will allow you to feel much more of a pump, it could exhaust you before you hit all your muscle groups.
Number of Reps per Set
The muscle fibers that need to be stimulated are of course the FTF, the Glycolytic ones, since these are the only fibers that show a high affinity for anaerobic glucose catabolism (anaerobic glycolysis) and are then able to breakdown glycogen into glucose for energy production during high intensity lactacid anaerobic training.
This has been shown because the enzyme Phosphofructo kinase (PFK) is highly active when these kinds of fibers are stimulated. This enzyme plays a dominant role in regulating the glycolytic process. In fact this enzyme operates in the isomerization catalysis process of Glucose-6-phosphate into Fructose-6-fosphate.
This is a process that occurs in the cytosol only when glucose has to be used for energy production. This shows that the stimulation of FTF is highly connected to the catabolism of glucose. Most of this glucose derives directly from muscle glycogen breakdown therefore ultimately causing its depletion.
The STF instead have oxidative metabolic properties and very poor glycolytic ones. This has been shown by the observation of the activity of the enzyme "Succinic Dehydrogenase" (SDH) that plays a crucial role in the oxidative metabolism.
This enzyme permits both the conversion of the Succinic Acid into the Fumaric Acid (this happens in the Krebs Cycle inside the mitochondria) that is important for continuing the Krebs Cycle and the Reduction of the Co-Enzyme FADH2 which in turn is involved in the production of ATP inside the "Transport Chain of Electrons" on the inner membrane of the mitochondria. Even though this chemical reaction is very important in the energy production process, it has no impact on glycogen stores as much as PFK does when FTF are properly stimulated.
All this is to clarify that the stimulation of STF is useless for promoting the muscle glycogen depletion in the best way possible.
Remember that your goal is to create that "hunger muscle state" that will allow you to increase the glycogen depots as much as 4 grams per 100 grams of muscle tissue during the "Carb Replenishment Phase". To cause this, the best kind of training should consist of a "Lactacid hypertrophic" workout with reps in the 8 to 12 range per set. This range of reps stimulates the FTF at their maximum, in fact the High Lactic Acid production that this causes is the natural proof of their stimulation, because lactate is the last step of anaerobic glycolysis when Pyruvate goes under reduction because of the absence of Oxygen availability.
In this case lactic acid is derived from glucose catabolism (glycolysis), and glucose is derived (in this case during weight training) from glycogen catabolism (glycogenolysis).
A lower number of reps (with a heavier weight) involves the FTF much more than a moderate weight lifted for 12 reps but the energy substrates to which the FTF rely on to produce energy is not glucose deriving from glycogenolysis, but ATP CP. A range of reps that goes beyond 12 begins to stimulate more STF than FTF.
To sum this all up, stay in a range of 8 to 12 reps during the depleting carb phase in order to assure glycogenolysis as much as possible for energy production.
Time Of Recovery Between Sets
During the first reps of the first set, the muscle burning effect is absent because the Lactate has not yet been produced. In fact, in the very first reps the molecule used to produce energy is ATP that is stored in the muscles. The degradation for energy purposes of only molecules of ATP and CP (Creatine Phosphate) that are stored into the muscles is called "Anaerobic Non-Lactacid Metabolism" because it doesn't produce any lactate.
It is important that you know this to understand the right time for recovery between sets.
Once the set is over ATP depots get replenished through different mechanisms and it takes about 3 to 5 minutes. If the set is restarted before the ATP molecules have been re-synthesised and are ready to be used, the ATP for energy production needed for the next set will come from glycolysis that in turn comes from glycogenolysis.
The less you rest between sets the more glycogen you use for energy production and the more glycogen you use the higher its depletion in your body. Try not to exceed 1 to 1 1/2 minutes between sets.
PART TWO: Sodium (Salt) Intake
One of the hormones that is responsible for water retention is Aldosterone
Aldosterone is secreted at the end of a hormonal cascade activated primarily by the decreased quantity of sodium that reaches the "Distal Tubule" of the kidney. There are also other factors that contribute to the activation of this cascade but the sodium level is the most important. Sympathetic stimulation (acting via B1- adrenoceptors), renal artery hypotension, and low concentration of sodium (in our case) in the distal tubule of the kidney causes the production of Renin.
Renin is an enzyme that acts upon a circulating substrate, Angiotensinogen, that undergoes proteolytic cleavage to form the decapeptide Angiotensin I. The endothelium in the lungs has a particular enzyme called Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) that cleaves off 2 amino acids to form the octapeptide Angiotensinogen II (AII) which in turn stimulates the adrenal cortex to secrete Aldosterone.
Aldosterone is a steroid hormone that belongs to the category of Mineralocorticoids produced by the adrenal cortex. As the name suggests, mineralocorticoids regulate the mineral salts, sodium and potassium in the body's extracellular fluid spaces. Although there are three mineralocorticoids, Aldosterone is the most important physiologically and comprises almost 95% of all mineralocorticoids.
Aldosterone acts by regulating sodium re-absorption in the distal tubules of the kidneys. When large quantities of Aldosterone are secreted the sodium ions that enter the kidney filtrate are reabsorbed back along with increased fluid. Consequently, little sodium passes into the urine. This sodium re-absorption therefore promotes the re-absorption of water due to osmosis.
This explains why water retention occurs when very low levels of sodium are introduced through the diet.
PART THREE: Getting Plenty Of Water
It sounds hypocritical and controversial when hearing that to get rid of subcutaneous body water you need to drink MORE water than normal. There are still so many competitive bodybuilders that refuse to believe this and they stop drinking water a few days before the show.
In order to understand why getting plenty of water is the only and best "natural" means to get rid of it, you need to take a closer look at what happens from an endocrinological point of view in your body when stimulus like either "low water intake" or "abundant water intake" occur.
Your body secretes two main kinds of hormones:
- Steroidal hormones
- Peptidic hormones
Steroidal hormones are produced only when they need to be secreted (due to certain kinds of stimulus) because they can't be stored inside the same gland that manufactures them. Peptidic hormones, instead, are produced even when the body doesn't need them and then stored inside the same endocrine gland that secretes it. They are promptly released when the stimulus signals the glands to do so.
This is to introduce one of the two main hormones that control the balance of water in the body: ADH (Anti Diuretic Hormone also named Vasopressin).
When it gets secreted it inhibits water excretion due to the fact that it's actions increase water re-absorption by the distal or collecting tubules of the kidney and it promotes re-absorption of water back into circulation.
This Hormone is manufactured by the Hypothalamic Nuclei and then released into the bloodstream by the Posterior Lobe of the Pituitary Gland (also known as Neurohypophysis). The Neurohypophysis can secrete it or leave it stored. It depends on the body's necessities. Two main stimulus control its secretion or inhibition:
- 1) Plasma osmolarity (concentration of solutes in blood)
- 2) Blood pressure and volume
1) Plasma osmolarity is the most important variable involved in regulating ADH secretion. When plasma osmolarity increases (meaning when extra-cellular electrolytes increase above a certain threshold) the hypothalamic osmoreceptors that are sensible to such a stimulus, recognize it and stimulate neurons that secrete ADH. At the opposite side, when Plasma osmolarity decreases, ADH secretion is inhibited.
2) Also the blood volume and pressure contribute to its secretion or inhibition via stimulation of stretch-receptors located on vessels walls. When the blood volume is low they trigger the signal for its secretion. On the other hand, when blood volume is higher than normal its secretion is inhibited.
Another important hormone that is unknown to many bodybuilders plays a very crucial role in one's body water balance. It is the Atrial Natriuretic Hormone (ANH).
In the Atrial chambers of the hearth there are granules that contain this hormone, and studies demonstrated that the heart plays its role in maintaining blood circulation not only by its pumping action but also by the biological action of this hormone.
ANH induces the kidneys to excrete sodium in the urine (natriuresis).
It also interacts with other hormones in order to regulate their secretion. The adrenal glands have been shown to be its first endocrine target tissue by inhibiting minearlocorticoid synthesis (Aldosterone inhibition) as well as Glucocorticoid synthesis (Cortisol inhibition). ANH also affects the hypothalamo-hypophyseal axis by inhibiting ACTH and ADH secretion; furthermore it also antagonizes the sodium as well as water retention due to Aldosterone. This hormone is released when extra blood volume is detected by the stretch of the walls of the Atria.
This explanation is useful for you to understand why it's important to overload your body fluid volume by drinking more and not less prior the event.
To sum up the last two points, the best way to get rid of subcutaneous body water is inhibiting ADH and Aldosterone secretion, and to attain this you should drink more water and increase your sodium intake through the diet.
This way of acting directly affects the inhibition of ADH and Aldosterone, but drinking more does affect their inhibition indirectly too because of the halting action of ANH on their secretion. Further more, if the extra fluid load is detected by the Atria for a relatively long period of time not only there will be an ANH increased release but even its rate of production will increase as well.
This last point should clarify the need to over load your body with water for AT LEAST 8 days prior to the show, not just a few days.
Remember that your body always looks to maintain its own homeostasis, and doesn't like drastic changes from every point of view. (Homeostatis: The ability or tendency of an organism to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes. The body tries not to have too much or too little of any important fluids, hormones, etc.) So if you cut drastically either your water intake and/or sodium intake, the system readily acts to resume the normal condition by increasing water and sodium re-absorption. This happens because body water is the most important area where chemical reactions occur and the right balance of blood volume is vital for this purpose. Mineral balance (sodium included) is important for nerve transmission and muscle function - neuromuscular activity would be impossible without the regulation of sodium and potassium.
In this case your body tries to keep blood volume levels and mineral homeostasis even when you try to cut them drastically!
Homeostasis is also kept for all other systems of the body. For example: when exogenous testosterone is injected the body readily counteracts by lowering or inhibiting all of its natural endogenous production in the attempt to resume a normal/physiological condition.
PART FOUR: How To Put It All Together For Contest Prep
Now let's take a detailed look on how to put all this info to work step-by-step prior to the contest event.
Let's suppose the contest is on Saturday.
Assuming that your subcutaneous body fat is low enough to cause the hard look your physique gets once you eliminate your subcutaneous water retention, here's how to act: (of course personal adjustments are needed).
Depletion And Replenishment Of Glycogen Stores.
Sunday is the first day of the depleting phase of glycogen stores. There are some athletes that totally cut the carb consumption and others that do not.
Monday is the second day of the depleting phase
Tuesday is the third and last day of the depleting phase
Wednesday you will begin the replenishment of glycogen stores.
Thursday is the second day of the replenishment of glycogen stores.
Friday is the third and last day of this phase.
As I mentioned before at the beginning of this article, if you do deplete all your glycogen stores you should then be able to store 35 to 40 grams of glycogen for each 1000 grams (1 kg) of skeletal muscular tissue. This translates into about 1800 grams of carbs to be consumed during the 3 days of the Carbohydrate load phase for a subject that has 45 kg of Lean Muscular Tissue
After 3 days of low carbs or no carbs at all, the enzyme (Glycogen Sintetase) that stores the carbs you consume into your muscles as glycogen is very quick in doing that task. That's why in the bodybuilding field we say that after the "Carb Download Phase", our muscles are hungry.
Type Of Carbs
Knowing this, it is important to make the right choices in the source of carbs to be consumed. At this point, during the carbin' up phase, not all carbs are equal.
During the very first 24 hours after those 3 days of carbohydrate depletion, the Glycogen Sintetase acts at a very fast rate. So, at this point you should eat carbs that match its fast acting glycogen-storing work.
The best carbs to be consumed in the very first 24 hours are from high glycemic index sources. For example: glucose, white bread, white rice, rice cakes, white potatoes, bananas, etc. Right after the first 24 hours of glycogen replenishment, low glycemic index carbohydrates sources are recommended to fulfill the remaining glycogen depots. This comes from the observation that Glycogen Sintetase does its storing work at a slower rate. So in order to avoid a very high blood glucose peak from high glycemic index carbs which can then be diverted to adipose tissue (body fat), low glycemic index carbs are ideal! Of course only personal experiences on the matter can tell you if you should prolong the consumption of high glycemic index carbs over a 24 hour period or not.
Train During Carb Loading Phase?
Don't do any weight training and aerobic activity while on your "Carbohydrate Replenishment Phase"
There are also many athletes that prefer to keep on weight training and doing aerobics even during the "Replenishment Carbohydrate phase" claiming that those workouts would allow them to store more glycogen while carbin'up and claiming that aerobics help them to excrete more subcutaneous body water. According to me, while individuality plays an important role when it comes to one's physique, some techniques used by athletes still don't have any scientific application and just go in the opposite way of Human Physiology.
Let me explain scientifically:
There are two main physiological reasons that support the need to fully rest while on your carb up phase.
1) If the Depletion Phase has been done correctly either with a proper diet and/or weight training, there's no need to further deplete the muscles. They need their time to fully recover from the previous days without carbs. Nevertheless, many bodybuilders still continue on training after the depleting phase. That's why they claim their muscles are much fuller and tight 1 or 2 days AFTER the contest! This is because they continued on training even on the carbin' up phase and therefore kept on depleting glycogen instead of promoting its full replenishment.
2) Exercising either with weight and/or aerobics during the 2 days prior to the show doesn't allow you to get totally rid of subcutaneous body water:
- While training, a sensible loss of sodium and water occurs in the sweat; this leads to a decrease in the volume of extra-cellular fluids and thus to a Hypo-perfusion of the kidney; while exercising a "Blood shift" also occurs to the muscles because they need more perfusion. Consequently it translates into less blood flow that arrives to the Renal Glomerul of the Kidney which in turn means less sodium that arrives to the "MACULA DENSA" of the Kidney and constitutes the direct stimulus for Renin synthesis. (As a reminder, Renin is the starter that leads at the end to Aldosterone secretion).
- Physical exercise induces the sympathetic activation of Renal nervous terminations that are located next to Juxtaglomerular cells; this stimulus is felt by Beta-receptors on the membranes of these cells and leads to the release of Renin.
- Being that Blood flow is diverted to the muscles while exercising, it induces a decrease in the blood flow to the liver and consequently of course a decrease in the metabolic clearance of Renin. It means that Renin is destroyed by the liver, and since the blood flow to the liver decreased, Renin continues its Aldosterone stimulation.
In one study (Wade et al., 1987) the use of an "ACE-inhibitor" (therefore able to reduce the Angiotensin II levels) hasn't inhibited the Aldosterone secretion induced by exercise; It has been supposed that Aldosterone is sensible also to ACTH stimulation, inevitable while exercising.
Starting from Sunday up to and including Wednesday increase your sodium intake either by eating rich sodium foods (like egg whites, tuna for the protein sources) and adding salt to your meals. Stop doing this and drastically abolish as much as possible sodium from your diet starting on Thursday by switching your rich-sodium food to low-sodium foods (for example: switch tuna and egg whites with chicken breast, turkey breast or other source of high biological value protein that are low in sodium. Of course, your carbohydrates sources should also be very low in sodium).
When the sodium intake gets abolished 2 days prior to the show, the system will keep on excreting it as well as the water. Remember Homeostasis? In this case, when the sodium has been overloaded in the previous days, the system is focused on re-establishing homeostasis, that is to resume back to normal levels of sodium and it does this by continuing to excrete sodium and consequently water at a very fast rate. You did a drastic overload of it and the body drastically replies. This condition is maintained until the system detects through its feedback mechanism that sodium normal levels have been resumed back.
When sodium is not consumed anymore, the system usually takes about 2 to 2 1/2 days to recognize the diminished sodium intake and therefore within this amount of time the excess of sodium and water excretion won't lead to any negative feedback mechanism.
That's why timing the lowering of sodium is crucial.
Starting from Friday through and including Wednesday drink as much as 8 litres of water per day without caring about its mineral content.
Lower the water intake to 6 litres on Thursday.
Lower the water intake to 4 litres on Friday.
Stop drinking at least 8-10 hours prior to your show.
The abolishment of water intake, limited to 8-10 hours prior to the show, will permit the body to keep on excreting water because of the analogue mechanism that occurs for the sodium.
In competitive bodybuilding some athletes do use Diuretics in the attempt to get rid of that extra cellular body water in order to get that impressive defined look.
Diuretics can really create that desired effect but their use is very risky unless you are supervised by a physician.
Some diuretics act on eliminating potassium and sodium as well as chloride and consequently water. These kinds of diuretics have a dramatic impact on your total body water, so dramatic that one of the several troubles you can face (from an aesthetic point of view) is the loss of your hard earned muscles. Yes, once you manipulate your potassium levels and excrete it due to the use of a "Loop diuretic" you run the risk of losing your intra cellular body water, the water that makes your muscles full. From a health point of view, the loss of high levels of potassium can lead to heart complications.
Other Diuretics known as "Potassium Sparing Diuretics" like Spironolactone, inhibit the loss of intra cellular potassium ions so that the risk of appearing with flattened muscles is avoided.
This class of Diuretics acts only by inhibiting the Aldosterone secretion so that any sodium re-uptake by the distal tubule of the kidney is halted and therefore also water re-absorption, permitting you to excrete only extra-cellular water.
Unfortunately it's not as simple as it seems.
1) The chance to appear on stage with flat muscles or with empty muscles should not be a concern with a "Potassium Sparing Diuretics" but it's still possible. I saw many athletes that looked flat with the use of such a diuretic!
2) The fact that Aldosterone inhibition allows the water to be excreted by the inhibition of sodium re-absorption causes a drop in plasma osmolarity and/or blood volume. As mentioned above the drop of blood volume is one of the stimulus for ADH secretion therefore inducing water re-absorption by the collecting duct of the kidney. HOMEOSTASIS!
I also heard about athletes that use ACE inhibitors and also AII receptor blockers. This is why ADH is stimulated also from the release of Angiotensin II (AII). Unfortunately ADH secretion doesn't depend only on Angiotensin II, but as I wrote before Neurohypophysis regulates ADH secretion both by the stimulus of Plasma Osmolarity felt by osmoreceptors and Blood volume felt by stretch receptors.
In a nutshell the use of Diuretics and even of a potassium sparing diuretic is short circuited. I'm not stating that they don't work, but only that their use is either too complex or too risky, and above all, in 2 days you can literally destroy all the hard physical work you did to get into the show.
PART FIVE: An Example - My Current Contest Prep!
Here's the complete training and diet schedule that I followed during the preparation of my last contest: "Musclemania World Championship" 2002.
Contest date: November 16th, 2002.
Just to let you know, my year long carb intake ranges around 350 grams per day with some variations occurring because of my post-workout meal only. With that amount I don't get that competitive ripped look for a contest but it allows me to train very hard, to gain mass (and most of it is lean), to have a proper CNS (Central Nervous System) alert state, and you may not believe it, but I still look defined.
Carbs Download Phase
Starting from October 9th I dropped my carb intake to 300 grams per day, shared evenly in 5 meals (breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, dinner). My 6th meal "AFTER DINNER" consists of protein only in order to not inhibit my nocturnal GH secretion.
This is 300 grams per day when I don't train, because on the training days I add a surplus of high glycemic carbs for my post-workout shake which is a good idea because of the metabolic and muscular alteration induced by the lactacid weight training. To see the appropriate carb and protein intake for post workout, read my last article "How To Diet All Year Long Without Starving".
Starting on October 14th I dropped the carbs to 280 grams per day.
Starting on October 21st I further cut the carb intake to 250 grams per day.
- On November 5th: 180 grams.
- On November 6th: 150 grams.
- On November 7th: 90 grams.
- On November 8th: 90 grams.
- On November 9th: 70 grams.
- On November 10th: 40 grams.
- On November 11th: 0 grams.
As you may see, I preferred not to follow the general principles for the "Carbohydrate Depletion Phase". This variation comes from my personal, deep-rooted experience!
The drastic total cut of carbohydrates for 3 days accompanied with those long glycogen-depleting weight trainings lowered my energy expenditure (during my previous contest preparations) and created a very hungry state!
So I tried to gradually lower my carb intake as shown above and I kept the same weight training schedule (the same training followed prior the contest prep) both from a frequency point of view and their structure. It allowed me to reach both a very good glycogen depletion phase and not to lower the energy expenditure processes. If we look at energy expenditure from a scientific point of view and not from my personal experience, studies on the matter show that:
Prolonged Fasting Induces Modifications On The Thyroid Parameters.
The reduced caloric intake induces a reduction in the peripheral conversion of T4 to T3 because of the reduced activity of the enzyme "5'-Deiodinase Type I" in the liver and kidney. This enzymatic activity supplies most of the "T3 Pool" in the blood that is in turn caught and utilized from peripheral tissues.
Obviously a competitive bodybuilder doesn't go through fasting while cutting carbohydrates (even totally), because of the presence of others macronutrients in the diet: proteins and lipids (fats)! But the prominent effect on the alteration of the peripheral thyroid metabolism seems due to carbohydrates reduction uptake!
The physiologic causes of these modifications simply reflect the adaptation of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid Axis to the diminished energy intake. Scientific observations also reveal that it is not the caloric and/or carbohydrates reduction itself but rather the alteration of energetic balance that plays an important role on the modifications of thyroid functions.
In a nutshell, it's better not to let your body be aware of the carbohydrate/caloric reduction in order to be sure it does not shut down the conversion of T4 to T3. The best way to do so is by lowering calories (in this case carbs) gradually.
Keep in mind that T3 is more active than the T4 form of the thyroid hormone and it is vital both for keeping your metabolism rate high enough to assure the lipolysis processes that occur inside the mitochondria continue and also to keep the protein synthesis process activated.
The proper blood levels of T3 will allow you to burn subcutaneous fat and also prevent the loss of Lean Muscular Tissue as much as possible while dieting!
Carbin' Up Phase
I estimated through different means and one of these is of course experience, that my carb reload phase should consist of about 2100 grams in total. This translates into 700 grams per day for 3 days.
1st day (Tuesday, November 12th): I started carbin' up right after my last weight training session that was on the morning of Tuesday, November 12th. I consumed very high glycemic index carbs choosing mostly among the foods I mentioned above. For the first day I consumed 900 grams of carbs shared evenly throughout the day. I did it because I judged the opportunity to use the fast acting Glycogen Sinthetase action at its best. Think of it as the metabolic alteration you have created after your intense workout that justifies the consumption of high glycemic carbs, but this time multiply that alteration 10 times.
Wednesday, November 13th: I didn't consume any carbs because I had to go on a very long flight to reach the contest place. From Rome to Los Angeles! Following the carbin' up meal plan would have only meant for me to stress during the long flight. You all know that stress triggers different negative hormonal reactions for us bodybuilders: CRH, ACTH, Cortisol, Aldosterone etc...
2nd day (Thursday, November 13th): I consumed 700 grams of carbs from low glycemic index sources such as apples, dried apricots, whole rye bread with no sodium, and others.
3rd day (Friday, November 14th): I consumed 500 grams of carbs from low glycemic index sources.
Supplements While On The Glycogen Replenishment Phase.
1st day (Tuesday, November 12th): My first meal of the "Carb Replenishment Phase" consisted of glucose + whey protein hydrolisates + 20grams of creatine + 50ml of glycerol + 10 grams of BCAA.
10 grams of creatine in the 2nd meal
10 grams of creatine in the 3rd meal.
Creatine brings water directly into muscles unless you have been ripped off by purchasing a creatine product that contains high amounts of toxic chemicals like Dicyandiamide, dihydrotriazine, and also creatinine and high quantities of sodium. Bodybuilding.com has only quality creatine products available.
I'm not stating that the first 2 chemicals create water retention. I'm not stating creatinine creates water retention, but it can be possible. What is sure is that you are not getting the desired benefit of a quality creatine product and that a high amount of sodium content in your creatine will not help, especially when you abolish your sodium intake during those 2 days prior to the show.
Glycerol has been shown to fight pathologies like edema by diverting extra cellular water inside the cells.
After the 3 days of No-Carbs (or low-carb intake) accompanied with the 3 days of strenuous glycogenolytic workouts, the consumption of glucose + fast acting protein causes a very dramatic spike of insulin secretion that acts very well with the Glycogen Sintetase in promoting an efficient beginning process of glycogen replenishment. Creatine supplementation does a real good job synergistically with glycerol in bringing more water inside the cells.
2nd day (Thursday, November 13th): 30 grams of creatine shared evenly throughout the day and consumed along with meals.
3rd day (Friday, November 14th): 20 grams of creatine shared evenly throughout the day and consumed along with meals.
I did as mentioned above in the article. I increased my sodium intake (by adding sodium to my meals and also choosing among sodium-rich protein and carb sources) starting from Sunday, November 10th until and including Wednesday, November 13th. From the breakfast of Thursday, November 14th until the contest date I consumed only very low sodium protein and very low sodium carbs sources.
In order to promote the desired hard look, I did what in Italy in the Bodybuilding field is called "Switch of Salts".
Potassium is an intracellular electrolyte ion which holds water inside the cell and not outside like sodium does. I introduced the Potassium supplementation with the supplement "LENTO KALIUM" starting from the night of the Wednesday prior to the contest.
Electrolyte balance between sodium and potassium is under the control of the Homeostasis system. So it's important to neither start too much before the contest with potassium supplementation nor exaggerating with it, because excess potassium can also trigger the release of Aldosterone in the attempt to resume the balance.
The same as recommended above in the article.
As you may see, reaching a competitive edge in bodybuilding is more complex than it seems. Being a bodybuilder requires profound knowledge of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, endocrinology, nutrition, and psychology.
All this is required both in the attempt to ask of one's physique the maximum results and, above all, to preserve and assure one's health!
Furthermore when it comes to getting in shape for a contest all these notions about scientific subjects are a MUST... otherwise you will never be able to know how far your body can go. It's like leaving your home without knowing where to go. You lose time and end up going nowhere.
Be Big, be Ripped, be Strong, BE SMART!