Other readers won't readily understand the conundrum of the topic. Oblivious to the reasons why they never seem to quite nail a peak, they just wander to the next locker room expert in search of the magic formula.
Much of the following information was included in an article I wrote two years ago, but I believe it may be the most important thing you can learn to peak perfectly. It's definitely worth a revisit.
Water Balance At The Olympia
I recently read a stage-side report from the Mr. Olympia. This long-time insider of that organization had a pat answer for almost half of the competitors' condition: flat, watery, and smooth. Could it be that they all follow a similar peaking routine? Might it be that you also blindly follow the same advice?
Did they carb deplete Sunday through Tuesday, drink tons of water, maybe sodium load a little, carb load starting Wednesday, start cutting water Thursday (Friday virtually none,) eliminate sodium for two or three days prior to Saturday, start taking 99 mg of potassium every 2 hours, and use a Harry Potter cocktail of glycerol, creatine, and sugar while finishing it all up with an over-the-counter dandelion root-based diuretic to supercharge their vascularity? (Or, in their case, a prescription diuretic.)
As much trust as you may have in reading or following someone's advice, please give yourself the credit of at least looking for the proof. Where are these "experts'" stable of winning horses? Is there consistency? Where does their personal credibility lie? You put way too much effort and time into preparing for a contest to just blow it on a guess during the last week. You know that first hand.
Water balance in your body is incredibly complex. The end goal of a bodybuilder on contest day is to look "hard." Body fat must be gone, that's a given, but even with the leanest physique you can present, the shredded/dry look comes from having a minimal amount of water under your skin.
Really, what this means is interstitial plasma, which can be thought of as any fluid outside the cells in your body. There are several processes that affect cellular fluid dynamics. We have to start with the big picture first.
Interstitial is a generic term for referring to the space between other structures or objects. The word derives from the Latin interstitialis, literally "placed between", from inter, between, and sistere-stiti-statum, to place.
In anatomy, interstitial cells are cells found in the spaces between organs and other tissues. Similarly, interstitial fluid is the fluid between organs and tissues, outside of the lymphatic or cardio vascular systems.
Cellular Fluid Dynamics
Water makes up 50-60% of your body and up to 75% of your muscle tissue.
- If you're 2% dehydrated it will negatively affect your muscle tissue and athletic ability.
- If you're 5% dehydrated you'll cramp.
- If you're 7-10% dehydrated you'll hallucinate and risk death.
Think back to when you were drinking a gallon and a half of water a day. You were full, hard, and vascular. Why? You had enough water in your body. The morning of the show you were flat as a pancake, soft as a marshmallow, and every muscle on your body shook and cramped on stage. Why? You were dehydrated.
When you see pictures of top WNBF pros that are clients of mine, be assured they didn't cut water one bit. I recall one client who took his sweats off at the weigh-in for a national event. All attention was on the crevices that simply make the term "striated glute" paltry.
His painfully ripped obliques and the tissue-paper skin covering his entire body stopped conversations. He was immediately selected as the subject of a video being filmed. The photographer, however, dutifully noticed him chugging on his gallon of water.
"Whoa, big boy, shouldn't you slow down on that water, the show is tomorrow?!"
"No," Mr. Anatomy Chart replied, "I've already had one gallon, I have to finish this second one by tonight."
Was he waterlogged and soft by contest time? No. Even the photographer had to admit, "Well, I guess you know what you're doing, you look even harder today!"
The water was in his muscle tissue making them full and hard, while interstitial water was at a minimum. Keeping water intake normal gives you the opportunity to be full, but being hard depends on what we do to channel it into the muscle.
This is where the sodium/potassium comes in.
Sodium is the major extra-cellular fluid cation and potassium is the major intracellular fluid cation. Normal physiology maintains 55-65% of our fluid intracellularly anyway.
| What Is A Cation?
An atom or group of atoms carrying a positive charge. The charge results because there are more protons than electrons in the cation.
If we are in a normal condition, we have more fluid inside than outside our cells. It's when we screw something up that this percentage heads the other direction and fluid is diverted outside the cell.
Fluid dynamics is controlled with incredible precision via our kidneys. Though you hear the phrase "you have to trick your body" every time you get a locker room lesson on peaking, trust me, there is no tricking your body.
It's much faster than you and much more sophisticated than you could hope to account for. Every time you do something extreme trying to cause an extreme reaction, you'll get one. Two problems:
- First, it may not be the one you wanted.
- Second, if it is the one you want, it will be very short-lived because the extreme reaction will be quickly countered in the other direction just as severely until the "pendulum" that you violently swung slows back down.
Take a serious look at what happened to your body last time you peaked the way I described as wrong. You went from hard and full, to harder, then a little smaller, then huge, then huge and soft, then soft and flat on the morning of the show, then huge and vascular on Sunday, and finally as soft and squishy as can be for a couple days after that. That's the kind of instability you get when you start trying to "trick" your body.
Yes, sodium and potassium are key ions that regulate cellular fluid dynamics, but you can't create extreme environments and expect to time them for a show. You can subtly influence them, but keep in mind this phrase:
Water is attracted to and will follow the ions as they travel across the cell membranes. We want plasma to be attracted to the inside of the cell but it won't happen by just increasing potassium, it will be because we have the right balance of sodium and potassium.
The goal should be to simply maintain the "normal," stable environment that would have 55-65% of the fluid there anyway.
Just as big a factor, however, is sodium's role in blood volume. Deficiencies in sodium will lead to a drop in blood pressure which means plasma (water) has been pushed out of the vascular system.
If it's not in your blood vessels, it's around them interstitially which means subcutaneously. That, of course, means SMOOTH!!!
This will then start a chain reaction that will take days to remedy. When sodium is dropped from the diet, your kidneys will be influenced immediately by the hormone Aldosterone to conserve sodium from being excreted and remember: water follows solutes.
If sodium is being reabsorbed, then water will be as well. You retain water and with the lower blood pressure, it's all under your skin instead of in your vascular system.
Take a look at this study:
|Normal Diet Low Sodium|
Within one day of dropping dietary sodium, excreted sodium is cut in half and continues to decline as more Aldosterone is produced. BUT, look at blood levels of sodium: they're conserved perfectly!!
All you did by cutting sodium was screw up the osmolarity of the cell membranes and you won't know where the water is going to go. If you keep your water intake and sodium intake normal, your cellular fluid dynamics will stay normal. You'll continue to flush excess water and sodium out of your body. So, you ask, "What's normal?"
"Normal" For Sodium
The RDA for sodium is a range of .5-2.4 grams per day but other sources recommend up to 3.3 grams per day. The RDA for potassium is 1.6-2.0 grams per day.
| One Quick Side Note On Potassium:
Excessive potassium will also stimulate Aldosterone. Don't add potassium in amounts that place it higher than sodium intake.
Everyone, of course is a little different, and this is precisely why I don't just "peak" clients. I have to have more than a week of working with them so I can make and observe changes in their body before I detail out a perfect plan for them as individuals. If you're going it alone, you also need some self-practice to see what's right for your body.
I know you may be disappointed to hear all this talk about "normal," so I want to give you a chance to manipulate a variable that WILL make a huge difference. Since I won't let you whack your sodium/potassium around, what other nutrient could possibly affect water balance in a very, very positive way??
You already know that every gram of glycogen (stored glucose/carbohydrate) attracts water to it - 2.7 grams of water to be exact. Remember the "water follows solutes" thing? Glycogen is a solute too. This is why you get so full and feel so huge when your carbs are high.
Your water content is high also. We already established that when your water is low, you'll experience the opposite: flat, soft muscles.
The real trick is to have enough carbs in your body to attract water in your muscle tissue to be full and hard, but you may have also heard the phrase "spilling over" in relation to carbs.
This is a legitimate concern. The average adult can only store 375-475 grams of carbs in the body, about 325 of which would be in the muscle (90-110 grams in the liver and 15-20 as blood glucose.) When you consume too many carbohydrates, which is likely with a traditional carb-up, the excessive glycogen ends up in the interstitial fluids, the water follows, and now there's another reason for the water under your skin.
How you carb up, how much you carb up, and the foods you use are all factors in making sure the glucose is in the muscle not outside. Combine this with water intake, sodium/potassium intake, and even your training and you have the full picture of how you will look on Saturday morning.
I know this is an incredibly complex subject, but if you read it, make notes, sort it out, you'll see that peaking can be consistent and predictable, not a gamble.
I'll let you go back through the article to isolate the details but I hope I have impressed upon you that dropping water, eliminating sodium, increasing potassium, and carbing up hard are not only physiologically contrary to your goals, but has been the sabotaging of your contest day!
Try doing things in concert with your body instead of trying to trick it and practice them several times before contest day!
Dr. Joe Klemczewski is a WNBF Pro and consults with top pro and amateur bodybuilders through his unique online Perfect Peaking Program. He can be reached at email@example.com.