So you have spent six months bulking and three months cutting to bring a full and shredded look to the stage. Now you are only a week away from showing your hard work off in front of everyone, and there are an overwhelming number of protocols out there that claim they are the secret to coming in perfect on stage.
In reality, you should have already put in all the hard work. Peak week is about fine tuning little details to come in drier and with fuller muscles. If you don’t look stage-ready two weeks out, you aren’t going to be ready in time. There is no need to do anything drastic, since drastic changes to diet protocols can cause a negative reaction to your physique.
You are in a very delicate hormonal state the week before a contest, and it’s best to stay the course and only make minor changes. That said, there are some things you can do to peak at show time, and this article covers all the factors that come into play those final few days.
The Week Before The Peak
Carb intake should be getting lower the last few weeks before a show. Two weeks out (assuming you are on track and not too fat still) you should have a nice refeed with a large amount of carbs. Think 2 g per pound of body weight. On this day, make sure to drastically lower fat intake and drop protein a little as well. This refills glycogen stores and raises leptin levels, allowing you to go into your peak week with healthy hormones and a little energy. A benefit of this is you get a close image of what you will bring to stage and can see how your body reacts to the foods you are refeeding with.
After this point, your workouts will be designed to deplete the newly stored glycogen, setting you up for one final refeed leading into show.
Up until the last two weeks, your workouts should have focused on preserving muscle tissue through heavy lifting and low volume. After your last refeed two weeks out, workouts should be full body with higher volume. Use rep ranges between 12-25 with shorter rest periods.
Take every other day off from weights and train up until Wednesday or Thursday morning before the show (assuming the show is on a Saturday). Use a variety of free weights and machines implementing antagonist supersets throughout the workout. These are supersets training opposing muscle groups back to back.
This style of working out is designed to deplete glycogen stores and intramuscular fat so your muscles will suck up all the nutrients you give it once you introduce carbs and fats during peak weak. Cardio should be done daily in the form of fasted LISS. HIIT should be done on the days you take off from lifting weights.
Carb and Fat Loading
This is where most competitors miss the mark. Carb loading helps refill glycogen stores, but also pulls water to the gut to aid in digestion. This can result in subcutaneous water storage, taking away from the dry, hard look and blurring out your abs. When people overload on carbs, they come in looking full, but unfortunately also very soft and watery. A traditional approach is a three-day carb load which will not work optimally for the vast majority of competitors. For every gram of glycogen stored, your body stores about 3 g of water. This will almost certainly cause a spillover to water retention unless you are a shredded 260lb super heavyweight. There is a much easier way to load the muscle cells that is often overlooked.
Fat loading is “safer” than carb loading. That’s because of the insoluble nature of fats, which means you won’t pull water to the gut for digestion. Loading with fats is also less likely to lead to excess water retention that comes with glycogen loading. Fats help pull water into the muscle tissues, instead of beneath the skin. This is because they are stored immediately in the muscle as intramuscular fats while glycogen loading hits your liver first before you muscles.
When bodybuilders talk about “filling out” for a show, they typically are focused on glycogen stores within the muscle. The truth is filling glycogen stores is only a small portion of what contributes to filling out the muscle tissue. Most people store between 300-500 grams of glycogen in their muscle cells depending on their size. Muscles can store over 1,000 grams worth of fats intramuscularly in the depleted bodybuilder.
So instead of shoving Pop Tarts and pancakes down your throat, why not use fats primarily since they don’t lead to excess water retention? Well, to be fair you can’t load solely on fats; you do need some carbs. But by taking in smaller amounts spread over time, you don’t run the risk of spillover. The fats do the majority of the work filling out the muscle.
Two days out from a show, double your calories but cut your protein in half. Make up those calories in carbohydrates and that becomes your carb day. The next day you will consume carbs in smaller quantities along with higher fats, leading to full muscles, both from glycogen and intramuscular fat.
This is another area many people tend to get wrong. It used to be common practice to load up on multiple gallons of water leading up to a show, then taper down.This does not work 99% of the time because a gradual tapering signals to your body that it needs to start producing the hormone aldosterone, forcing your body to retain water because there is less received. A more optimal way is to load up on water early in the peak week then drop it abruptly a day before the show. This doesn’t give your body as much time to adjust, and aldosterone levels will not spike dramatically. This means your body will still be flushing water out of its system the way it was when water intake was very high earlier in the week. However, having too little water will make you look stringy and depleted, so it’s important to not go overboard with water restriction or over-the-counter diuretics.
Sodium intake is probably the least understood component of peak week. Many people cut it out completely because they think it causes water retention. In reality, cutting sodium increases aldosterone, which the body produces in an effort to increase sodium reabsorption. This leads to the aforementioned water retention. During a contest prep, the body benefits from higher sodium levels when carb intake is low. The low carbs lead to less water being retained, and if this is combined with low sodium intake, the muscles will not be properly hydrated. This makes them look flat, or you’ll experience cramping. Sodium protocols will be similar to water intake; load higher through the week then abruptly drop all added sodium just prior to stopping drinking water.
Your Peak Week Protocol
Example of 180lb man
|6||<75g||220g||50g||3,000 mg||1 gallon|
|5||<50||220g||55g||3,500 mg (the extra 500 mg is equivalent to a quarter teaspoon of additional salt)||1.25 gallons|
|4||<30||220g||60g||4,000 mg||1.5 gallons|
|3||<30||220g||60g||4,500 mg||2 gallons|
|2||500||110g||60g||5,000 mg||2.5 gallons|
|1||300||180g||150g||No added sodium until last meal of the night. This should be a meal out at a restaurant with both carbs and fats.||Drink 2 gallons in the morning and then quit drinking water by early afternoon.|
When you decide to step on stage, you are competing against yourself. It is an individual sport, and all the burden falls on you. As long as you do everything in your power and look the best you possibly can that day, then it’s a success regardless of how you place. Hopefully, this guide gives you some confidence to take that step. You never know what you could be capable of unless you give it shot.