How to Peak for Your Big Day
By Dr. Clayton Hyght PC,
According to Benjamin Franklin, there are only two things that are certain in life: death and taxes. But, besides those two certainties, we do have laws that govern our physical existence. For example, The law of gravity: what goes up must come down. Or, Newton's first law of motion: an object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force. My favorite is Murphy's law: what can go wrong usually will.
When it comes to dietary manipulation to make one's physique look leaner and bigger for an event, it seems that Murphy’s law often prevails. Let's take a look at exactly what peaking is, how to do it, and, most importantly, how to avoid Murphy's Law from rearing its ugly head during the process.
I define peaking as manipulating your diet and exercise to give an appearance to the physique that, for a period of time, is better than before you began the peaking process. The skin will appear thinner, tighter, and the muscles fuller. Overall, the physique will also appear leaner, as if less body fat is present. Sounds good, huh?
Whether the event you wish to peak for is a pool party, class reunion, or competition, there are a few tricks you can use to really fine-tune your physique. Likewise, there are some major errors that you can commit during those final crucial hours that could make your physique look smoother and softer. A competition quality peak can only be held for about 48 hours maximum. After that, the body will wise up to what you're doing and begin to compensate by retaining fluids.
Keep in mind, the goal is to look better than when you start. If you're getting ready for your big day and you're satisfied with the way you look, then don't change anything. Otherwise, be aware that the whole process has inherent risks - meaning, it could backfire and you could end up looking worse than when you began. I can tell you from experience, that's a bad feeling.
Let me share with you some tried and true methods for peaking your physique. Likewise, I'm going to share with you some pitfalls that, I'm not happy to say, I've tried and proven to be just that - pitfalls. (Hey, I'll try anything in the name of science!)
Three Important Do's
1) Get Lean. To begin with, get rid of as much body fat as you can. This will save you a lot of trouble in the end. Most people try drastic methods of peaking at the last minute, simply because they weren't lean enough to begin with. Plan your diet and training well in advance of the big day. Deciding three weeks before a pool party that you want a six-pack when your current body fat is 18% is absurd. Get out a calendar, mark your big day, and lay out a plan with ample time to get you in the shape you want on your big day.
2) Drink lots of water. Doing so will not only help keep your muscles full, hydrated, and less prone to injuries and cramping; but it will also train your body to get rid of water by keeping your aldosterone levels low. Aldosterone is a hormone in your body that causes your body (specifically your kidneys) to retain water and sodium. That's the last thing you want when you're trying to get a hard, dry look. Drinking a lot of water is an easy, safe, and cheap way to lower aldosterone levels. You will also get the benefit of your muscle being more anabolic (prone to building) and less catabolic (prone to breakdown). About 100 ounces (almost a gallon) of plain water is a good starting point. If you're larger or sweat more, you'll want to increase that amount accordingly.
Beginning about ten days away from your event, increase your water intake even more. Try to double it. I know firsthand that drinking that much water can be difficult. At least increase it by 50%. This will ensure that your aldosterone levels are super low and that your body is readily excreting water.
3) Eat plenty of sodium. What? I thought salt was the enemy? No, sir. Salt is your new friend. Again, this has to do with aldosterone. Eating plenty of sodium (table salt is sodium chloride) will depress aldosterone, enabling you to readily get rid of excess fluid. Besides, sodium is very important as far as muscle contraction goes. Every muscle contraction requires sodium - without it, muscles don't contract. Sodium also helps to keep the muscles nice and full - which is, of course, a plus. If you have high blood pressure, then follow your doctor’s orders as far as salt intake. Although a recent study actually shows that a higher intake of sodium doesn't significantly affect blood pressure in those with hypertension (high blood pressure). Regardless, until we know more about the role of sodium and hypertension, follow your doctor’s orders, not my method for peaking.
As with water, you may want to increase your sodium intake about ten days before your big event. In my experience, this doesn't seem to help me very much, though. However, I do tend to eat plenty of sodium anyway in my regular diet by using various seasonings and salt. If you tend to eat bland foods and you don't salt or season them, then you would likely benefit more from the temporary increase in sodium. Regardless, I still do it and have most of my clients do it before a show, just in case. Again, the goal here is to lower aldosterone and train the body to excrete sodium.
Two Days Prior
Beginning two days before your big day, cut your water intake in half. For example: If your event is on Saturday and you're up to drinking 1.5 gallons of water per day, then on Thursday only drink 3/4 gallon. Drink most of that with meals to aid digestion. As for sodium, begin decreasing it as well on Thursday. I have seen people peak successfully that decreased their sodium to as little as about 400 mg per day (66 mg per meal across six meals) and as much as a couple of thousand mg per day (333 per meal across six meals). I have seen that those (like myself) who tend to retain water, do better with a lower sodium intake. On the contrary, those who don't tend to retain water (like this old-time bodybuilder named Lee Labrada!) tend to do better with a little higher sodium intake. Same goes for the water intake, too.
On Friday (or the day before your event) again cut your water intake in half. Using the above example with you drinking 1.5 gallons the last few days until yesterday's 3/4 gallon, you would now drink 3/8 of a gallon. That comes out to about 48 oz. for the day. Again, have most of this with food. As for sodium, you have two options. If you favored a lower amount on Thursday, you would probably want to leave it the same for Friday. On the other hand, if you chose to consume toward the higher end of my recommendations, you might want to cut it again by anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2. For example, if you had 1,500 mg sodium on Thursday, go anywhere between 750 mg to 1,000 mg on Friday.
On the Big Day, consume about the same amounts of water and sodium that you did the day before (ex: Friday). That should enable you to hold your peak as long as possible.
Carb Loading is yet another twist that can be added to the peaking program. There is one method of carbing up (carb loading) that I've seen to work with numerous consistent bodybuilders including former Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates, and former Olympia runner-up - that Lee Labrada guy. Both were known for their ability to peak perfectly time and time again, and both did a similar carb-up. Beginning six days out from your event, cut your carb intake in half. Then on the final three days before, resume your normal carb intake but add the half back in that you took out in the first three days. For example, if your normal carb intake is 300 g, then on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday lower that amount to 150 g per day. Then on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday consume 450 g of carbs.
This is a good, time-tested method of carbing up that seems to work well for most people. If done correctly, your muscles will appear fuller (larger) than normal and will also display cuts that they normally may not have, especially when combined with a slight manipulation of water and sodium. You will also appear more vascular, unless you lower your water and sodium too low.
If your diet prior to you big even happens to be very low in carbs, (Note: never go below 100g of carbs) then simply avoid the three days where you decrease your carbs, then on Wednesday beginning the carbing up process.
What article on peaking would be complete with talking about diuretics? Diuretics, whether prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), cause your body (kidneys) to excrete more water than normal. This tends to dehydrate the body giving it a leaner look. Sounds great, huh? The problem lies in the fact that they take water from everywhere: under your skin (which is what you want), from your blood (not good), and from your muscles (also not good). Overdoing diuretics will leave your muscles very flat, which will make you actually look smoother (and smaller) than when you started. That's the exact opposite of what's supposed to happen.
If you are going to use a prescription diuretic, first of all make sure to get a prescription from you medical doctor. Don't go raiding your grandma's medicine cabinet for the diuretics she takes for her congestive heart failure. One of the milder and safer, yet still plenty effective prescription diuretics to take is Diazide. Harsher ones like Lasix will tend to overdo the water excretion process.
There a number of over-the-counter diuretics than you can take as well. Dandelion is a very effective diuretic that can be found at most health food stores. Uva Ursi is another decent herbal diuretic. Vitamins C and B6 are also mild diuretics. NWB or straight Dandelion would be my two OTC choices.
Beware, just because these are not prescription drugs, doesn't mean they aren't strong and can't be overdone. I learned first hand two years ago when peaking for the MuscleMania World Championship that they can be overdone. I was taking way too many of them thinking that because they were natural, they weren't very strong. Before I began taking them I weighed 200 lbs (Wednesday). On Friday at weigh-in I was floored to find that I had lost TEN lbs. of water, putting me at 190 lbs. Needless to say, I looked horrible. Had I just shown up, I would've likely finished a few places higher than my ultimate ninth place finish.
I honestly think that the best way to peak and to peak consistently is to avoid using any diuretic at all. Lee Labrada concurs with me on this, too. Lee's not using diuretics is one reason that he was able to be so consistent for so long. He was able to peak every time, as you can see from photos. If you chose to go against our recommendations, use one dose the night before your big day and possibly, one dose on Thursday night (two nights before). That should be more than enough, and may very well be too much. When it comes to diuretic use, err on the side of caution.
One Big Don't
One thing that some competitors do to try to improve their appearance at the last minute (or last few hours) is to have an anything-goes “cheat meal.” It can give the muscles more fullness and improve vascularity. Although such a meal works for some, it backfires on the rest; and when a cheat meal backfires, it does so in a big way. I can (unfortunately from experience) attest to this. If you feel like you're muscles are flat and could use some more carbs, make sure they come from clean, low sodium sources like potatoes, rice, or oats. Avoid junk altogether, as that's an accident waiting to happen.
Putting it all Together
Using my above guidelines and recommendations, trying to peak for your event or even consider a trial run. Write everything down that you do or take. When you go to peak again, if you want to change something, change only one thing. That's something Lee shared with me. He pointed out that if you change two or three things, how do you know what attributed to your change? Therefore, change one variable at a time, and keep detailed notes.
As I've said, there's no one method of peaking that works best for everyone. You have to try to see how your body responds to each variable. Then, over time, you'll be able to fine-tune a method that works perfectly for you.
To have Dr. Hyght help you peak for your big day, or for other inquiries, feel free to contact him at www.DrHyght.com.