Peaking for a Show; Clearing Up Misconceptions

How often have you heard this scenario? Competitor is getting ready for a show and fast forward to the day after the show. “But I looked so much better the day after” or “I looked my best 1 week out. I don’t know what happened”. It’s all too common to hear these from competitors due to archaic peaking practices that go against basic human physiology. So what’s one to do? What’s the secret? In all honesty, there is no secret. It’s a balance of 3 factors:

1.    Water
2.    Carbohydrates
3.    Electrolytes(especially sodium)

So let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this discussion.

What makes a muscle full and round? Ask the typical gym goer and they’ll probably say it’s carbohydrates. While this is partially correct, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. The answer would be glycogen. Glycogen is stored carbohydrates within muscle tissue and the liver. It’s made primarily of 1 part glucose and 3 to 4 parts water. So for every gram of carbohydrate converted into glucose, it pulls 3 to 4 grams of water. This is very important when utilizing a carbohydrate loading process for a show. Many times water will be loaded earlier in the week and then tapered down as the week progresses. Many times someone might be down to a mere quart of water the day prior or even less. Trying to ingest carbohydrates without water is a futile endeavor, as the point of this procedure is to create glycogen for the muscles. Without water glycogenesis doesn’t take place. One would surmise that if  one were to try a dry carbohydrate load that the carbohydrates would pull water from elsewhere to create glycogen but this just doesn’t play out in practice.

The crucial component is sodium. Sodium’s role in the body is to regulate blood pressure and blood volume and to regulate osmotic equilibrium within the body. Just like water, sodium is typically loaded by many earlier in the week and then sharply cut out near the end. The theory behind this, just like with the cutting of water, is to remove that “subcutaneous layer of water” underneath the skin. Unfortunately by doing so, the body will release 2 hormones to bring the body back to homeostasis, these hormones are ADH or anti-diuretic hormone and alsosterone. ADH causes the body to hold water and aldosterone will store sodium. By doing both of these practices many will undoubtedly retain water as a result. Also, but taking sodium out of the equation, blood pressure and blood volume will undoubtedly drop. Good luck getting a pump with lack of blood pressure. Also, sodium is a cotransporter of glycogen into muscle tissue. Water, sodium and carbohydrates work together to give you that nice full look.

So, load carbs without water and glycogen will not form efficiently and you’ll come in flat and most likely bloated. Load water and carbs and no sodium and you’ll come in flat from lack of blood volume/pressure. It’s important to include all 3.

Here’s an example. I helped a friend of mine recently for a figure competition. She was instructed to cut out sodium and eat minimal carbohydrates the day prior to the show. The result, she was flat and her muscles lacked pop to them. I told her to eat carbohydrates she was used to all prep and keep fiber low. In a 6 hour window she ingested around 120-150g of carbohydrates, about 30-60fl oz of water, and 1500-2000mg sodium. The difference as you can see below is night and day.

It didn’t end here. She continued to drink water the next day, took in plenty of carbohydrates, and sodium and the result was a phenomenal showing in both figure and physique in which she won the overall and 2nd place respectively.

Moral of the story, pay attention to human physiology. Remember, the human body is around 70% water. Taking that out will only bring you in flat and retaining water. You need carbohydrates and water to form glycogen and you need sodium to transport glycogen and to get a pump on show day.

But what’s the most important factor? It’s one I didn’t mention earlier, but it’s more important:


Chances are you’re not holding water when you don’t look good leading into a show, you’re holding fat. If you come in lean and conditioned you won’t have to worry about water retention.

Eat your carbs, drink your water, and enjoy your salt, and be lean and you’ll come in looking better than if you hadn’t.

-Coach Gavin