peak week protocol
The main thing that would change in this process for me personally would be the extent to which I would “deplete” & the amount of carbohydrates I need to “load” on to fill out. Generally speaking, the leaner I am, the more carbohydrates I need to fill out. So too, the more depleted I am the more I can load on carbohydrates as my muscles are more responsive, soak up the fuel more & pop more! This is NOT a one-size-fits-all, in fact, there is absolutely no such thing as the “correct” approach for everyone.
I apply many of these same principals with my own clients during peak week, but no two peak weeks are identical for me, or for any of my clients. This is merely a template & it is incredibly important that you have a coach who can interpret your body & adjust things to have you step on stage literally at your “peak”!
There are many things that I manipulate during the final week before a show (some of these changes actually begin earlier than a week out) but I have done my best to outline within this post my protocols in relation to:
(a) Depletion Phase
(b) Loading Phase
Training + Cardio
NB: I have based all timeframes on a “Saturday” show with a one-day format (pre-judging midday & finals in the evening). Two day shows are another beast, but I have master this protocol application to any format.
I always water load. I know some bikini competitors don’t cut water (or load water) but because I have a naturally watery physique I NEED to cut water. I know how much water I drop going into every single show & as physically tough as it is water loading & cutting water I would simply never risk not doing it. I have been known to drop 10 pounds of JUST water in the couple of weeks before a show.
I begin my water load one week out & drink a large amount of water (at least 6 litres) every day.
The structure of my “peak week” looks like this:
Saturday: 6 litres
Sunday: 6 litres
Monday: 6 litres
Tuesday: 6 litres
Wednesday: 6 litres
Thursday: 6 litres
Friday: 1.5-2 litres
Saturday (show day): sips only
I never gradually decrease water. A sharp drop in water is much more effective in ripping out water. Your body is smart, as soon as your body begins to sense dehydration it will react to “hold” water.
“Water loading” is old school. The principle is simple. When you elevate your water, your body adjusts, after all of the high days, your body has a new “status quo” & it “needs” all that water. You should pee a lot when you’re water loading. When you sharply decrease your water, you should still pee a lot, this is how you “trick” your body into flushing out water. In incredibly simple terms, this is the process.
The principal is always the same although I have worked with different macronutrients depending on how lean I am etc.
I will always “deplete” leading into a show by dropping down my carbohydrates. I have learnt that the most effective way for me to get super dry & tight coming into a show is to literally drop my carbohydrates to zero. This is hard. It’s ruthless, especially when training twice a day & doing 2 hours of cardio.
Now, when I say “zero” carbs I mean, no added carbs, like oatmeal, sweet potato, rice etc. Vegetables obviously contain carbohydrates but I don’t count them as they are mostly fibre. I choose vegetables which are highest fibre which means they have very few impact carbs. There are also some vegetables with diuretic properties, such as asparagus, which I usually include. Protein sources also aren’t carb-free, but in lean chicken, turkey, white fish, beef etc they are very very low.
How many days I would stay at zero depends entirely how much I need to deplete, how lean I am, etc. For example, leading into the Pittsburgh Pro I depleted for 10 days straight on zero carbs before I begun carb loading 2 days out from my show. Then, following Pittsburgh, I immediately went back to zero carbs for a full week followed by one “higher” carb re-feed day, followed by 3 days of zero carbs again before I begun carb loading 2 days out from the New York Pro.
It is CRUCIAL that you are working with a coach who can interpret the way your body is responding & adapt your carbohydrate structure (& all of your nutrition) to get the right result. I repeat, this is not a “correct” method, it is merely a principal that I apply & adapt in each case.
After a period of depleting the muscle by removing carbohydrates (or some shows just lowering them, although not as effective) I would begin “loading” carbs usually 2 days before the show. There is no “correct” time to begin loading but some important factors you must consider:
a) You must be relatively “full” before you cut your water. What I mean by this is that if you are completely depleted & flat, & you cut your water BEFORE adding carbs you will really struggle to fill out. The process of filling out requires some water (an amount of water is “pulled” into the muscle with every gram of carbohydrate fuel). I repeat, if you try to carb load with NO WATER you will look flat.
b) Carb loading will dry you out more (as I mentioned above) because every gram of carbs you eat pulls water with it (away from under your skin).
c) If you are very depleted you may need to carb load using simpler carbs with a heavier impact (dense carbs that act fast – this is why I would use “junk food” to fill out, I.e. Burgers & fries or pancakes, as opposed to only using sweet potato, which is slowly processed & not as “dense”).
d) Once you cut your water, you can almost not go wrong & “over do” your carb up (provided you are in condition). People talk about “spilling over”. You will NOT spill over if you have had no water.
e) If you are not depleted enough or not lean enough the process of “carb loading” won’t work the way you want it to. If you are not lean enough, you may not need to carb up at all.
f) You do not need to eat a lot of protein around show day. When carb loading I eat little or no (yes, zero) protein. Basically, I eat protein only if I am very hungry (& believe me, when you start eating carbs again after a period depleting you will be starving!!!). I want my body to be as efficient as possible processing carbs & protein will affect that. No, you WILL NOT lose muscle by eating little protein for a day or two.
g) I’m careful not to eat carbs on show day that will bloat me. This is important! Things that take up a lot of room in your stomach will mean you can’t keep your stomach sucked in as tight. For this reason I opt for simpler carbs mostly on show day. One thing to note is that if you have been eating very clean on your prep diet, then all of a sudden you eat a whole load of junk to carb load you may bloat!!! On this note, I have low blood pressure which means I am easily susceptible to low blood sugar on show day & can feel lightheaded. This can happen to anyone when dehydrated BUT even more so if you blood pressure is very low. To deal with this I always have candy with me backstage & I find that the sugars are an immediate pick-me-up BUT if you eat too much of it you WILL BLOAT. So be careful!!!
The amount of carbohydrates needed to fill out is always different. For the New York Pro, I was very lean & very depleted so I did need to eat a lot BUT I wanted to gradually add carbs & assess how my body responded throughout the days. I didn’t decide on exactly how many carbs I would eat till the time, this is the benefit of doing your own prep so long as you can keep your head together & be objective when you look at yourself. I never rely on looking in the mirror – I always take photos/videos doing my posing routine so I can SEE my entire physique & compare images over time.
New York Pro Carb Load:
Thursday: 180g of carbs spread throughout the day. I used oatmeal & sweet potato. Water 6+ litres.
Friday: 180g of carbs during the day. All sweet potato. Last meal of the day, dense carbs & some fats (burger, fries, cheesecake (yes, cheesecake, yes it was delicious)). 1.85 litres water (half a gallon).
Saturday (show day): No water (sips only).
First meal: Pancakes (4).
Second meal: Pancakes (2).
I would often just graze on rice cakes or sweet potato after this BUT on the day of New York Pro, after getting my make up done around midday I still looked very flat & I decided to go & eat a burger & fries as a very calorie dense tool to fill me out. I have never done this on show day before but I am so glad I made that decision. So…
Third meal: Greasy burger & fries. I don’t typically eat burgers or fries, even on a cheat meal. I prefer to eat clean, but I find this combo (the carbs, fats & sodium) work miracles to make me tighter, drier & fuller.
As I mentioned above, I always have candy on me to graze on backstage.
After pre-judging I had around a litre to drink along with a meal. I had another burger & fries. I always do drink something after pre-judging & have a meal. I wasn’t actually very hungry at all after pre-judging but ate a burger & fries as I knew the carbs would soak up the small amount of water I had drunk & I knew it would fill me out without bloating me.
I REPEAT this is not a “correct” approach. The foods I select are not the only options, I am not saying you must go eat a cheesecake. But hell, I do love me some cheesecake if we’re talking some really dense & fast carbs!!! Remember whenever I specify a particular food above, there are a million foods with similar macronutrients. Do not think about the “food” as such but the macronutrients it is comprised of!
TRAINING + CARDIO
When it comes to the last week before a show I’m not trying to build muscle, I may be aiming to push my conditioning but never to actually overload the muscle to the extent of breaking down. In peak week it’s more about getting blood into the muscle. I don’t always have the same peak week training structure, in fact, no training week is the same for me as I make up each & every session as I go, & I choose which muscle groups to train every few days based on how I am feeling.
Generally, I will do 2 upper body days to 1 lower body day. Upper body will be any combination of back, shoulders, arms & chest. I like to challenge my body by mixing up the way in which I train each muscle group & the combination in which I train them. Your shoulders will respond differently if your back is pre-fatigued by training it first & so on. Change is key.
Lower body is always glute & hamstring focused. I will usually do 1 very glute isolated session & 2 more mixed glute & hamstring sessions (which use bigger compound movements). I have been hitting my quads with high reps almost every morning before cardio to shrink them.
I train in a higher rep range closer to a show. I will usually do 3-4 sets per exercise. I will do around 12-15 reps. I train with a lot of supersets too as it helps to fatigue faster, keep the cardiovascular intensity higher & also get a large volume of work done in a shorter timeframe (which is important when calories & energy are low going into a show).
I stop training 2 days before a show to make sure I am rested. Training causes inflammation. An inflamed body does not look good.
Coming into my recent shows I was doing 2 hours of cardio per day, usually both on the stair master. One fasted in the morning & one post workout. In peak week I taper this down, for the same reason that I don’t train right up to a show. Rested muscles look better. Cardio causes inflammation in my legs which prevents me getting them as tight as I can.
Into the New York Pro I tapered my cardio to 30-45 minutes twice a day through till the Wednesday before the show. On the Thursday I just did very light cardio, walking & a very short & light bike whilst I replied to some emails. Friday I rested completely from cardio & weights.
I hope that this is a useful insight into what I do in the lead up to a show to bring my best on show day. Remember the purpose of “peak week” is to “PEAK”. You are judged ON show day. Not before, not after. I cannot stress this enough. Find a coach who can learn your body & apply sound principles to make sure that you look your best ON SHOW DAY.
There are also some other processes I haven’t detailed in this blog like electrolyte manipulation & my protocol with sweeteners & condiments etc but I can’t give away aaalllll of my secrets.
The thing that is important to know is that my approach won’t be what works for everyone. I have a team of athletes & there are aspects of what I do that work for some of my clients & aspects that I do slightly differently. Whilst science is science, every human body is different so this process must be responsive to the way YOUR body changes.
You must work with a coach who understands the science behind these processes. In particular, manipulating electrolytes, depleting & carb-loading are processes that aren’t “everyday”, meaning that sometimes “nutritionists” if they are not experienced in the sport of body building don’t have an understanding of all of these concepts/approaches.
It is fascinating to see what you can achieve when you really learn your body & how to assess & interpret the way your body responds to all of the many variables we work with!
Science is sexy! Just saying!
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