If you know someone who has competed, or are planning on doing so yourself, then you have probably heard of the term ‘Peak Week’. What this really means is that during the final week prior to stepping on stage, or in front of the camera for a photo shoot, there are several things you can be doing with regards to your diet, training and supplementation, that can help bring everything together and allow you to look tight, full and hard.
The basis for peak week revolves around carb loading, which really just creates a temporary illusion. It’s a “quick fix” that can allow you to appear a lot harder due to fuller-looking muscles combined with less water retention. (The main benefit to carb-loading can be found within endurance-type events, such as marathons, where competitors use this for pro-longed supply of energy to fuel their performance over many hours).
Regardless whether you’re a bodybuilder getting ready for a contest, a model preparing for a big shoot, or just looking to to get in to your best ever condition (albeit a temporary one), these are the steps to deplete and then super-compensate your body with carb loading. You may be shocked by how much better and bigger you’ll look in just one week, although be aware that this ‘illusion’ will not last, and I would only advise you do this for the purpose of a show or photo shoot, as you’re body will respond like a giant pendulum in the days and weeks after the carb loading, as you’ve taken your body to one end of an extreme, it’s going to want to return back to a state of balance, but not until it’s swung the other way first!
Step No.1: Increase sodium intake
In the week prior to starting your peak week program (14 days out) boost your intake of sodium – plain table salt. The simplest way to do this is to sprinkle salt on all of your meals (I wouldn’t go crazy, but you can certainly allow for up to 2,000mg of salt to be added to your food for the day). Elevating sodium increases water retention in the body and decreases the water-retention hormone aldosterone. Remain with the higher than usual sodium intake until one day before carbing up during the program (In step 7). When you reduce your sodium intake at that time, and while aldosterone levels readjust, your body will excrete even more water, and create a cascade effect by pulling out more water – most of it directly from beneath the skin. This will lead to greater definition.
Step No. 2: Increase water intake
When you increase sodium. It’s important to take in roughly 50% more water than usual. That is, every time you would normally have a cup of water, make it a cup and a half, so that by the end of the day, you’ve boosted your fluid intake by 50%. Greater water intake sets up the body for greater definition at the end of the process. Maintain this intake until you reach step 10.
Step No. 3: Days 7-4 – reduce carbs by 50% each day
Here’s when the carb cutting program really begins. Drop your carb consumption by approximately 50% each day on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday (with the comp or shoot being the following Saturday). This first drop will help prevent the shock of taking your carb count too low too quickly. If you were previously eating approximately 1500 calories from carbs per day (375g of carbs, which is about normal for a 200 pound bodybuilder who consumes 3000 calories a day for bodyweight maintenance), then cut your total carb intake to around 250 grams per day by the week before the show/shoot, focusing mostly on complex carbs, early in the day. Still, for these days, maintain your simple carbs for your post-workout meal. For all other meals, focus on using complex carbs sources, such as yams, oatmeal and brown rice. When carbs drop, reserves of glycogen begin to decline. As glycogen decreases, the body begins to pump up its production of glycogen storing enzymes. When you later pack in greater quantities of carbs, those carb storing enzymes will help pack away these additional carbs as new glycogen, yielding fuller looking muscles.
Step No. 4: Days 7-4 – mildly increase proteins and fats
Some people go wrong at this step. When carbs drop, you must increase protein consumption slightly to prevent muscle breakdown. However, if you increase your protein intake too much, a lot of that extra protein is burned as fuel, sparing the body from emptying its glycogen stores. Therefore, to experience the muscle-saving effect of extra protein without inhibiting the depletion of glycogen stores, elevate your protein intake only by about 20-30 grams daily on each lower carb day. A 200 pound bodybuilder who normally eats over a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight should be starting at around 250 grams of protein a week out, and adding an extra 25g a day until 3 days out. (This can be achieved by adding in an extra 3-4oz/100g of chicken each day, plus a teaspoon extra of flaxseed oil).
Step No. 5: Days 7-3 – train with high reps
When depleting carbs for the first 4 days days, you should train with higher reps of 12 to 20 per set and perform up to 50% more sets than normal. For example, if you perform 10 sets for biceps go to 15 sets (50% more volume work) and aim for 12 – 20 reps per set. Of course you have to decrease the weight in order to hit that volume. However, the goal here is to lower carb reserves, and volume work is tremendously effective in doing so. It all goes back to super-compensation. The more carbs you can deplete, the greater amount you can store during the carb up process, leading to bigger and tighter- looking muscles. These workouts should be nothing like your gut-busting workouts from previous weeks. The goal is not to reach failure on every set, but rather the emphasis should be on squeezing the muscle hard with every rep.
Step No.6: Days 4-1 – stop all sodium
The day before adding carbs back (tuesday), drop the additional salt you’ve been putting on your food. When sodium levels decline, you’ll experience changes in aldosterone that favor water excretion and a tighter look. You needn’t zero out your sodium intake. Cutting all the extra sodium should be enough of drop.
Step No.7: Days 3-1 – carb up
Now the fun begins, after several days of depleting carbs, along with performing volume work, your muscles will be very low in fuel, screaming to be replenished. When you switch to a high carb intake, much of what you consume will be directly stored in your muscles. I suggest eating up to 3 grams of carbs per pounds of bodyweight on the first carb up day (wednesday), reducing them by about 100, and then 5og over the following two days so as not to risk ‘spilling over’ by consuming too much carbs all at once. Plus, as your muscle glycogen stores begin to fill and swell up, there’ll be less needed each day, so this reduction limits the risk of you consuming too much carbs and end up looking smooth and soft. Avoid using fruits and sucrose (table sugar) or high fructose corn syrup. Starchy complex carb sources are ideal, and good choices include potatoes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, pasta, white rice and brown rice.
Step No. 8: Days 3-1 – reduce protein consumption
When you’re carbing up, you can drop the added protein from step 4. This follows the simple edict that carbs and protein work like a sea-saw. When carbs drop, you have to eat more protein; when carbs dramatically increase, you don’t need the added protein. Take in about a gram of protein per pounds of bodyweight on each of these days.
Step No. 9: Days: 2-1 – reduce water intake
In step 2, you increased water intake, now, reduce it by about 2 liters (half a gallon) on each day – Thursday and Friday. Since carbohydrates require water to make new muscle glycogen, many people assume that they have to drink like a thirsty camel to make glycogen. Not so, because in the face of restricted water and increased carbs, muscles make up for the water shortfall by dragging some from under the skin into the muscles. The results is less subcutaneous water retention and harder looking physique.
Step No. 10: Days 2-1 – take it easy and don’t train
As a rule of thumb, when carbing up, it’s best not to train, as that siphons off some of the incoming carbohydrates, preventing an optimal carb-up and fuller muscles. This might be why many bodybuilders appear fuller a few days after a competition. The days off allow for optimal compensation of carbohydrates. In fact, avoid energy expenditure as much as possible to allow your muscles to fill up. If you can, sit back, put your feet up, binge watch your favorite Netflix show and save your energy. The only thing I would recommend doing is spending 15-20 minutes (3 times a day or more), practicing your posing as this will actually help bring our greater conditioning in your muscles.
Show Day – pump up and take pictures
Pump up your muscles only about 30 minutes before stepping on stage, or in front of the camera for a photo shoot. Use light weights (or isometric movements) and go through a full range of motion, feeling the stretch, contraction and pump. Keep reps low – you don’t want to burn up carbs.
On this day, you may be in the best condition of your life. Have someone take pictures of you to capture the moment and to use as a record of comparison for the next time you carb deplete and carb load. Photographically documenting your condition and muscle mass is a great way to determine that you are continuing to progress as a bodybuilder, model or just to check on your physique.
If you are planning on giving this a try, I would love to see some before and after pictures on your profile page, along with a diary of what you did and any changes you saw in your physique and mood.
|Days Prior||7||6||5||4||3||2||1||Show Day|
|Carb Intake||Use only oats, brown rice, or yams as carb sources. Best to split total amount between breakfast and post-training only. Vegetables can be eaten as much as often, especially to help you from feeling hungry in your other non-carb containing meals. Try to consume these raw as this will help slow digestion and keep you feeling less hungry for longer. Broccoli, spinach, asparagus (these can be steamed). Green vegetables are best, so try to stick these.||Day 3: 25% carbs for breakfast, rest split out evenly every 2.5 hours until 9pm. Consume high G.I. carbs for first two meals, then white potato rest of day. Day 2 & 1, spread carbs evenly throughout the day, eating every 3 hours, using yams as your preferred carb source. On Friday, ensure all carbs are consumed before 6 pm.||If you still appear flat, and skin is ‘elastic-like’ then consume 2-3 low sodium rice cakes to help fill out.|
|Water Intake||8 liters||8 liters||8 liters||8 liters||7 liters||6 liters||4 liters – Aim to consume all water by 5pm, only sipping when thirsty for rest of day.||Sip on minimal water throughout the day as your body continues to flush water out|
|Proteins & Fats Intake||250g Protein, 40g Fats throughout the day. Plenty of green, fibrous vegetables||275g Protein, 45g Fats throughout the day. Plenty of green, fibrous vegetables||300g Protein, 50g Fats throughout the day. Plenty of green, fibrous vegetables||325g Protein, 50g Fats throughout the day. Plenty of green, fibrous vegetables||180g Protein, 10g Fats throughout the day. No fibrous vegetables||190g Protein, 15g Fats throughout the day. No fibrous vegetables||200g Protein, 20g Fats throughout the day. No fibrous vegetables||Just nibble on turkey with 2-3 almonds throughout the day when hungry|
|Supplements||Take a digestive enzyme with every meal. Aim to get the majority of your fats from cold-pressed oils such as UDO’s and Flaxseed.||Take 100mg ALA + Chromium Picolinate 200mcg with every carb-containing meal, plus a digestive enzyme to help aid nutrient absorption. Take 3g BCAA’s with every meal, plus a total of 20g Glutamine throughout each day. Take 8000mg Vitamin C split throughout each day, plus consume one of your liters of water made up of 10 dandelion tea bags – cold.||Take 8g Vitamin C in the A.M. to aid flushing. Non-flush Niacin (B3) & Arginine will help keep you vascular|
|Training||Glycotic Upper Body Depletion Circuits* See Notes Train for no longer than 40 minutes. 40% normal resistance for 20 reps. Do NOT train to failure, the goal here is to deplete further muscle glycogen, not cause muscle trauma. NO CARDIO is to be done during this time also, as it will release a water-storing hormone, which will keep you from achieving that ‘dry look’.||Upper Body Circuit before breakfast to kickstart glycogen loading that will start from first meal||No workout No cardio.||Very small upper body circuit before breakfast to help continue glycogen re- loading phase.|
If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition, including carb-cycling, I have a book available called ‘Ultra Lean’, which also includes a 12-week diet, broken down into 3 stages. Check it out, along with more books and training resources here.