We’ve all seen the “Keep Calm, It’s Peak Week” memes flying around on Instagram. Peak week is that grueling last stretch before stepping on stage – the phase where your mind and memory start to fail you, your mood is at an all-time low, and your energy is virtually shot. Trials and tribulations notwithstanding, peak week offers your big chance to achieve the best muscle definition and conditioning you possibly can before stepping under the spotlight.
Or does it? Many people attribute talismanic significance to peak week, believing it’s the be-all, end-all determinant of whether they’ll snatch first place or make last call-outs. To be sure, eating clean, staying consistent with your training, and supplementing appropriately are critical during peak week . . . but that’s true of your entire prep season. When it comes down to it, if you haven’t been putting in the work all along, your peak week isn’t going to save you.
There are, however, some steps you can take during peak week to give yourself the edge that distinguishes the first place finishers from the second. From calibrating your water and sodium intake to achieving the much-sought-after pump, here are 5 key strategies for squeezing the absolute most out of your peak week:
1. Properly Manipulate Your Water Intake and Retention.
Water constitutes more than 60% of the average person’s body composition, and it’s a vital nutrient to sustain normal bodily processes. At the same time, excess water beneath the skin (i.e., subcutaneous fluid) obscures muscle striations much like a layer of fat does.
Typically, about 30% of the fluids we consume end up in some layer of the skin – crazy, right? The upshot is that your physique may take on a “smooth” appearance that lacks detail and definition. The good news is that, unlike excess body fat, subcutaneous water can be reduced in a matter of days using the right techniques. Specifically, you’ll want to boost water intake to 1 gallon+ per day for the first two days of the week, then gradually reduce each day until you’re consuming trace amounts only on the seventh day.
2. Take Advantage of Carb Cycling.
Similar to water manipulation, carb manipulation is essential to achieve a lean, striated physique for show day instead of a smooth, flat-looking one. Carbs play a critical role in energy storage and transport, immune system functionality, and structural functions. However, eating even a slightly excess volume of carbs can increase glycogen formation which is what promotes the storage of bodily fat.
Enter carb cycling, which entails alternating between high- and low- or no-carb days to trick your metabolism. What constitutes a proper carb cycle varies widely from individual to individual and is highly goal-dependent. For instance, if you’re looking to achieve an incredibly shredded physique, you may need to reduce carbs considerably to the point that you start sacrificing mass for conditioning. If, however, you’re aiming for maximum size, you won’t want to dramatically reduce your carb intake lest you end up with a famished or depleted physique.
Generally speaking, it’s recommended that adults consume about 40% of their calories from carbs. To achieve the best results from carb cycling, begin your peak week consuming a significantly higher volume of carbs. Focus on getting in complex carbs, such as whole grains, oats, quinoa, barley, and brown rice, while staying away from simple carbs like white bread, pastries, candy, and other sugary foods.
As the week progresses, decrease your carb intake steadily by chopping carbs from your meals later in the day. By week’s end, you should only be consuming carbs at breakfast and post-workout. Immediately before the big event, you can also consume a simple carbohydrate to help spike insulin levels and increase vascularity.
3. Regulate Your Sodium and Potassium Intake.
Even while you’re manipulating water intake during peak week, it’s important to monitor your electrolyte levels. Because of its chemical properties, the amount of sodium in the bloodstream directly correlates with the degree of water retained. As a result, you’ll want to start the week with normal sodium consumption – think 1,750 to 2,000 mg – and slowly decrease that as the week goes on.
By the seventh day, you should only be consuming small amounts of sodium. Be aware that chronic and severe sodium depletion can result in complications from hyponatremia. This typically only occurs during the last two days of the week, but slight increases in calcium, iron, magnesium, and Vitamin B6 are recommended to avert any potential problems.
Potassium is another essential nutrient present in intracellular fluid. The flow of both sodium and potassium in and out of cells helps regulate fluid balance and is important for muscle contractions. This is why low levels of sodium and potassium can result in muscle cramping. To help avoid these difficulties, calibrate your potassium intake with your sodium depletion. That is, begin the week with a normal potassium amount of about 3,000 mg, steadily increasing over the course of the week until you’re consuming about 6,000 mg on the final day of peak week.
4. Drink Red Wine . . . Yes, Really!
For the most part, you want to stay away from alcohol during your prep as alcohol tends to have negative ramifications not only for your waistline but also your training performance. That said, alcohol – red wine in particular – possesses special digestive properties that boost vascularity if consumed pre-competition. A cup of red wine about 30-60 minutes prior to taking the stage will lead to more pronounced vascularity in most muscle groups due to increased blood flow that causes your physique to appear fuller and more conditioned.
5. Pump Up the Volume.
Everybody wants that elusive pump on show day, and showing up on stage flat as a pancake is a physique competitor’s worst nightmare! “Pumping” immediately prior to a show increases vascularity by fatiguing muscle groups through resistance training. When blood flow increases past normal levels, the muscles appear larger, fuller, and overall healthier.
This is why you’ll often see competitors banging out some dumbbell sets, repping with resistance bands, or knocking out some pushups prior to stepping onstage. If you want to ensure that all muscle groups receive some TLC, do a full-body workout from head to toe. Begin by fatiguing your shoulders and upper back, then progress all the way down to your hamstrings and calves.