Peak week is the week leading directly to your physique competition. Generally if you nailed the prep and have both the leanness and muscle mass required, this period should be neither extreme nor exhausting for you but still there are many options to choose from to present your physique in the best possible way on the day.
There are a few elements competitors must check off their ‘to do’ list in order to even get to the peek week. Firstly, especially for more muscular categories such as figure, physique or bodybuilding, years of working out and building muscle mass are a must!
Once you feel ready, you begin the ‘prep’ stage which simply means dieting on a caloric deficit and adding cardio in order to lose as much fat as possible and expose all that hard earned muscle.
Your weight training will change too at this stage, in order to emphasize muscle separation. As a rule of thumb, you will decrease your weight and increase the number of reps and sets as well as excercises per muscle group. This will help flush glycogen out of your muscles. Once emptied, these can be restored by around 4 times more glycogen which means bigger fuller muscles on show day!
After the cutting or ‘prep’ phase which usually takes 12-20 weeks you will enter the peak week.
Most Common Peak Week Strategies
Let’s explain what these involve.
- Manipulating fluidsWater makes up about half of the body’s mass and plays an integral part in maintaining whole body homeostasis. Water can be separated into intracellular (inside cells) and extracellular (outside cells) compartments. About 2/3 of total body water is intracellular and the other 1/3 is extracellular. The goal of peak week is to decrease extracellular water, specifically subcutaneous water (water under the skin) as much as possible leading up to the show. Removing subcutaneous water gives you that dry, hard, and vascular look needed to win competitions. When you step on stage you want your muscles to be full, hard, and vascular. Thelast thing you want is to be flat and smooth. The first step in accomplishing this is removing subcutaneous water, but in addition you must keep you muscles hydrated and full. Skeletal muscle is over 70% water so you cannot just totally stop drinking water to remove subcutaneous water because you would also then deplete muscle of its water. Muscle must be hydrated to appear full and not flat.
- Manipulating carbs The common carbohydrate manipulation strategy during peak week is to deplete muscle glycogen levels through weight training and cardiovascular exercise and then replenish glycogen stores before the show. By decreasing carb intake and muscle glycogen (in addition to decreasing your water intake) you can remove subcutaneous water more efficiently. Then by consuming carbs (with some water but not as much as you would normally drink) you fill up the muscles with glycogen and water, making them appear larger and full. If you eat too many carbs and drink too much water then all the carbs and water may not go into the muscles (intracellular compartment) but instead be in the extracellular compartment, making you look smooth. This is what competitors are referring to when they say they “spilled over” and are “holdingwater.” Eating too many carbs with too much water can lead to a spill over effect as the muscles can only hold so much glycogen and water.
- Manipulating sodium/potassiumSodium and potassium are electrolytes necessary to maintain cells’ electrochemical gradient, which is needed for cells to communicate to one another. An electrolyte imbalance can cause problems with bodily processes essential for our life and wellbeing. There are many electrolytes in the body, but sodium and potassium and the two that bodybuilders manipulate in an attempt to peak for a contest.Cells communicate through electrical signals. Their electrochemical gradient governed by electrolytes allows for this communication to take place. Potassium is found in high concentrations on the inside of cells and sodium in high concentrations on the outside of cells. The commonly believed theory is that by increasing potassium intake while decreasing sodium intake one can increase the volume/water content inside of cells and decrease it on the outside for that full yet dry look.
So these strategies sound pretty complex, right? It gets even worse…
Each body reacts to these processes differently and especially for your first show it’s easy to mess up the peak week and come on stage too flat (little muscle volume or definition, no vascularity) or too watery due to the ‘carb spillover’. Either way it’s a delicate and potentially DANGEROUS process mastered by trial and error. The key is patience, safety and careful observation of your body. Also try to avoid these common mistakes in order to look your best on stage.
Most Common Peak Week Mistakes
- Overdepleting If you have been following an extremely low card diet for the last part of your prep, cutting carbs down to zero during peak week doesn’t make much sense – you will starve your muscles and may not be able to fill out on glycogen in time.
- Overloading In the above scenario, you also dont want to load too much too intensely to avoid spillower and looking watery. Instead add carbs gradually and observe your body’s reaction.
- Cutting water Carbohydrates draw water into your muscles. If you stop drinking water, adding carbs will be of little or no help. Glycogen can only be stored if you are adequately hydrated. Typically, if you add CHO the muscles become fuller and rounder, and water accounts for most of that fullness. By not drinking enough water those nice full muscles will become small, “flat”, sagging muscles. The ‘spillover’ happens due to too many carbs and not water. Also – YOU CAN DIE FROM DEHYDRATION!
- Cutting Sodium Despite the old school teaching that you should cut salt before your show there are many reasons to keep it in your diet all the way up until the stage. Glucose generated by digestion of starch or lactose is absorbed in the small intestine only by co-transport with sodium. Carbohydrates are unable to cross cell membranes unassisted and require sodium transporters to carry them across. When sodium intake is low blood volume will also be lower which sadly means less vascularity and makes it hard to achieve a “pump”.
- Chuck Rudolph, MEd, RD, Derek Charlebois, Mark Lobliner; ‘Game Day: The Final Competition Peak Week Strategies You Will Ever Need’
- Vic Tringali M.S., C.S.C.S.; ‘5 Common Peak Week Mistakes’
- Scott Powers and Edward Howley; Exercise Physiology Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance 7th edition 2009
- John Ivy, Robert Portman; Nutrient Timing -The Future of Sports Nutrition, Basic Health Publications, 2004