When a bodybuilder steps on stage to compete, there is a very important process that must take place prior to the show. Beyond dieting to a body fat percent below what is healthy, bodybuilders must eliminate the layer of water between the skin and their muscles (known as subcutaneous water). This process is known as drying out. This crucial process can make you or break you on the day of your show, possibly keeping you from a winning spot if you do not dry out correctly. Drying out involves water manipulation- a process in which the athlete will attempt to shed subcutaneous water through drastically cutting their water intake leading up to the show. Some athletes will even incorporate supplements known as diuretics to further eliminate this water. In the mind of a bodybuilder, this can become an overanalyzed process, as months and months of hard dieting and strenuous workouts have gone into their preparation for the contest- it would be unfortunate to blow it during this last week by manipulating water incorrectly. It is a tough process to master. If you deplete too much water, you’ll draw water from your muscles and look “flat” and sunken. If you don’t deplete enough, you could take away from a lean physique by masking that leanness with a layer of water in between the skin and the muscle. In my years of competing I have experimented with many methods of drying out, from overdoing the process to not drying out enough. It is a trial and error process which takes time to perfect and it is a good practice to write everything down in detail, so that when you do get it right, you will have that method for future competitions. Keep in mind that every contest is different and there are many factors that come into play each time, and things may have to be tweaked, but having a game plan is a must.
Water manipulation prior to a competition only truly works if you are in shape! I can’t tell you how many times a guy at the gym has come up to me one week out from a show, lifted up his shirt and his abs are still marbled in fat, but then suggests that it’s just water, and that his high tech water manipulation process will make all the difference! As a bodybuilding judge and coach, the biggest mistake that I see with athletes is usually that they are not ready for the show and try to make up for their lack of conditioning by drying out to the point of dehydration. There is no way of tricking the judges into believing you are in shape for the show when you are not by being more dry!
Diuretics have a common place in the world of bodybuilding, but using them in the last few days before competition can be the most dangerous practice! Pharmaceutical diuretics (those not found in supplement shops) should only be dispensed by a physician, and I don’t know of a one who would prescribe you diuretics because you are a bodybuilder wanting to look better on stage! These medications are generally prescribed to patients who have a medical condition like congestive heart failure to help shed excess fluid accumulating in the lungs and periphery because of the heart’s inefficient pumping ability. Generally the most popular pharmaceutical diuretics used by bodybuilders are known as loop diuretics, such as Lasix (furosemide), Demadex (torsemide), or Bumex (bumetanide). These type of diuretics get the name “loop diuretics” because they act on an area of the kidney known as the ascending loop of Henle, and in normal kidney function, they will help to diurese (or shed) the body of excess water. Some bodybuilders will cut down their drinking water to sips in the days leading up to the show and adding a hard core, pharmaceutical diuretic into the mix can be a recipe for disaster. The problem with these medications is that they can rob your body of valuable electrolytes and when taken in excess can cause serious medical problems. In an already dehydrated state, decreased levels of crucial electrolytes such as sodium, chloride, and potassium can cause severe muscle cramping, dizziness, fatigue, and even fainting. These are minor issues compared to what could be going on internally in the body. Low levels of potassium in the body due to dehydration and diuretic use can lead to fatal dysrhythmias of the heart causing long term consequences.
Having been a competitive bodybuilder for over ten years, I want to describe in detail the water manipulation technique I have used for myself for many shows. It has taken a lot of trial and error to come to a method that works for me and I have also found this method effective for the athletes that I train for bodybuilding competitions. The following protocol is based on the assumption that the athlete has been drinking upwards of two gallons of water a day during their diet process leading up to the show. I also believe in using normal spring water. Some people believe that it is best to use distilled water in the last week leading up to the show as it is void of sodium and minerals. I don’t buy into this as spring water contains very little sodium anyways and distilled water tastes like crap!
Last week of contest prep
|Sunday||3 gallons of water||Monday||3 gallons of water||Tuesday||3 gallons of water||Wednesday||2 gallons of water||Thursday||1 gallon of water||Friday|| 16 oz water with 1st meal at 7:00 am
NO WATER for a total of 12 hours until 7:00pm
At 7:00pm, introduce small amounts of water in 4-6 oz amounts with each of the next 2 meals
| 6 oz black coffee upon waking with 1st meal
NO WATER until after pre-judging
Sips of water between pre-judging and finals
The purpose of this technique of water manipulation is to trick your body into diuresing naturally, without the help of supplements or medication. When the athlete drinks 16oz in the morning, the body is thinking like the days previous it will continually be receiving large amounts of water throughout the day. This is due to a hormone which is made in the hypothalamus of the brain and stored in the pituitary gland called the antidiuretic hormone or arginine vasopressin (AVP). This hormone is not a bodybuilder’s friend because it is secreted when the body goes into a dehydrated state causing the kidneys to conserve water. This hormone will kick in once your body senses that you are in a dehydrated state (this usually takes roughly 12 hours). It is a defense mechanism of the body in order to constantly achieve homeostatis, or balance. This hormone may be your best friend if stranded in the desert, but not so much the day before a bodybuilding competition! With the protocol described above, after 12 hours of no water intake at all, your body is on the verge of pumping this hormone into the body, but that is when you start reintroducing water back into your body, thus cutting off this hormone’s action of holding water. When I begin to re-introduce water, I will usually have 6 oz of water, with my last two meals, before I cut my water completely at 11pm before going to bed!
Upon waking Saturday morning, I am usually pretty damn dry. With the 1st meal of the day, I will have 6 oz black coffee, then I cut the water again until I am backstage getting ready to pump up. From this point until the end of the competition day, I limit my water intake to just sips throughout the day. This program has worked with me and others who have tried it- if you plan to use it for your competition, you may have to tweak some parts, to adjust to your body and diet protocol! Just remember, any program like this only work if you are truly in contest shape! There is no substitute for hard work, and there is no magic pill which will make you great!
Until next time, be consistent and stay balanced!
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