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How many times have you heard, “I was holding water“, or “I watered out the day of the show”, or “I spilled over”? If you’ve been around as long as I have, you’d wish you had a dollar each time you heard that. Water is the most important nutrient in your body, which is 45% to 75% water, depending on your amount of body fat. (For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you worked your butt off and your body fat is 3% to 5% onstage.) As you can see, your body is very dependent on water and needs it to function. For many competitors, trying to get that last-minute edge in pulling water often leads to disaster. They end up looking flat, depleted, soft, and watery onstage, no matter how low their body fat is. Why does this happen?
The biggest mistake a competitor can make is cutting water way too early. To the beginner it seems as simple as this: The less water you drink, the less water your body will hold. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.The first thing that will happen is the competitor will flatten out. Your muscles are made from water and amino acids, so they need water to remain full enough to plastic wrap your skin around them. This is what’s called graininess, or dry as hell!
You want water to fill up your muscles with intracellular water and limit extracellular water. The human body maintains a 70/30 intracellular to extracellular water proportion as it functions day to day. When you limit your water, you are increasing aldosterone levels. Aldosterone is a hormone that increases the reabsorption of sodium ions and extracellular water. Aldosterone acts on the kidneys to conserve water and sodium for bodily functions. This increases water retention and blurs out your muscles because of the layer of extracellular water under your skin. Water is also a natural diuretic. The more water you drink, the more water your body will shell out, and the drier you will look.
As a competitor, you always need to keep your water high. I recommend to my male clients between 1.25 to 1.5 gallons a day all year long. Ten days before the show, I’ll bump up their water an additional 3⁄4 to 1 gallon per day. You have to hydrate your body before you begin to pull water or you will flatten out. Also, increasing water tricks your body when you start cutting back on it as you get closer to the show, so drying out becomes a lot easier. Your body will get used to the high amount of water, so any decline in intake will “dehydrate” your body and tighten up your skin.
Let’s say that your new water intake is 2 gallons. Four days before the show, start cutting your water by 1⁄4 gallon per day. During these days, you’ll most likely be carb loading (although not every prep is the same), so you will need water to help make glycogen from carbs to fill your muscles up and make them pop. As you carb up, you want to continually drink water, but don’t guzzle it. I recommend drinking your water only with meals and while you’re still training and doing cardio.
The last two days before a show, I recommend clients not train. Just eat, pose, and rest. The day before the show is when most people make the mistake of cutting off their water too early.
Here’s when you should be honest with yourself and/or have a person like a coach on your side to give you an honest opinion of how you look.
If you’re getting fuller and drier, you could start reducing the water to 1 cup per meal. A good way to define this is to feel how hard and dense your muscles are. If you’re hard and drying out, that means your body could do with less water and still stay full. If your muscles are soft although your body fat is low, that means you still need the water, in order to help form muscle glycogen. Just be very careful, because you could easily spill over and ruin your whole prep in a short time. It’s very tricky, so go by how you look and how hard your muscles feel.
The day of the show is crucial. For the most part, you won’t be drinking much water, but again keep your body in front of the mirror to determine this. Don’t have many carbs if you still believe you need to hydrate yourself, because the carbs and the water will make you spill. I recommend minor sips just to get the food down. I’m going to say it again—minor sips if needed until after prejudging. After prejudging, go eat and hydrate yourself a little more. You could have 10 ounces of water right after prejudging, and with your meals have a little diet soda only—but make sure you don’t come back to the show looking smooth like a baby’s butt because you spilled over. Judges and fans don’t like that.
No matter what level you compete at, always be professional and present your best physique onstage.