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More than any other topic, I receive questions regarding fluid intake, primarily how much water should I drink? Can I drink too much water? Can I drink diet soda on a diet? How do I stop drinking soda? Can I rid my body of water without the use of diuretics? And the list goes on and on. Water is a critical aspect of your competition prep and can make or break your appearance and/or placement. Even more important is the necessity of water in day-to-day life. I’d like to address as many topics and provide you with as much information as possible so you can take the guesswork out of the hows and whys of water consumption when planning your next competition program.
DIET DRINKS AND CARBONATION: YOUR WORST ENEMY
As an athlete or a healthy person—you know soda is not the best choice for a beverage, but drinking plain water sometimes seems more like a chore rather than the right thing to do for your body. More and more people today are “hooked” on diet sodas and carbonated beverages than ever before. Bodybuilders on a contest diet like to drink it, as the carbonation keeps them full and they like the taste better than plain water. It also feels like a treat to have a diet soda in a world of plain, unseasoned contest foods. But not only can diet sodas hinder weight loss and upset your digestive process, they can also prevent your body from ridding itself of excess water. The hardest part of getting on the “drink water” bandwagon is getting of the soda roller coaster. Rather than going cold turkey and moving straight to plain water, I have a plan that I use with many athletes and clients that either have difficulty getting enough fluids in or for those trying to kick the habit of carbonated drinks and sodas. If you are used to drinking diet soda and carbonated beverages, the easiest way I’ve found to kick the habit is to wean down. If you are currently drinking soda or diet beverages on a daily basis, cut that amount to a single serving each day. From there cut down to three times a week, but you could add in sparkling flavored water. I have found that most people who are “hooked” on diet sodas aren’t so much hooked on the soda as they are the fizz and feeling of the carbonation. By adding in sparkling, carbonated water, you can continue to cut down on the soda until it’s completely replaced with the water. Once you’ve reached the point of drinking sparkling water, it’s time to begin weaning of the carbonation. By adding in beverages such as flavored teas, water with lemon, Crystal Light, etc., you can begin decreasing the amount of sparkling water you’re drinking. I suggest reaching the point of only having the sparkling water a few times a week, then eliminating it completely.
There are so many benefits to ridding your body of soda and carbonated beverages. You will find that you’re able to better digest your food, as well as having less indigestion, bloating, and reflux. You will definitely notice a decrease in your waist size, and you may even notice an increase in your metabolism and weight loss, along with less fluid retention.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Now that you’ve rid yourself of soda and carbonation, it’s time to get on track with your daily water intake. Whether you’re a seasoned competitor or have yet to compete, it’s very important to get your body into a rhythm of taking in a certain amount of water on a daily basis and spreading this amount out evenly throughout the day. Until you are able to gauge how much to drink on your own, I suggest drinking at least 16–24 ounces with each meal and then in between meals have a water bottle with you to sip on when thirsty—making certain this all adds up to a daily total of one to two gallons.
Since you may not be used to drinking this much water, start by drinking at least 10 ounces of water at every meal, then work your way up until you’re able to take in at least 16 ounces at each meal. Many individuals who aren’t used to drinking much water throughout the day also have a tendency to drink very little with their meals. Some also have a tendency to drink more during their workouts than with their meals. However, reversing this and drinking more with your meals will help with the digestion process. You don’t need to limit your fluid consumption during your training—just be consistent, but also be aware of how much fluid you’re losing during rigorous exercise, as it’s extremely important to replenish fluids lost during training. This is important, as your body can easily be thrown out of balance if you do not replenish lost fluids or if you fail to calculate adding these fluids back in. By spreading out your intake evenly and by drinking the same amount of fluids each day, your body will become accustomed to regularly discharging fluids, and this will help prep your body to rid itself of excess water come showtime.
The main point to remember when getting yourself on track and eliminating soda and carbonation from your diet is that you shouldn’t begin a contest diet immediately after having done this. I suggest being acclimated and on track with your water intake for at least four to six weeks prior to beginning your contest preparation.
DIAL THINGS IN FOR SHOWTIME
You’ve been dieting for the past 12 weeks, and prior to that your daily fluid intake has been on schedule—one to two gallons a day. In addition to being consistent with your daily fluid intake, your primary goal has been to get as lean and dry as possible during your prep so that you’re in shape before the final week of preparation. If you can do this, getting rid of water without diuretics will be much less of a challenge. I keep saying that consistency is key because the plan is to continue ridding the body of water on a regular basis during the day while you’re drinking—so that when you do shut of the water, your body will continue to rid itself of water without taking any in. Here’s how to rid yourself of excess water in addition to the normal amount of water you shed on a daily basis:
Continue drinking your normal amount of water (one to two gallons) on a daily basis until Friday before your show. On Friday morning, I would drink six to 10 ounces with your first meal and then shut of your water. Do not drink any more water for the next 10–12 hours. If you have been very consistent with your water up to this point, what this will do is trick your body into thinking that it will continue to get fluid on a regular basis, so it will stick with its normal water discharge cycle. When you shut it off and don’t give your body water for the next 10–12 hours it continues to discharge excess fluid, and by the time your body figures out that you have stopped giving it water, you have gotten rid of the normal amount of water and then some—so it is a natural diuretic effect. Once you hit that point 10–12 hours later, you’ll have a good idea of how much water you’re going to lose from this and then you can start to sip very lightly on some water. The key is to basically just sip small amounts—just enough to keep water running through your system. By doing this, you should be able to get your body 10–15%—maybe even 20% in a perfect scenario—drier than normal.
If you’ve gone through this process, but have a naturally watery physique, you may have to look at natural or herbal over-the-counter products to give you a finished/dry look. The good news is you have laid your groundwork to flush out the water if you have followed all these steps. The key is to find a safe herbal product that is right for you. I prefer natural products that can be utilized for five to six days at a time. This way you can use the product as you’re still drinking your normal amount of water during the last week of contest prep. This will force the body to rid much more water from the system than normal, but it also creates a situation where the body will not hold onto water. In effect the herbal diuretic is used to dry out the body while still drinking your normal daily fluid amounts. From there you would follow the above process planned from Friday on. The only difference is, once you start an herbal diuretic, you must continue to take it through the show and then taper of of it Sunday after the show, so you won’t encounter a rebound effect. Depending on how your body responds to this, you may even have to taper of for two to three days after the show to curtail any rebound. Even though these are herbal over-the-counter products, they still pull water and can give you amazing results, and with this in mind you need to be cautious when utilizing this type of product.
I cannot stress enough how important the key to the final stages of your contest prep is in your consistency with water throughout your entire program.