Very little about life is static. The internal state of the human body, for instance, is highly dynamic. The body is in a constant state of flux. And I am not referring just to changes that occur from day to day or month to month, but those that take place from instant to instant!
This is the result of the myriad stresses, both external and internal, that impinge on us from before birth actually to the moment we die. Things such as pain, forced muscular work, heat, cold, poisons, loss of a loved one, studying for an exam, preparing for a physique contest, emotional conflict, and on and on ad infinitum threaten to disrupt our delicately balanced internal mileu. Our ph balance, blood sugar, blood gases, hormonal levels, electrolyte balance, fluid levels and innumerable other complex processes are continually shifting and changing in adapting to the "wear and tear" of life. This dynamic state of our organism also results in unceasing changes in our emotions, drive, impulses, sense of well-being and even our spiritual outlook.
The appearance of our bodies, another feature of existence important to us all, is also subject to this sort of dynamic change. The assertion that our physical appearance is subject to instanteous alteration will surprise many, since most of us think only of the changes we can induce over periods of days, weeks, months and years, not hour to hour or moment to moment. It's true, of course, that the more dramatic changes in our appearance which result from physical training and diet take place over longer stretches of time. Appreciable gains in muscular size takes months. As previously mentioned, even a 20-pound gain of muscle in a year only amounts to less than an ounce gain per day, certainly not enough to be perceptible on a daily basis. Losing fat and acquiring definition also takes time, although the changes are more noticeable on a daily basis, especially as we approach 0 percent bodyfat. A man weighing approximately 300 pounds with 33 percent bodyfat (in other words, carrying 100 pounds of fat on his body) will appear largely unchanged even after a loss of 25 pounds. Were he to remain on his diet and lose 80 pounds of fat, thus bringing his weight down to 220 pounds and 10 percent bodyfat, each subsequent pound he loses would result in a much more appreciable change in his appearance. Here again, we are speaking of changes in appearance that require days.
"But I Looked So Much Better The Day After The Contest..."
Usually the day after a big physique contest there is a photo session for the winners and runner-ups. Over the years I have attended innumerable such sessions, and invariably many or all the participants are astonished at how much better they look the day after the show. I have made the same comment regarding my own physique. But how, after less than 24 hours, can such an improvement in one's physique be accounted for?
As I said earlier, the internal state of our bodies is in a constant flux. It so happens that certain changes in our internal state alter certain aspects of our physical appearance almost the instant they occur, and in some of them the changes are dramatic enough to alter the appearance by as much as 50 percent -- for the better or the worse. Whether these changes add to or detract from our appearance depends on our awareness of them and our ability to control them.
How well I remember a case where my ignorance of such factors caused my physique to deteriote dramatically literally overnight. The night before my Mr. Universe victory in Acapulco in 1978, my girlfriend Cathy and I had dinner with Joe and Betty Weider at a very nice restaurant. The fare for the evening was essentially seafood, which contains a certain amount of salt, but the appetizer, as I recalled some time later, was particularly laden with salt. Of course, salt makes you thirsty and our waiter made sure our glasses were always filled with water. Needless to say, I woke up on the morning of the biggest contest of my life up to that point waterlogged and devoid of most of the deep cuts and blinding striations I had had just the day before.
I noticed this immediately upon arising in the morning, but didn't realize how seriously I had erred until Frank Zane, who was doing color commentary for CBS Sports, ran backstage after the prejudging and asked what I had done to lose the cuts I had displayed the day before while being filmed by CBS posing on the rocks at Acapulco beach. I thought Frank was exaggerating at first until others made similar comments. The knowledge that I had puffed up hurt my confidence somewhat going into the evening show, but luckily my shape, size and symmetry were enough so that in the final analysis I was able to win by a considerable margin.
Had the competition been tougher, however, the outcome of that contest may have been different. At least that experience taught me a lesson, one I have been able to put to good use.
Now, perhaps, you are beginning to get a better idea of how the appearance of the body can be altered in a matter of hours and even minutes. Ever since my experience in Acapulco, I have studied this phenomenon intensely by keeping accurate observations in my training journals and reading different books about it and related topics.
As bodybuilders, the two major ways in which we improve our appearance are by adding muscle and removing fat, both of which take place over days, weeks and months. The changes brought about through the addition of muscle and the loss of fat are usually of a gross nature in that they account for profound alterations in appearance. However, I learned in my research that the amount of salt in our tissues, along with fluid levels and blood volume, play a part in determining how large and how cut up our muscles appear to be. These factors are subject to fine tuning, however, and will determine whether or not a bodybuilder will be at his absolute peak condition on contest day. Ignorance of these factors, or even a small slip up, could make the difference between winning and losing. It is the final days, hours and minutes leading right up to the contest that I am concerned with here.
Once you have done the groundwork in preparation for a contest by training hard and watching your diet, you will want to go into the contest at your absolute biggest and the most ripped -- in peak condition, in other words. The following is a list of things to do so you'll be able to fine tune your appearance and reach peak condition in a predictable and controlled fashion:
1. Give yourself adequate time for preparation -- Begin your contest preparation well enough in advance so that you will reach a peak condition (maximum muscle size with minimum bodyfat) or close to it at least a week before the contest. Keep a training journal during this preparation period in which you keep an accurate record of your bodyweight under various circumstances, such as before training, after training, upon arising, after posing practice, etc. This is especially important as you approach peak condition. Once you reach that peak, note your bodyweight and strive to maintain it with very little fluctuation going into the contest. (More about this in the section on keeping a training journal.) It is ridiculous to go into a contest still struggling with a severe diet to lose weight. Reaching that ideal condition a week or more in advance will give you more fine-tune control going into the contest.
2. Controlling water level within the body -- Once you have reached a peak, where you have done all you reasonably could to build muscle size and lose fat, it is the amount of water in your body and its distribution that will determine whether you go into the contest at an absolute peak, with large, round pumped muscles and skin like cellophane, or flat, deflated muscles with puffy skin. The secret to achieving this is knowing how to maintain optimum blood volume in the body along with maximum fluid pressure within the muscle, while at the same time ridding the subcutanous space (directly between the skin and muscle) of any and all extraneous water. Even a normally hydrated human body contains more subcutaneous water than would be consistent with an absolute peak. Water enters and exists in our bodies in numerous ways. It is imperative that you learn how to control the amount of water in your body and its distribution if you want to look your best contest day.
Sweating -- I have always been aware that sweating causes the body to lose water. But it wasn't until my preparation for the 1979 Mr. Olympia that I learned how much water is contained in the subcutaneous space, and how effective intensive sweating can be in ridding yourself of that water, which, left unchecked, can blur cuts and striations. After each workout I would go onto the roof of my house, which was surrounded on all sides by white-painted walls that reflected the sun's heat and caused the temperature on the roof to be higher than the surrounding atmosphere. This made the roof very hot and within two hours I had all I could stand, as the profuse sweating weakened me somewhat. I would rub a light oil on my skin to cause my body to heat up even more, especially in areas like my lower back and abdomen where I tend to hold more water. Each and every day I would sunbathe on the roof, and each day I was astonished at how much water I lost from under my skin; even more surprising was the effect this had on my appearance. Before the two hours of sweating I appeared moderately cut and striated, but after the sweating my cuts appeared much deeper and striations appeared which normally weren't visible. In addition, the skin all over my body would be one-third as thick after the sweating compared to before. You'd be surprised how much of what you thought was fat blurring your definition is actually water.
You must be careful not to overdo the sweating, however, as you lose important minerals and electrolytes along with the sweat. Moreover, if your body heat goes too high, you can suffer heatstroke or even death if carried to extremes. Losing too much body water can also detract from your appearance. Muscle tissue, remember, is comprised of more than 70 percent water, and the blood that can be pumped into muscle to increase size is also made up mostly of water. Too much sweating can lower blood volume and decrease muscle mass, if only temporarily.
Sweating should be used primarily the last week or two before the contest to help control subcutaneous water as well as help rid the body of excess salt which holds the water in the body. If the weather is not warm, running in a heavy sweat suit or taking saunas can be substituted. Increase your potassium intake during periods of heavy sweating for replacement purposes, but continue to limit salt in your diet.
Limiting salt and water intake -- In addition to or instead of sweating, the limiting of salt and water in your diet for up to two days before the contest can increase your definition as well.
Buy a book that lists the sodium level of foods and eliminate those foods that are heavy in salt. One part sodium holds 180 parts water in the body! Eliminating such foods can be done several days leading up to the contest, but reducing your water intake should be limited to no more than two days before the show. And note that I say reduce your water intake, not eliminate it. Remember again that the amount of water in the muscle as well as circulating blood volume determine, in part, muscle size and the ability to pump. Play it by ear. If you are particularly puffy, cut your normal intake of water and fluids by two-thirds. When you are thirsty and have a desire to drink, drink one-third what you would usually take in. I did this starting the day before the 1979 Mr. Olympia and noted a steady increase in my definition and a thinning in my skin, seemingly after each urination. As prejudging approached I increased my water intake a bit because I knew it would be grueling and hot under the stage lights. I was ripped and my skin was very tight and drained of water anyway by then, so I knew a little increase wouldn't hurt. In fact, it would help in pumping the muscles and keeping my energy up.
Diuretics -- The measures I have described above for thinning the skin and ridding the body of water can be controlled voluntarily by the individual, and they work extremely well either individually or together. There is no good reason for a bodybuilder to take diuretics such as Lasix before a show. Diuretics are unpredictable and cause you to lose too much water from the body. And since bodyfat is made up of only 15 percent water while muscle is more than 70 percent water, most of the water you lose will come from the muscle and circulating blood. This will deflate the muscles, reduce pump-ability and absolutely wipe out all vascularity. The potassium loss that results will cause weakness, fatigue and shakiness. Diuretics are radical expedients that can cause the loss of up to eight pounds in a matter of hours. And the resulting electrolyte imbalance will take days to restore.
Ketosis -- The ketone bodies that enter the blood when fat is being burned cause increased urination as a means of ridding the body of them. I usually try to stay in ketosis by keeping my calories low and activity high right up to the night before the contest. Ketostix, which can be bought in any drugstore, can be used to monitor ketone levels. I would not advise that you stay in heavy (i.e., purple) ketosis, as it is a sign that you have used up all your body's glycogen and are on the verge of becoming very drained.
Activity and metabolic increase -- Inactivity causes circulation to slow down and retards the rate of elimination. This is detrimental to the bodybuilder about to compete because the accumulation of water and salts in the tissues increases. Even if you tend to wind down going into a contest, don't just lie around and continue your same diet, whether it's a restricted diet or not. The decreased activity will cause you to burn fewer calories and eliminate wastes less rapidly. Aerobic activities such as running or biking will keep circulation optimal and prevent wastes, salts and water from accumulating in the body. The night before the Olympia I ran for 30 minutes and believe it contributed to the peak I attained the next day.
3. Glycogen levels -- Carbohydrates are absolutely essential in the bodybuilder's diet because they provide the fuel required for high-intensity muscular contraction. In addition to supplying energy, carbohydrate in the form of glycogen (a string of glucose molecules stuck together) is stored in the muscle, where each gram of glycogen "holds" three grams of water. People who go on very low or zero carbohydrate diets often marvel at the immediate and dramatic loss of weight that results. Losses of up to 10-15 pounds the first week are not uncommon. However, such losses are mostly due to the body eliminating water, not losing fat (three pounds of fat loss a week is the most you can hope for). And you guessed it, much of this water comes from the muscle, because as the body used the stored glycogen in the muscle for energy due to the absence of dietary carbohydrate, the water molecules that were attached to the glycogen will pass out of the muscle and then out of the body.
Any right-thinking bodybuilder would not go low in carbohydrates, even if he is trying to lose fat. As long as the daily caloric intake is below maintenance levels, you will lose fat. The best way to lose fat is on a reduced calorie diet comprised of 60% carbohydrate, 25% protein and 15% fat. Even on a moderate to high carbohydrate diet, the muscles will not store much glycogen as long as the caloric intake is below maintenance. In order to restore glycogen to the fullest possible levels within your muscles, so they will swell and take on a tremendous pump, keep your diet the same and reduce your overall activity levels the last two days prior to the show. Or keep your activity level the same and just increase your daily caloric intake so it's closer to maintenance levels. Now this is not to suggest that you should go out and eat every sugar and carbohydrate in sight. Once you have filled the glycogen stores in your muscles completely, any excess can cause water to "spill" into the subcutaneous space and make you look puffy. This seems to be especially true if you are on steroids. Exactly how much you should increase your caloric intake going into the contest depends on too many factors to discuss here and is best left up to the individual to determine.
4. Volume of food consumed-- It is vital that you never stuff yourself those last few days before a show. Excess volume in the stomach and intestines will cause your stomach to protrude and slow down the normal rate of elimination, causing wastes, salts and water to accumulate everywhere in the body. By keeping your bowels relatively empty, you speed up the transit time of food through the intestines, which, in turn, speeds up elimination and metabolism. And, of course, the importance of keeping your gut small and tight cannot be overemphasized.
5. Blood packing -- Once the word got out a few years back that athletes in various sports were using blood packing (transfusing nutrient-laden plasma into the circulatory system) as a means of enhancing performance, it was inevitable that bodybuilders would pick up on the idea. Some thought that blood packing would increase muscle size and enhance vascularity. While theoretically this is possible, the body would soon detect the abnormal blood volume and restore the normal level by speeding up urination. Such a practice would be very hazardous for various reasons, so please forget it!
6. Pumping -- Increasing muscular size and enhancing vascularity by the selective redistribution of blood volume has been practiced by bodybuilders for decades. It's known, of course, as pumping. Since the body has a limited blood supply, don't try to pump every part of your body prior to going onstage. Pump only your two weakest bodyparts, and no more than 15 minutes, by performing light movements in rapid succession. Also bear in mind that it's possible to over-pump a muscle and wipe out the cuts and definition of that bodypart. Pump the muscle just enough to round it out and bring the veins to the surface. Over-pumping can cause fatigue and shakiness onstage also, so don't overdo it.
Attaining an absolute peak of condition on selected, predetermined days is an art. Very few bodybuilders ever master it, as evidenced by the incredibly low rate of consistency even among professional bodybuilders. Only through experience and the awareness of the above factors can you ever hope to master the art of contest peaking. Those who master it will, of course, do much better in competition.
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