The Contest Peak Week - Getting rid of old methods


The Peak week, the competition week. For most competitors, the peak week seems to be the turning point, as it is "the week to dig out the condition" - or so they hope. Is the peak week the salvation of the competition preparation? How to do it right? There is little research evidence on the peak week, but some conclusions can be drawn from the research

Background of the peak week

Even mysterious beliefs and mysterious "tricks or magic" associated with the peak week are not to be spoken about to others. Coaches also keep a tight rein on their methods and do not tell others about the methods of the peak week. Alternatively, they say that peaking is so individual that there is no one right method - well, they are right about that.

The peak week methods are the subject of much debate among coaches and competitors. The peak week has come to fitness sports naturally from bodybuilding, where various types of finishing have been performed for years (Hickson et al. 1990; Bamman et al. 1993). The peak week is believed to improve the athlete's condition, and a successful peak week is often said to be the final "touch" to competition preparation. However, the fact is that even a successful peak week will not save the day if the competitor has not achieved the tightness and muscle mass required by the division criteria before the competition week.

Purpose of the Peak week

The purpose of the peak week is to increase the size and definition of the competitors' muscles, mainly through nutritional methods. The peak week is usually carried out by reducing fluid intake, altering the body's electrolyte balance with minerals or dehydrating supplements, and adjusting carbohydrate intake (Helms et al. 2014; Hickson et al., 1990). The same effect is also sought nutritionally by altering the body's electrolyte balance (Bamman et al. 1993). In turn, glycogen depletion and refueling, familiar with endurance sports, increases carbohydrate intake in the finishing week. This aims to improve the size of muscle glycogen stores and thus increase muscle size on the competition day (Bamman et al. 1993; Spendlove et al. 2015).

For example, fitness athletes commonly implement the following formula for the peak week if the competition is on a Saturday (Isola 2017).

General methods for the peak week

1. for some, depletion of glycogen stores (if necessary) the week before the competition week

2. stopping resistance training in the peak week or reducing intensity by Wednesday at the latest

3. increasing the amount of posing training

4. refueling with table salt the week before or early in the week

5. increasing water intake as the week progresses

6. carbohydrate refueling

7. limiting table salt as the week progresses

8. limiting water intake as the week progresses

9. "shitloading," i.e., eating a large amount of junk food the night before a competition

10. drinking 12-24 cl of dry white or red wine the night before the competition

11. not drinking on the day of the competition and eating only a tiny amount of salt-free or slightly salty food before the competition. In addition, someone may enjoy a "pump alcohol" before going on stage.

12. before taking to the stage, the aim is to pump blood into the muscles through resistance training exercises to maximize muscle size and definition on stage.

Carbohydrate refueling

Some perform an actual glycogen depletion the week before the competition, although this has been somewhat abandoned as the competition diet depletes glycogen stores without a substantial deficit (Hulmi et al. 2017). The purpose of carbohydrate refueling is to increase the size of muscle glycogen stores and thus increase muscle size for competition day (Spendlove et al. 2015).

There is some variation in the refueling of carbohydrates or glycogen stores. Some perform carbohydrate refueling as a so-called front load, whereby the amount of carbohydrates is increased in the early part of the week. Then, on Thursday and Friday, they eat more moderately; on Saturday, they eat very little before the competition. The advantage is that by refueling early in the week, the coach can still react to the competitor's body water and adjust the amount of carbohydrates eaten as the week progresses.

Another way is to refuel carbohydrates at the end of the week, the so-called "backload," where the amount of carbohydrates is limited or maintained during the first week. Then, a large amount of carbohydrates is eaten from Wednesday to Friday. In this model, refueling is usually higher than in front load, including eating junk food the night before the competition.

On competition day, competitors usually eat rice cakes, bananas, and peanut butter in moderation. Nevertheless, does anyone ever wonder why Nutella is eaten on competition day if it has not been eaten before during the diet?

Drinking water

Water intake is increased throughout the week and usually peaks two days before a competition, even over 10 liters. Drinking water is traditionally stopped the day before the competition, with no drinking for 16-24 hours. The aim is to stimulate the body's "fluid circulation" and stop drinking water to remove the subcutaneous fluid. However, a tiny proportion of the body's fluid is under the skin and cannot be adequately controlled by water restriction (Rhoades et al., 2012). Instead, short-term dehydration causes dehydration (Leaf et al. 1953). It is worth remembering that a person consumes about 2.2 liters of water per day without doing any physical activity (Jeukendrup, & Gleeson 2010)

Changing electrolyte balance

The aim is to alter the body's electrolyte balance during the peak week by varying the amount of table salt, natural dehydrators such as caffeine, and alcohol consumption the day before the competition. The purpose of manipulate the amount of table salt is to influence the function of the sodium-potassium pump in the cell to increase intracellular fluid and decrease extracellular fluid (Walhberg-Rankin 1993). Some people supplement salt the week before or during the peak week. The amount of salt is reduced throughout the peak week, aiming for a completely salt-free diet by the day of the competition. Alternatively, eat a little salt on competition day before going on stage. Some may eat a completely salt-free meal the day before the competition, excluding any loaded food on the evening before the competition, e.g., at a hamburger restaurant. So while limiting salt, some may even increase their potassium intake as a supplement. Varying the amount of dietary salt is therefore aimed at getting subcutaneous fluid into the muscle cell. However, this mechanism does not work in practice (Rogacz et al. 1990). The consumption of wine the night before a competition is intended to dehydrate the body, as alcohol is known to be a powerful diuretic (Roberts 1963). Dehydration, conversely, causes dehydration, i.e., bloating (Leaf 1953).

Other methods

A dairy-free and gluten-free diet and a diet free of sweeteners are standard for the final week. These dietary restrictions can be started as early as two weeks before competition week. The rationale for a dairy-free diet is that dairy products accumulate fluid in the body and cause dehydration. There is no direct research evidence, but a longitudinal study on young girls has not found that dairy products increase fluid retention (Phillips et al. 2003). However, there is no research evidence that, in the absence of allergy, dairy products or gluten cause fluid retention (Di Sabatino et al. 2015). Therefore, these food restrictions are just a legacy of bodybuilding days (Lamar-Hildebrand 1989). Although there is no direct research evidence on the mechanism of sweeteners accumulating fluid, competitors have reported sweeteners accumulating fluid under the skin. Thus, it may make sense to limit sweetener intake as it may reduce stress.

So how should the finishing week be implemented?

First and foremost, the most important thing is to achieve the tightness and muscularity required by the division criteria before the peak week to benefit from peaking. No amount of peaking will save you if your fat percentage is too high. So, contrary to usual, the essential thing during the peak week is to maintain adequate water intake, moderate carbohydrate intake, and increased salt intake right before the competitions. Furthermore, of course, what the athlete feels comfortable with is the best solution, as the stress of the finishing week methods can be a bigger problem than the methods used (Kuijer & Boyce 2014.) Below are the three most crucial peak week methods to benefit the fitness athlete.

  1. Carbohydrate refueling either at the beginning or end of the week, depending on the athlete.
  2. Drinking water as usual throughout the peak week
  3. Salt intake is as usual throughout the finishing week, except on competition day, when salt intake will be 150% higher than previously on a diet.

Carbohydrate refueling correctly

Going wild with carbohydrate refueling is not a good idea, but it is worth doing, even though not all studies have found it beneficial (Helms et al. 2014). When carbohydrate refueling, it is good to keep the amount of carbohydrates in moderation and not to refuel at 10 000 kcal, as the maximum size of glycogen stores in humans is known to be 15 g/kg body weight (Acheson 1988.) A good amount is about 80-120% of the amount of carbohydrates you are used to eating during the diet. It is also worth considering whether to stop or reduce the intensity of resistance training during the peak week. Resistance training enhances the replenishment of glycogen stores in the exercised muscle. For example, the size of weak muscle groups could be increased by training them during carbohydrate refueling. Depending on the athlete, carbohydrate refueling should be performed at the beginning or the end of the week.

The right amount of water

Water intake should be constant throughout the peak week, as muscles contain about 20% protein and 80% water. Therefore, even a short period of water restriction will cause fluid retention in the body, i.e., dehydration (Leaf et al. 1953). Water restriction is also known to reduce the amount of fluid in the body and the amount of water in the muscles and, thus, muscle size (Costill et al. 1976). Remember that one gram of muscle glycogen retains about 2.7 g of water, so drinking enough water is also vital during the peak week to replenish glycogen stores. Without water, muscle glycogen stores will not be replenished either. However, moderation in water intake must be maintained, as excessive water intake can lead to water intoxication or hyponatremia, which are life-threatening (Garigan & Ristedt 1999).

The right amount of salt

Salt levels should be constant throughout the peak week, excluding competition day. There is no point in restricting salt, as the body carefully regulates salt balance. Rogacz et al. (1990) found that blood sodium levels remain unchanged for six days when salt intake is restricted. So reducing it does more harm than good, as reducing salt or increasing potassium intake radically reduces blood pressure. (Fotherby et al. 1993; Buyck et al. 2009) Moreover, competition preparation reduces blood pressure (Rossow et al. 2018).

In contrast, ingesting salty food raises blood pressure momentarily (Farquhar et al. 2005). Indeed, many competitors have reported that it is difficult to get pumped during the competition preparation, except on or immediately after refueling day, when energy, carbohydrate, and salt intakes tend to be higher. Therefore, getting blood pressure up on competition should be one of the main tasks of the peak week. For this reason, I recommend eating salty food about 2 hours before going on stage, as it raises blood pressure and can allow for good pump and muscle pressure and, therefore, good muscle size and definition on stage. Has anyone ever had a backstage licorice before going on stage? Licorice is known to increase blood pressure (Collins & Dufresne 2002).

So keep your peak week simple!

I cannot help but mention that these finishing week methods found in many fitness athletes are straight out of Larry Pepe's book, The Precontest Bible (2004), which is all about professional bodybuilders' competition finishes. Why? Bodybuilders and fitness athletes have different laws when preparing for a competition (Spendlove et al., 2015).

The wisdom of 'the way of the trickster leads to ruin' is a good thing to remember when preparing for a competition. Altering electrolyte balance can be life-threatening, as Bamman et al. (1993) reported in a study of bodybuilders' diets, so it is best to forget it from the start. Alcohol is also not part of sports. However, 95% of competitive fitness condition is achieved by maintaining muscle mass and reducing fat mass sufficiently during the diet. Unfortunately, if you are not fit enough during the peak week, you will not achieve anything during peaking. The peak week is a finishing week for competition, and it may be the last 5% that will be "squeezed out."


Ville Isola

PhD student of Science of Sports Coaching and Fitness Testing

Master of Military Science

Executive director of IFBB Nordic Academy

Executive Manager of Finnish Fitness Sports Association


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