“Oh no, bro! Don’t drink so much. You’re going to hold all that water and spill over!”
Heard it before? Or worse yet, do you believe this yourself? Time and time again I am questioned at the gym about how I drop water to prepare for a show. My answer is simple: Up to two gallons of water up to the day before the show, and water as desired on the day of the show. They stare at me as if a steady stream of profanity had flowed from my mouth. As they stand is utter disbelief, I quickly add that I don’t manipulate sodium at any point during my prep. They inevitably follow-up with, “well how do you get dry and shredded on show day?” The answer to that question is simpler than the first, “I diet.”
Where did this whole notion of needing to drop water come from? The idea was most likely born to bodybuilders that take performance enhancing drugs. Whatever you want to call them – Steroid Hormones, Anabolic Steroids, USA SARMs, Anabolic Androgenic Steroids – I am talking about drugs that mimic the effects of testosterone with the purpose of increasing protein synthesis.
Steroids are known to exert what is known as Mineralcorticoid Activity. According to the medical dictionary, a Mineralcorticoid is “any of a group of steroid hormones that are secreted by the adrenal cortex and regulate the balance of water and electrolytes in the body.” A major Mineralcorticoid is Aldosterone, a hormone that promotes the “retention of sodium and bicarbonate, the excretion of potassium and hydrogen ions, and the secondary retention of water.” In English, this means that the amount of sodium absorbed by the kidney is increased. As most of you know, with sodium comes water!
Excess water retention has physical characteristics that are easily seen. There will be an overall puffiness or bloated look, and in the case of heavy drug users, this will be particularly noticeable in the hands and face. For obvious reasons, this is undesirable to any competitive bodybuilder who wants every muscle fiber to show through his skin. Without ceasing to use steroids, how is one to combat this? You drop water, often times by means of more drugs and extreme manipulation of sodium and water intake.
The ‘big boys’ have long been the admiration of many gym goers. Idols to many, their workouts, diets, supplementation, and overall methods are frequently emulated. Obviously, whatever they are doing is working or they wouldn’t look the way they do, right? Who would you listen to; a trim and toned personal trainer or a mammoth man mountain with slabs of pure muscle? With that, the dangerous act of water manipulation made its way into mainstream natural bodybuilding.
What does this mean for the natural bodybuilder? Let’s take a moment to sharpen our knowledge on water. Your muscles are about 70 percent water, therefore it stands to reason that you should always be adequately hydrated to ensure proper muscle function and growth. For us fitness minded individuals on our high protein and specialized diets that are rich with supplements, adequate water consumption is crucial to ensure proper delivery and disposal. Water will ensure that your muscles receive the nutrients and at the same time will help the unwanted toxins and waste to pass without harm to the kidneys. An added bonus to being well hydrated is that it actually helps keeps your metabolism in check. A well hydrated body metabolizes far more efficiently that a dehydrated one, leading to a greater ability to burn calories.
Water is stored both inside and outside of the muscle. You have most likely heard of that pesky subcutaneous water (beneath the skin) that MUST be eliminated if you are to appear dry and grainy. The common trend is to take a diuretic or some other designer product to help the body “dispose” of this water that is hiding beneath your skin. The problem with this is that it is not possible to specifically target subcutaneous water. Whatever product you take to expel the water will take water from the body in a general sense, making withdrawals from within the muscle and outside of the muscle.
Reducing water inside the body actually results in an increase in Aldosterone, and we have already explained what that will do to your water retention problems! Those that practice water depletion also tend to cut and manipulate sodium, yet another factor that results in increased Aldosterone. Here is the kicker – everybody wants to be super vascular on show day, but without adequate water and sodium, the pressure in the vascular system will be so low that you will be hard pressed to get those pipes to show for you on stage.
Sodium plays a larger role, however. When you enter a sodium deficiency, your body is unable to maintain and distribute fluid in the body. Proper nerve and muscle function depend on adequate sodium levels, as does the pH level of the body. Some of the more severe symptoms of sodium deficiency are muscle weakness, low blood sugar, heart palpitations, vomiting, and nerve pain.
The elimination of sodium also affects the carb load that bodybuilders practice in the final week before the show. The glucose transporter in the small intestine is sodium dependent. Low sodium decreases the uptake of glucose into the muscle. If the purpose of the carb load is to fill out the muscle, how exactly is it supposed to happen if you are compromising the process in which this takes place? What you end up with is a flat look, and you guessed it, more water where you don’t want it.
On average, a person can live anywhere from five to seven days without water. This of course varies from person to person and situational circumstances. Dehydration is a serious and life-threatening condition. The accepted standard of water intake for the typical person is eight glasses per day however, more water is needed during hot weather, when ill, and when exercising. Symptoms of dehydration may include headache, hypotension, dizziness, fainting, low endurance, rapid heart rate, fatigue and even death. In cases of dehydration, one can expect to experience spastic muscles and severe cramping – not what you want when on stage.
Water manipulation is not going to make or break your performance on show day. If you execute and follow a strict and appropriate diet, you will enter the week of the show already looking dry, grainy, vascular, full, and solid! A serious and committed competitor will allow himself enough time to diet and prepare for a competition. If you are not stage ready two weeks before the show, there is nothing you can do to reverse that problem. If this is your plan as you enter the final weeks of prep, then I’m sorry, but you just aren’t lean enough.
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