Stop Messing Up Your (or your clients) Peak Week!


This was originally written for and published in Muscle & Fitness as well as M&F HERS magazines. But, I think it is likely going to be very helpful to any trainer reading this that helps clients for photoshoots, holidays or competitions.

Peak week. Everyone’s favourite buzzword through prep. This is what we wait for, isn’t it? This is where our physique transforms right in front of our very eyes, right?

Sadly, it doesn’t usually play out like that.

It’s a topic that has so much dogma and bad practice following it, that it seems to get worse, instead of better, every year that passes.

Of course, I could let it slide and allow people to continue in their ways, believing that what they are doing is the best, and only, way.  However, with competitors continually sending over their ‘peak’ week plans to me, that just make very little sense, eventually a point is reached where I feel it is necessary to shed some light, in an attempt to save somebody screwing up their entire prep, or worse – their health.

The first point I would like to highlight: We all do things differently.  We all have different approaches, different views, different ways of working; even if we all have the same end point in mind.

By no means am I expecting you to follow my advice blindly, or that my way is the only way, as that would not be true.  There are alternative ways of running a peak, many of them perfectly acceptable. What I would like to do here is cover some basic mistakes I see a lot make, and then give a some peaking principles as well as a template – all based on science as well as real world experience.

First, let’s clarify the end goal.

Ladies: Unless you are competing in women’s physique or bodybuilding, you need to remember that your goal isn’t to look ‘dry’, ‘shredded’ and ‘vascular’.  Bikini and figure girls, your aim is to come in looking lean, full and healthy.

The bikini and figure categories are evidently the most ‘marketable’; these are the ones that draw other females into the sport due to it being somewhat more attainable to reach the required condition.  As a result, the aim is most definitely not to be up on stage looking drawn and stringy whilst suffering from cramping and dehydration.  Always keep your category requirements, and goal, in mind.

Men: Quite the opposite – the end goal IS for you to look dry, shredded and vascular. Providing you’ve worked your damned hardest throughout your ‘off/improvement season’, given yourself enough time in this growth phase and allowed yourself a long enough prep, you should already be looking like this!  Thus meaning no extremes needed.

The big question is: If you are looking ‘bang on the money’ in that final week prior to the competition, why on earth would you risk going to the extremes to try and make marginal improvements, say 5% tops, knowing that if you mess up, you’re going to potentially look 50% worse?

Other than filling out a little, the majority of people should be able to cruise into that last week, dare I say it, fairly easily.

Four Big Mistakes, and a Golden Nugget of Advice

In a system as complex as that of the human body, there are little times you can speak in absolutes. But judging from the insanity that I frequently see in peak week plans, it’s fair to say the following four are absolute no-no’s:

Completely pulling sodium out weeks out from a contest..

Only IF you have to, manipulating sodium should be a short-term thing. There’s no rationale in removing sodium at 4-5 weeks out, that’s just plain ridiculous. Any manipulations we do make, whether to water or sodium, is with the goal of making temporary shifts in renal hormones such as Aldosterone and Vasopressin.

People need to remember that the body loves homeostasis (balance), and it will often overshoot in order to try and achieve this.  Therefore, the above stated hormones will often rebound, which is what people don’t always realise when implementing these manipulations.

Over a 6-day period of sodium restriction, one study showed aldosterone levels to have tripled.  Aldosterone plays a vital role in maintaining fluid balance by assisting in the re-absorption/retention of both water and sodium.  Liken it to water being retained through the menstrual cycle – it is the same hormone controlling this.

In this study, at the beginning of the trial, aldosterone sat at 10.4ng/100ml.

One day into the sodium restriction it went to 11.7ng/100ml (nothing too drastic).

At 6 days in, it rose to a mighty 37ng/ml!

It is not only illogical from a water manipulation standpoint (the whole reason for doing so), it’s also pretty silly as we need sodium for certain glucose transporters to work. In addition, it aids in muscle contraction… you know, the thing we do day in, day out in the gym.

There can be a case made (sometimes) for manipulating it in the final 12-24 hours before the show.  If you get it wrong however, disaster can strike and your physique could well head in the wrong direction.

How is this?

Sodium is CRITICAL for blood volume.  You’re chasing that pump backstage, but as soon as this volume drops, you can kiss goodbye to getting that desired look. Instead you’ll appear flat/smooth, which when under stage lights will have you looking 4+ weeks out.

Amateurs using prescription-based diuretics..

Turning up in ‘real’ condition will most likely be enough to nail a top three placing at local level qualifiers.

Even the top guys in the sport are now coming away from using prescription-based diuretics; there’s a reason for this.

A lot of people just take these drugs without knowing the mechanism of action behind them. They also aren’t aware that there are different classes of them; loop diuretics, potassium sparing, thiazide etc.

So what can happen?  In ascending order of issues:

The Good: You get the timing and dose spot on, resulting in you coming in looking 2-3% sharper (very rare).

The Bad: You completely flatten out, struggle to get a good pump, possible cramping and end up looking much worse/more smooth on stage (most likely to happen).

The Ugly: Misusing prescription-based diuretics can be lethal. Both low sodium (hyponatremia) and high potassium (hyperkalemia) are possible eventualities.

You may be familiar with the marathon runners that we occasionally hear about dying via ‘over hydration’. What typically happens here is they drink so much water they completely flush out their mineral balance, and in particular sodium, resulting in serious consequences, even death.

Consider that of the three chemicals used in the lethal injection, potassium is the one that actually stops the heart and is ultimately fatal. The other two chemicals are used to sedate the person as well as causing paralysis to the muscles.  This seems to be in the extreme case, but still, something that needs to be acknowledged.

Some individuals are prone to water retention.  If this is the case and you’ve managed to work this out during prep (and you’re 100% sure it’s not still just body fat that needs to come off, which is more than likely the answer), then a good alternative at increasing the rate of diuresis, without the potential side effects of the much more potent substances, would be to use a herbal diuretic such as Project AD’s H20 Remoove.

The three candidates I’d suggest could benefit from using this alternative are:

  • Females competing around their menstrual cycle
  • Heavily stressed individuals (cortisol binds to the same receptor as aldosterone)
  • Those retaining more water than usual from using PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs).

Chances are that most simply just have body fat still to lose and won’t need to use the above!

Completely changing training..

I’ve seen different ends of the spectrum, where competitors have either completely stopped training a week out from their show, or gone the opposite way and hugely increased their rep ranges on exercises.  But why?  Remember that we mentioned in one of the paragraphs above – the body likes balance?  Well this is where I am going to re-iterate that point.  The key in peak week is to keep as many variables as possible the same.

If you stop training a week out from the show, the first thing you’ve just done is completely changed your energy balance.  Your body has become accustomed to expending ‘x’ amount of calories per week during your strength sessions, so not only are you about to carb/calorie load, but you’re also going to pull back on one side of the energy balance equation and completely skew things further.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?

(To note: In this final week, a gradual taper in cardio to allow the legs to recover is fine, and often implemented, for most.)

Also, you may know about a process known as ‘glut-4 translocation’.  Put simply, it means that muscle contraction aids in the transportation of glucose into our muscle cells. Consequently, by training as usual while carb loading, we’re actually aiding the process by giving our muscles a reason to store and hold onto glycogen, allowing them to remain ‘full’ (the aim).

In regards to the second point, changing training from in the 6-12 rep range, for example, throughout the entire prep and then all of a sudden jumping to the 20-30 rep range, probably isn’t the wisest idea either.

Think about this – what happens when you introduce a new stimulus or begin a new training program? You get sore.  Well, in order to aid in recovery, this soreness is often accompanied by a pooling of fluid (inflammation) around that area.  We’re usually carrying too much body fat to see this.  But, in that final week/few days leading into the show, it will be highly noticeable! Or at least should be, if you’re lean enough.

The aim should be to keep training pretty much the same in your final week. There are only two things we’d alter: stopping 1-2 reps shy of failure (same inflammatory response above) and to move the last legs session to slightly earlier in the week.  In relation to legs, still train them, just not so close to the contest.  An idea would be to move them to the Wednesday before a Sunday show.

Loading and drying at the same time..

Something else that I read a lot is competitors attempting to ‘load and dry’ – at the same time.

These are two completely different processes, that should be kept separate.

You see, to ‘load’ we are talking about glycogen loading our muscle cells and pursuing maximum fullness. To be able to do this properly, we need sodium.

As mentioned earlier, without sodium, carbohydrates can’t be shuttled and stored correctly. To coincide with this, there’s a phrase in physiology that goes along the lines of ‘where sodium goes, water follows…’

To add to that, for every 1g of carbohydrate stored, we’ll also store approximately 2.7g water.

In a nutshell: If you want your ‘load’ to be as successful as possible, you need to give it both water and sodium, and accept that you’ll you retain some fluid throughout this process (temporarily).

Trying to ‘dry out’ during this process is attempting to defy physics. Instead, you should understand physiology, allow the body to do what it needs to do and then starting the drying process, if needs be.

Saving the best til’ last; the golden nugget..

Physique wise, be ready to step on stage at least 7-10 days out from your show! Hoping peak week will ‘fix’ you, and going into the week not looking on point, is only going to end in disappointment.  Don’t kid yourself, it will show on stage. The goal of the peak week is to touch up your physique and refine the details, perhaps tightening it by 2-3%.  The work should already be done.

If at a week out you’re still sporting love handles and wobbly bits – that’s body fat.  No matter what anybody tells you, or how your friends and family word it, it’s not water.  As frustrating and deflating this may feel, push the competition back a little, choose a different show and work harder towards this.

Now that we’ve covered what you shouldn’t do, we’re going to delve into two example peak weeks with our view on what you should/could do:

Natural female competitor – holding water due to either menstrual cycle or stress

  • Right the way through this final week, keep water intake exactly the same as you’ve been drinking throughout the entire prep. For the majority, we’d imagine this to be around 3.5-5 litres
  • Keep sodium at approximately 1/8th tsp sea salt with each meal plus condiments would be about right for most; this should be consistent with your entire prep
  • Move your last legs session to say 2-3 days out from the show, otherwise, train as you normally would
  • If applicable, drop high intensity interval training (HIIT) at 7-10 days out
  • If you are doing a high amount of steady state cardio (SSCV), gradually reduce this through the week
  • Drop any Yohimbine HCL products at 5 days out (if applicable)
  • Use a herbal diuretic such as H20 Remoove around 3-4 days out from competition (as noted previously, this is for those that we suspect are retaining water)
  • Depending on how your physique is looking, at 3 days out, push your carbohydrate intake approx. 1.5-2x than the ‘high’ day you were on through prep. For example, 100g becomes 150-200g
  • At 2 days out, and judging by the response, either repeat or adjust the amount of carbohydrates up/down
  • Play carb intake amount by ear at 1 day out, and judging by look, consider reducing carbs a little whilst increasing fats if look is achieved
  • On show day, have an ample sized breakfast hitting a good intake of carbs, fat and sodium (eggs on toast with salt/ketchup, sushi, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, McMuffin etc. are all good examples)
  • Throughout the day, every 2-4 hours, switch over to meals you can easily digest (chicken, white rice and almond butter), ensuring you are monitoring your look and response
  • As a guide, either 2-3 classes before yours, or as you get called backstage, have ½ tsp sea salt with water + Reese’s PB cup

You can now see from the above, it is really nothing crazy. No extremes and on the most part, keeping consistent to your prep.  It’s maintaining water and sodium the same as you’ve done throughout and dropping anything that could potentially make you retain water (certain alcohol sugars, Yohimbine HCL etc).

From then on, your aim is to give a fuller look to your muscles, so a gentle carb up will do the job. 

For the females that are around menstruation, or are particularly stressed, including the herbal diuretic can aid in the excretion of a little water in a safe manner to give the desired look as you approach show day.

Lastly, the pre-stage hit of sodium and peanut butter cup will aid in the pump up / adding fullness to certain areas pre-stage. Although remember, for bikini classes, the goal isn’t to pump everything up and look huge and vascular – this could be of detriment to your placing. That being said, adding a little blood and fullness to the lateral shoulders for example, may accentuate a smaller waist, so this is an area to focus on.

Natural male bodybuilder


  • Right the way through ‘peak week’, keep water intake exactly the same as you’ve been drinking throughout the entire prep. For the majority, we’d imagine this to be around 4.5-7 litres per day
  • Keep sodium at approximately 1/8th tsp sea salt with each meal plus condiments would be about right for most; this should be consistent with your entire prep
  • In the second half of the week, to encourage recovery, drop the load by 10-20% and reduce volume by 20-30%. Otherwise, train with your normal exercises and rep ranges.
  • Your last legs session should be scheduled to maybe 3-4 days out
  • If HIIT has been utilised in your prep, pull it out at 7-10 days out
  • Taper SSCV through the week (if applicable)
  • If applicable, drop Yohimbine HCL at 5 days out
  • Depending on look at 4 days out, increase carbohydrates to 3x more than your ‘high’ day through prep. E.g. 150g becomes 450g
  • At the 3 days out mark and if everything has gone to plan, repeat the carbs from the previous day
  • In case of any ‘spill over’ occurring, at 2 days out, slightly lower carbohydrates and increase fats to clear this
  • 1 day prior to the show, use as a ‘refinement’ day. Review your physique adjust carbs/fats accordingly to reach the desired look
  • On show day, have a decent sized breakfast hitting a good amount of carbs, fat and sodium (eggs on toast with salt/ketchup, sushi, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, McMuffin etc. are all good examples)
  • Throughout the day, every 2-4 hours, switch over to meals you can easily digest (chicken, white rice and almond butter), ensuring you are monitoring your look and the way you response
  • ½ tsp sea salt with 25g HBCD (Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin) to be taken as you get called on stage or 2-3 classes before yours

You will notice that it’s not vastly different from the peak of a female.  The main difference being the water intake – this is likely going to be higher due to a greater body mass in general. The carb up is slightly heavier, and a little longer – but still not as aggressive as you may anticipate.

To help in the pump up process for males, there’s an inclusion of highly branched cyclic dextrin (such as ProjectAD’s Raging Full) alongside the sodium. For men’s physique, during your pump up, focus should be on the chest, side delts and upper back.

Take a look at how it may look as an example if peaking for a Sunday show:


Training: Legs

Diet: 220g PRO, 50g FAT, 100g CHO

Cardio: 40 min SSCV  No HIIT 


Training: Push

Diet: 220g PRO, 50g FAT, 100g CHO

Cardio: 30 min SSCV  No HIIT


Training: Pull

Diet: 180g PRO, 60g FAT, 450g CHO

Cardio: 20 min SSCV  No HIIT


Training: Legs. Nothing near failure. 80% of normal weights & 20% reduced volume

Diet: 180g PRO, 60g FAT, 450g CHO

Cardio: No cardio


Training: Push. Nothing near failure. 80% of normal weights & 20% reduced volume.

Diet: 180g PRO, 70g FAT, 325g CHO

Cardio: No cardio


Training: Pull. Nothing near failure. 80% of normal weights & 20% reduced volume.

Diet:  220g PRO, 80g FAT, 200g CHO

Cardio: No cardio

Sunday – SHOW DAY

Training: Backstage pump on weak body parts

Diet: Decent sized breakfast of protein/fats/carbs/sodium

Easy digestible foods

Cardio: No cardio

Concluding the peak

And there we have the perfect guide to how you could potentially approach your next peak week!

As previously stated, there are other methods which people implement, and this is not a ‘one size fits all’.  Will the above protocols work for everyone, every time? No. And it’s important to remember this.  Adjustments are required and aren’t set in stone.  However, by following the principles in this article, you shouldn’t see all of your hard work go to waste.  Don’t screw up all of the many weeks/months you have worked so hard for by tackling your peak week in the wrong way!

Two final pieces of advice:

  • If the chance arises and you are able to, run a test ‘peak’ 2-3 weeks out from the show
  • If you don’t understand how a mechanism works, or why you’re doing something – just leave it and keep things simple; this will work in your favour.

Leave a Reply