OutsideSubmission-3 columnist

You’ve trained and dieted for months. You’ve sacrificed family dinners, social gatherings, parties, dinner dates. You're at the point where you have nothing left, but you still keep going because you see yourself at the end of this crazy 20-plus-week diet complete with one month of self-induced torture, a week full of waterboarding, starvation, and a pissy temper. Fun!

It all boils down to the final week.

Peak week.

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I’ve been there. I remember it like it was yesterday. I trained my ass off for the NPC Pittsburgh Nationals. Harder than I ever trained before. I practiced my poses where each pose was held for five minutes with a timer. I practiced and even extended my time just standing there in a relaxed front stance because that’s what you do up there. I dieted and counted every macro I ate. My water intake was marked with a magic marker.

Do your best and learn from this show’s peak week. Keep detailed notes about different feelings, physiological changes, and allow yourself to make mistakes. Let this and future contests be the education of a physique athlete so that you can be better prepared for your future shows.

Good luck!


Everyone’s metabolism is different. What works for a 290-pound juice monster will be different for a 185-pound natural competitor. Everyone is different. My purpose is to give you the guidelines to assist you.

Let’s start with Saturday.

This is the highest day of front carb loading. Front carb loading means you’re putting the highest amount of carbs at the beginning of the week for the toughest day of training. I like to use this on the first day out because it will be the final body part to drop most of the water to bring in the most defined look possible in a large area, such as the legs.

Protein takes a back seat this week. Carbs will be the main driver. Fats are second, and protein is last. We will use a percentage-based approach for your carb-loading and later for water loading.


This is assuming your show is on the following Saturday. Take pictures early in the morning. For carbs, place them before your workout, during and, if possible, right after training.

  • Carbohydrates: 125-150% of your normal carbohydrate intake. If you are an endomorph, err on the side of caution and use the lower percentages. If you are an individual that can drop weight relatively fast, use the higher number or somewhere in the middle.
  • Fats: 0.2 grams times your bodyweight. Watch for gram changes during the week.
  • Protein: 1 gram x your bodyweight. This is the day where your protein intake will be the highest.


  • Carbohydrates: 100-125% of your normal carbohydrate intake
  • Fats: 0.2 grams x bodyweight
  • Protein: 0.9 grams x bodyweight. Protein starts to change here.

Endomorphs, be aware that you’re probably going to look a little smoother, and if you get on the scale, a bit over your previous days' weight. No worries. Use the lower percentage of carbs. 
As you will see, the carbs will drop during the week.

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Take a morning front, back, and side head-to-toe picture and compare from yesterday’s photos. 
If you are an ectomorph or mesomorph, chances are you’ll appear fuller, and maybe with some veins possibly popping out. Use the higher percentage or somewhere in the middle of high and low percentage.


  • Carbohydrates: 75-100% of your normal carbohydrate intake
  • Fats: 0.2 grams x bodyweight
  • Protein: 0.8 grams x bodyweight

Those of you who appeared smooth maybe a little drier, and your muscles may be harder. You will most likely see an increase in vascularity from yesterday and increased separation should be more apparent than the day before. This is a strong indication that you are on the right track. Keep up the good work.

If you appeared a little depleted, flatter. and less full than yesterday, stay on the higher side of your carb intake. You’ll want to fill out a bit more.

Don't forget the mirror and photos in the morning.


  • Carbohydrates: 50-75% of your normal carbohydrate intake
  • Fats: 0.3 grams x bodyweight
  • Protein: 0.7 grams x bodyweight

Your physique is changing day by day.

It's starting to show more. Look at your quads and lower back. You should be seeing some more definition. Choose to go on to the higher side of carb intake or again, somewhere in the middle.

If you still appear a little smooth, drop to the lowest percentage of carbs. You’re going to start thinking a little more about food, craving food you usually don't eat. You'll be constantly hungry and edgy.

At this point, I had donuts wallpapered on my phone and I was watching more Food Network shows, thinking about the food I wanted. If you haven’t apologized to your partner, do so now because the rest of the week is going to suck.


  • Carbohydrates: 25-50% of your normal carbohydrate intake
  • Fats: 0.3 grams x bodyweight
  • Protein: 0.6 grams x bodyweight

You’re full-blown cranky, edgy, and probably need a little more black coffee today. By now, you’re going to appear flat, and you probably won't be able to get a strong pump in the gym. Check yourself in the mirror and take your pictures.

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Today, we’ll start using supplements. More on that later.


  • Carbohydrates: 20-40% of your normal carbohydrate intake
  • Fats: 0.3 grams x bodyweight
  • Protein: 0.6 grams x bodyweight

Life sucks today and training with circuits will be a challenge. Posing will be a challenge but persevere. The end is in sight. Continue being cranky and monitor your photos and progress.


  • Carbohydrates: 25-40% of your normal carbohydrate intake
  • Fats: 0.3 grams x bodyweight
  • Protein: 0.5 grams x bodyweight

Today is the day when you start a moderate carb load, keeping everything in check. You will feel better and changes will start to take place right after you begin the carb load. Macros stay the same for the duration of the day.

We are going to assume that your bedtime is 10 p.m. At 6 p.m., you will add 20 percent of your Friday carb intake. I would suggest pasta or potatoes. I love Yukon Gold potatoes without the skin because they made my veins pop and my muscles filled out fast. Have a small amount of protein with your meal. Add a pat of butter or half teaspoon of olive oil.

After eating, wait 15 to 20 minutes. You're going to feel a surge of energy and your skin may feel like it's expanding. Begin pumping up and posing, then look in the mirror. You should start to fill out and start to see veins rise.

You will have much more energy. Things will be a little happier — a little brighter. You realize tomorrow is the day, and you are PUMPED!

If you still appear flat or stringy, add another meal and shortly after, pump and pose. Call it a night and try to sleep.



I don't know what your regular training entailed, but take the exercises that you have used and deduct 20 percent off your maximum weights. Do not go to failure on your reps. Stop short and leave two reps in the tank. 
We want to use the carbs in the most effective way possible, and as the carbs are reduced, the smaller body parts will then be trained.

Below is a sample of what I did the last time I competed. I used all of the exercises that I used through my prep. Most of my work consisted of three to five sets of 12 repetitions, except for the circuit days, which are listed below.

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This is just an example of how I ran my peak week training. Adjust it to your training exercises, health history and injuries, rep counts, and sets.

  • Day 1: Quads/Calves/Abs
  • Day 2: Chest/Biceps/Abs/Calves
  • Day 3: Hamstrings/Back/Abs
  • Day 4: Delts/Triceps/Abs






Machine Circuit: 4 sets. Each set will be to 15 reps with 30-second rests.


Upper body circuit: 3 sets with one exercise after the other. Rest 30 seconds and repeat. Each set will be to 15 reps.


  • Posing
  • Cardio 20 minutes low impact cardio — no running


  • 20-minute walk in the morning after posing



Different federations have different rules about posing. What is allowed in the NPC for bikini competitors may not be allowed in the OCB or the ANBF.

To the left is the ANBF pose; to the right is the NPC/IFBB pose. If you make the mistake of posing the right side pose, you will be scored lower.

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I will not go over all of the poses listed, but this example is a clear indicator of doing your homework and researching guidelines. Each federation has their rules and regulations posted on the respective website. Judges hate when you don't follow rules.

Posing Tips:

  • Take pictures of your poses in the morning. You will be your driest and look your best. Taking pictures later in the day after eating or drinking certain fluids may create water retention.
  • Practice posing with a mirror for the first two weeks. Make sure you feel the muscles being used. Each pose has its own feeling.
  • After two weeks, close your eyes and feel the pose, then open your eyes and check your form. If it looks good to the coach and your buddy or significant other, move to the next pose.
  • Have your coach sit down on a small low bench or on the floor. Remember, you’re being viewed from the bottom up. The judges are below you.
  • After four weeks, you should barely use a mirror. At this point, you should be posing for one minute easily, especially after adding 20 to 30 seconds after the first two or three weeks.
  • Don’t flex too hard. You’ll shake. Control your breathing and pose. Don't tighten up to the point where your legs begin to shake.
  • Practice poses at least two months prior to show day.

Three positive benefits of practicing pose repeatedly:

  1. Increase your conditioning capacity to hold a pose longer without shaking.
  2. It will increase muscle hardness.
  3. You are more aware of the mind-muscle connection. When I pose with a client, they will be required to pose with their eyes closed, both at home and in session. Only then will be able to feel the muscles being used for that pose as well as fix the mistakes made.

As a judge, three things piss me off:

  1. Failure to adhere to the rules of the federation.
  2. Posing routines that go well over your time limit.
  3. Failure to pay attention to your backside (rear delts, glutes, hamstrings, and calves).

Make every attempt to keep your physique balanced. Rear delts, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves are IMPORTANT to a good placing.

Water Loading/Sodium Loading/Supplements

Water loading instead of water depletion. Very simply: water in, water out. I do not believe in depleting water because the less water you have, the more water your skin will trap and retain. Toward the end of the week, you will use a natural diuretic and lower some of the sodium.

Follow the water, sodium-loading schedule as directed. For sodium loading and supplement schedule and I would suggest practicing the entire schedule two or three weeks before your peak week to ensure it will react the way we want it to.

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175% more water than your normal intake. Salt all of your meals. By salting a meal, this means just a shake or two.


Same water schedule. Salt all of your meals.


Same water schedule. Salt 5 of 6 meals.


150% water. Salt 4 of 6 meals.


125% water. Salt 3 of 6 meals. Begin XPel, a natural diuretic. Read the label for directions.

Use Smooth MoveTea or a gentle laxative before bedtime. This will initiate a bowel movement to reduce bloat in your stomach.


Normal water intake that you were using before peak week began. Salt 2 of 6 meals. Use XPel. Use Smooth Move Tea before bedtime.


Same water UNTIL 6 p.m. After 6 p.m., you’ll take small sips. 
No added salt, just what is in your meals. Use Xpel. Use Smooth Move Tea Friday morning ONLY.


Small sips of water when needed. Stop Xpel. Stop Smooth Move Tea.


Show Day

You made it. Congratulations! After all of the months of prep and hard work, your day to shine is here!

At 6 a.m., wake up, pump, and pose. You will appear fuller than yesterday morning. Have a meal of 20 to 30 grams of carbs, 20 grams of fats, and 20g of protein. Be careful with protein because it tends to make you fuller and takes a little time to digest. Wait 20 minutes. Pump up and pose.

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Three hours later, repeat this morning’s process. Have another meal with the same amount of macros. The objective is to gauge how you look and either drop the carbs a little or increase to the amount listed. By now, you should appear fuller. At this time, you should be nearing the morning competitors meeting. Get an idea of when you will be going on stage.

If you will be competing in an hour or less, have a small carb meal with a bite or two of protein. I like a tablespoon of peanut butter with one large caramel rice cake. If you won't be on until two hours from then, have a small white bread-based light protein sandwich. Twenty minutes after you eat, pose and go through your routine.

When you know your class is up next and they ask you to line up, five minutes before you line up, have some candy and an alcoholic drink. I love Fireball liqueur or red wine and a small piece of dark chocolate. This is to soothe your nerves and give you some extra carbohydrates to maintain energy. If you don't feel comfortable using an alcohol-based drink, stick with the dark chocolate only.

After prejudging, have your morning meal again and repeat the process from the morning. Have a full glass of water, but don't go overboard. Your body is still in a state of duress, and you can't force-feed it as you want.

Some federations do a straight-through show and only break to tabulate scores. As a heavyweight, this is so much better than waiting. I once finished with a show at 11 p.m.!

Continue with little bites of food. Don’t fill up too much as you need to be aware of stomach bloat. Sip water.

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide helps you with a great showing. Above all, remember to keep notes and see what works each time you compete. I love this sport, and it is my hope that you are smart about prep and remain worry-free.

After the show, go out and enjoy yourself. Hopefully, you have learned from the experience. Have a great meal, but don’t push it too hard. Your body isn't used to junk meals at this point. I cannot stress this enough. 
I wish you the best of luck, and may you have many victories in your journey of competition.

Chris Marzarella is co-owner of Pure Focus Sports Club, a hardcore bodybuilding and powerlifting gym in Brick, New Jersey. He trains online clients and in-person. He can be reached at marzarellafitness.com.