Unfortunately, some things in this industry just seem to stick forever, or at least until they are challenged and found to be ineffective. Even then, there are some things that are generally regarded as ineffective yet people continue to use these methods, for reasons I am unsure of.
I am no pioneer, in the sense that I have not reinvented the wheel. You would have to go back decades to find true pioneers in this sport. I do, however, insist on thinking outside of the box, and that is essentially what got me noticed almost 20 years ago when the bodybuilding message boards were in their infancy. I feel that I, along with a few other people, helped usher in the era of questioning everything that was “known” and focusing not on studies (that can say pretty much anything you want them to say), but rather on trial and error to decide what worked and what didn’t, and what worked well and what worked “meh."
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A lot of things look good on paper and just don’t pan out when applied. Glutamine, beta-alanine, HMB, and even creatine come to mind. That is not to say that some of these things don’t work at all, but that even if they do work, it isn’t enough to matter. Dextrose doesn’t work any better for replenishing glycogen post-workout than rice cereal, but if you put it on paper, there should be a dramatic difference. There isn’t. For some reason, people sometimes prefer to complicate things and are sold on expensive supplements even when they don’t provide a quantifiable result.
Let’s take a look at four peaking methods that I feel should be better understood as to why they should be thrown in the trash.
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1. Rice Cakes
The rice cake eaten before going on stage to compete is ridiculously misunderstood yet you will see it at every single show you ever attend. If you are backstage eating rice cakes (usually with jam and/or peanut butter), you are misguided in what you are really supplying your body and what the effect will be. There is virtually no fat, sodium, or fiber, and only seven grams of carbs. If you think seven grams of carbs is going to help “fill you out”, you’ve got a lot to learn. Put jam on it for more carbs? Most jam is high-fructose corn syrup, so not the best carb source to use unless you want to fill out your liver first. Sodium content is incredibly low as well. Try to fill skeletal muscle with no sodium and see how far you get. So, most who do this end up with flat muscles, but probably a nicely filled out and shapely liver.
The only way this would be even close to effective for filling out before going on stage would be if you ate enough of them to get enough carbs to fill out muscle glycogen stores if you salted the hell out of them, and added some peanut butter – a LOT of it. By the time you get enough rice cakes loaded with sodium and fat, you would likely look pregnant.
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What are rice cakes good for backstage? Satiety. That’s it. You will not be starving to death if you have a rice cake with something on it. Tell me of someone who has filled out backstage from rice cakes and I will call you a liar.
2. Cutting Sodium to Dry Out
The fastest way to go flat is to cut sodium. Sodium will help keep your muscles full, and when muscles are full they push tightly against the skin. Sodium gets cut a lot of times when someone simply isn’t ready for the stage because they aren’t lean enough. Either the competitor or the competitor’s trainer will cut sodium in the hopes that cutting water will make their skin appear thinner. What really happens? The muscles flatten out and the lack of condition of the competitor becomes even more apparent because the skin is now soft due to the flat muscles not pushing tightly against the skin.
Drying out is not about eliminating water from the body, but rather manipulating water. Yes, that does sometimes mean that water is eliminated, but that is not the goal. The goal is to shift subcutaneous water from under the skin to inside the muscle and/or only get rid of subcutaneous water while leaving intramuscular water alone. This is not an easy task, and even some veteran prep guys can struggle with this based on the competitor. However, cutting sodium is not ever going to be effective unless sodium is reintroduced at some point after moving water. This is a complicated process because adding sodium back in means that the body must be depleted of glycogen and sodium needs to be added to carbs with water to be shuttled into the muscle. Otherwise, adding sodium back can cause subcutaneous water retention.
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3. Depletion Workouts
This one is simple to explain: If you aren’t depleted enough to efficiently store glycogen while loading before a show, you have not been prepping correctly. When you get to the last week before a show, you better be depleted or you haven’t done the work. To further deplete yourself at that point is absurd. Workouts should be brief and low intensity the last week before a show — not long, drawn out and causing the body to become even more depleted than it already is. The people who use this method will typically look over-dieted on stage because it is more difficult to fill out muscle glycogen the more depleted you are.
4. Diuretic Abuse
This goes back to cutting sodium. Using too much of any diuretic will screw up your electrolyte balance, causing cramping and retention of water. It can also make you just as flat, if not more so, than simply cutting sodium. Diuretic use is most times viewed as a substance that, if you take enough of it, will get you dry as hell and make you look shredded. What really happens? You're flat as a pancake, have no pop to your muscles, and lose condition because the physique turns soft quickly. Correct diuretic use is a short, fast protocol while still hydrated that can pull water subcutaneous but not much intramuscularly, so that your skin gets dry and the muscles maintain hydration and fullness.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where everyone is a prep guy whether they have the experience or not. This is exactly how antiquated methods get “borrowed” and never are trialed and tribulated. When everyone “borrows” other people’s ideas and protocols, things like this happen where you see stupid shit being used over and over, even though the outcome is mediocre.
My advice is to come into your own methods. Even if you end up using a method that someone else uses, use it because it works and you know it works because you have personally used it over and over. If more people were to question methods before they steal them (oops, I meant “borrow” them), there would be less stealing and more out-of-the-box thinking. That is how methods progress over time and don’t remain antiquated — because no one will ever call a successful protocol “antiquated.” Just Sayin’.