While I think most bikini competition prep coaches have come a long way with regard to pre-contest depleting or “drying out” practices, there still seems to be a lot of confusion regarding sodium manipulation in the bikini competition diet.
I’ve intentionally left bikini competition out of this post, since depleting is completely pointless, and actually a bad idea for bikini competitors…and I’m not far from feeling the same way about figure prep.
Now I understand the concern in bodybuilding about peaking too early. When your sport calls for you to diet down to unhealthy bodyfat levels…you kinda need to time everything right. It’s not like you can get down to single digit bodyfat on Monday and just hang out for 5 days.
But what’s wrong with a figure competitor planning to be ready a few days to a week early…and just staying the course for the remainder of the time?
The answer, in my opinion, is nothing. If you’ve been focusing on your diet and conditioning, there is absolutely no reason to use any last minute tricks, and you will do just fine keeping sodium intake up (but steady) throughout your prep.
If you haven’t prepared yourself, no amount of sodium loading/cutting, diuretics, (extreme) water depletion or any other last minute trick is going to save you. You’re going to have what optimists call a “learning experience”.
So why am I so big on sodium? Well, I have dozens of reasons, 5 of which I’ll share with you in this post. Some of the reasons relate more to offseason training/prep, and others pertain to peak weak and contest day. Here they are:
Your body is smarter than you (and me). Your body is very good at regulating it’s sodium/potassium balance. You can try and trick it…and if you succeed, you may end up slightly harder than if you had kept things steady. If you fail…you’ll end up with some serious bloat during your show that you will NOT be able to do anything about. Don’t let anyone tell you they have the secret to sodium/potassium manipulation. Everyone responds differently, and the risk/reward is just not worth it.
You can get some serious cramps onstage, and they WILL prevent you from continuing. Cutting sodium (and water) can lead to an electrolyte imbalance that can very easily cause serious cramping. This is probably more of a concern to those who have gone low sodium consistently, and not so much for people who’ve kept it up and simply cut it on Friday…but it’s a big one. Many competitors have experienced some very embarrassing incidents of cramping onstage due to dehydration and low sodium levels. If you feel you must cut sodium, it is absolutely critical that you add it back in a couple hours prior to pre-judging. This will prevent cramping, and can often times lead to intramuscular water retention (the good kind).
Cutting sodium releases the hormone Ghrelin, which is bad. Low sodium intake causes release of a very nasty hormone called Ghrelin. Ghrelin is considered the “hunger” hormone, as it causes a significant increase in appetite. Doesn’t sound so bad for those of you trying to add muscle during the offseason…right? Not that simple unfortunately, as it also slows your metabolism. Not a very nice hormone at all.
Sodium transports Amino Acids into the muscle cells. Some of the more important amino acids to physique competitors rely on sodium in order to be transported to the muscle cells. Like your glutamine and alanine, do you? Well they’re both sodium dependent.
Sodium regulates Acid/Alkaline balance. Sodium, along with potassium and chloride, regulates the body’s acid/alkaline balance. Competitors need to be very concerned with maintaining this balance, as their high protein diets can very easily put them in an acidic state. Problems associated with an acidic diet are weight gain, free radical damage, fatigue, mineral/bone loss, sore muscles and lactic acid buildup, stress, and cramps, to name a few. So if you’re already increasing your fruit and veggie intake, and limiting your intake of acidic foods, it would behoove you to keep your sodium intake up to ensure healthy ph levels.
These are just a few of the most relevant benefits of sodium intake for figure competitors. I’ll likely come back to this subject in the near future with a post on pre-contest (namely peak week) depleting strategies that actually are a good idea for figure competition. Feel free to leave me any comments below on topics you’d like me to cover.
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