Reducing Water Intake Before Competition Safely

December 13th, 2009 by

I’m competing in a bodybuilding show this summer, and I’m confused as to when I should cut my water. I’m hearing all sorts of conflicting information about cutting it out 6 hours before prejudging, 12 hours out, even a full 24 hours out! I’ve also heard about systematically reducing water intake over a number of days.

Everyone seems to have a different recommendation when it comes to cutting water for a contest. I typically see two mistakes made very often. The first, people cut their water (and their sodium, which will be discussed in a future Q&A) too early, thinking that the earlier they cut their water, the more water they’ll lose and the harder and drier they’ll look. Not so. The second involves systematically cutting water over the last few days – for example, cutting water intake to half of normal one day, then half of that the next day and then half of that the next day until it’s completely cut out. I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve been at where I’ve overheard competitors talking about how full, hard and vascular they were the day before the show, and yet, are soft and flat looking on show day. Again, for most people this isn’t the wisest approach to “drying out,” and especially not for a drug free competitor. Why?

Well, the key to drying out is the manipulation of the hormones that govern fluid balance in your body – hormones such as aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone, for example. When aldosterone is low, your body flushes out water and sodium. This is good. However, when aldosterone is high, it promotes the reuptake of water and sodium in the kidneys. This isn’t good. So how do we suppress aldosterone levels? Drink tons of water and eat sodium. How do we elevate aldosterone levels? Cut your water and sodium. So aldosterone responds to both water and sodium intake.

The key is short-term manipulation of this system. Of course, the body’s response to change isn’t like a light switch. It takes time, and this is the key. If you cut your water and sodium too early – and this includes the systematic decrease over a number of days – yes, you’ll dry out nicely, but you’ll likely peak too early. By the time contest day rolls around, you’ll wonder what the heck happened to your condition. You’ll probably be flat, appear a little soft, and have little vascularity, especially if you also cut sodium too early, which is another big mistake. Why? Because your body has had time to adjust to the change in water and sodium intake, and has adjusted hormone levels up to promote reuptake of water and sodium. You need to time the system right so that you’re on stage in your hardest, fullest, driest condition before your body has had a chance to sense the change in water and sodium intake.

So how about a recommendation? I would suggest that you keep the sodium in your diet. Keep it stable. It is the key to fullness and vascularity. Don’t cut it out too early. In fact, I wouldn’t even cut it. Starting about 10 days out, increase your water to about three gallons. What happens when you do this? You end up hitting the bathroom every 10 minutes (the fluid managing hormones are suppressed and you’re flushing water). The day before your contest, you can decrease (do not cut it) your sodium intake a little and keep pounding the water back. About 16 to 18 hours from the prejudging, cut your water. There’s also the option of reintroducing sodium a few hours after you cut your water. This can help pull water from under the skin into your muscles. Most importantly, keep in mind that some people dry out faster than others, so use this as a guide for your first show and make note of how your body changes. Better yet, make sure you’re in shape a couple weeks early and take it for a test drive and then adjust the timing based on when you look your best. If anything, you might have to cut the water closer to the show, not further away. If you wake up a little flat the next morning, drinking some water can help you out. If you wake up hard and tight, you’re ready. Have a nice fatty/sugary breakfast to get things rolling, and you’ll be good to go.