The 10 Biggest Mistakes Made During Contest Prep

by Mike Arnold

Of all the different subjects associated with the world of bodybuilding, no other is potentially more confounding than contest prep. Whether this is due to the wide range of knowledge required to effectively and efficiently manipulate all the variables involved, or being overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the endeavor, makes little difference. The fact is, despite the combined experience of multiple generations of bodybuilders being freely available to us, no other undertaking provokes such self-doubt. At a time when bodybuilders should be growing increasingly more confident in their ability to navigate this complex, yet necessary aspect of competitive bodybuilding, we are seeing more and more individuals just throw their hands up in the air without even bothering to educate themselves on the basic principles required for getting in contest condition. Hence, the ever-rising number of career coaches in this industry.

Still, with contest prep involving so many moving parts and each individual responding to them differently, it is not surprising to find even the most devoted knowledge seekers occasionally needing correction. On the surface, contest prep may seem simple—strip away body fat, maintain muscle mass, eliminate subcutaneous water, and make the muscles as hard and dense as possible via appropriate supplementation. Simple, right? Not really.

The ability to maintain maximum muscle size and fullness while achieving top condition is a skill requiring extensive experience, along with considerable knowledge in multiple areas of learning, including biology/physiology and related sciences, nutrition, pharmacology, psychology, etc. With bodybuilding science rapidly expanding in all of these areas, it is easy to get overwhelmed and start looking to others for guidance. This is all fine and good, as none of us know everything, but how do you know if the information you are receiving is correct? With so many different opinions and methods out there, searching for answers through non-acknowledged/respected sources is a risky proposition.

In addition, those who have prepped only themselves tend to recommend what has worked for themselves. Because they lack experience in dealing with large number of individuals on a one-on-one basis, they are not equipped to deal with the wide range of personal responses that one is sure to encounter when dealing in the realm of contest prep. I recently saw an example of this in Muscular Development Magazine; a popular bodybuilding publication which has signed multiple professional bodybuilders to exclusive media coverage. Each month, these pros will answer questions sent into them by fans, but in this issue, several pros were answering the same question and guess what? They all gave different answers. Knowing a bit about each of these bodybuilders, it became readily apparent that the advice given was neither right nor wrong, but simply based on what worked for them—their own experiences.

While bodybuilding is often a matter of finding what works best for you, there are certain rules, universal rules, which tend to apply to all. It is with this is mind I have decided to list some of the most commonly made mistakes in contest prep. While some of these may appear rather obvious, you might be surprised to realize how many bodybuilders, even professionals, have fallen prey to these misguided tactics. Even when pressed with a logical argument as to why their methods are faulty, it is often rebutted with something like “then why is everyone else doing it?” to which “if everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it to?” would be an apt response.

In fact, I encountered a similar situation just the other day, when a member of a popular bodybuilding website failed to recognize the error of his way, even after being provided with strong scientific evidence that his belief was based on nothing more than hopes and dreams. What was his reason for rejecting said scientific evidence? Apparently, a pro bodybuilder from the early 90’s claimed that a particular drug (which has never been proven to have even the slightest muscle-building effect since its release about 30 years ago) added tremendous muscle mass to his body within a short time. Never mind the fact that not a single other professional bodybuilder, that am aware of, has made the same claim, and disregard the fact that it is rarely ever used in bodybuilding circles (only occasionally by the ignorant), despite being inexpensive, easily accessible, and well known in the bodybuilding community.

Lastly, this pro bodybuilder also said he added growth hormone to his regimen at the exact same exact time as this other drug, making it literally impossible to attribute a certain amount of growth this its use. If this board member’s IQ was bordering on mentally handicapped, perhaps I would overlook this fault, but this was fairly intelligent man, who has posted many other worthwhile comments on the boards over the years.

This just goes to show how easily bad advice is accepted when backed by the majority, or when coming from those who hold a certain degree of respect (ex. professional bodybuilder). In these cases, logic tends to go out the window. If you look back through the history of contest prep, or just bodybuilding in general, you will find un-told examples of things that were once accepted as truth, which have since been rejected completely.

The point here is that you should question everything you do. Don’t blindly accept anything as truth without first validating its accuracy. Use your own brain. If something doesn’t make sense to you, research it and find out whether what you are being told is right or wrong. In some cases, a definitive answer may not yet be available, but be leery of anyone who claims something is absolutely true without the support if either scientific evidence or extensive anecdotal evidence. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk. With that said, let’s move on.

Going balls-out right from the start

One of the biggest mistakes I see inexperienced bodybuilders make is taking things too fast right out of the gate. Before you can say “let’s get started” they have already chopped 1,000 calories out of their diet, are eating barely any carbs, are doing 1 ½ hours of cardio a day, and are using enough Clen and T3 to make a baby whale get ripped. Big mistake!

Fat loss is best done in slow, steady increments, gradually adjusting the known variables in order to elicit just enough of a fat loss response to keep them on target for the big day. Anything more and you not only run the risk of losing muscle mass, but the body begins to adapt to these extreme measures early on. This can cause big problems for you later on down the road.

If you play all your high cards right away, you will have nothing left to fall back on in the 2nd half of prep, when the body begins to resist against further fat loss and the going really gets tough. You will be forced to use starvation tactics and excessive cardio, and that is the last thing you want to have to rely on. It might make you ripped, but you will look more like an emaciated anorexic than a bodybuilder. When trying to get in shape, you should not add, increase, or decrease anything unless you need to. Contest prep is not a race to see how fast you can get ripped. It is about maintaining maximum muscle tissue as you get into contest condition, but that is not going to happen when you push your body beyond what it is capable of enduring.
Many people will ask “how do I know when I need to pick up the pace?” and the answer is simple, but before this question can be answered, we first need to establish an appropriate rate of fat loss, as the answer is found therein. In short, if you need to lose any more than 2 pounds of fat per week in order to get into true contest condition, over a normal length contest prep, then you are probably too fat to be thinking about competing. This means that you first need to figure out how many pounds of fat you have on your body and if this number requires you to lose more than 2 pounds of fat weekly, you should focus on dropping some bodyfat before selecting a contest.

By making sure you start prep with an acceptable amount of bodyfat, you will never need to push things so fast that muscle maintenance becomes an issue. For most, dropping fat at a rate of 2 pounds or less per week (I prefer 1-1 ½ pounds) will enable one to get into contest condition without sacrificing lean muscle mass. If you haven’t already answered the above question with the information just provided, use the following formula:

• Find out how many pounds of fat you have on your body
• Figure out the total amount of fat you will need to lose in order to reach 2-4% BF
• Figure out how many weeks it will take for you to lose that fat, without exceeding 2 pounds per week.

For example, if you need to lose 20 pounds of fat to hit 4% BF, then it will take you 10 weeks to get there at a rate of 2 pounds per week. However, whenever you are lean enough to do so, I recommend losing bodyfat at a slower rate than 2 pounds per week. Using the above example, a better scenario would go as follows. Instead of losing 2 lbs of fat per week over 10 weeks, drop only 1.5 lbs of fat over 13 ½ weeks. Either way, you will still end up at 4% bodyfat, but because you don’t need to push bodyfat as quickly with the later approach, you will most likely end up tighter and fuller on contest day.

Answer: You only do what is required to keep your fat loss progressing at the pre-determined rate.

Too much reliance on calorie cutting

The most basic principle of fat loss states that one must take in fewer calories than they burn in order to lose bodyfat. This is true, but it is an overly simplistic view of the fat loss process, leading one to believe that calorie cutting should be the first thing we turn to when attempting to decrease bodyfat. While calorie cutting will always remain part of the equation, it is just that—part of it. An overreliance on this aspect of the fat loss process will lead to muscle loss, so we need to lean to temper our calorie cutting with other methods of fat loss designed to reduce bodyfat without putting muscle mass at risk.

Fortunately, there are numerous variables we can manipulate to our advantage. While bodybuilding drugs such as clen do increase metabolic rate and therefore overall calorie burning, they also enhance fat loss through other mechanisms, allowing us to keep our calories higher than we otherwise would have, while still burning fat at the same rate. Because the calorie deficit doesn’t need to be as extreme, muscle mass is more easily preserved.

Although clen has been shown to cause muscle growth in animal studies, the doses required to have an anabolic effect were much higher than what humans can tolerate. However, many bodybuilders have testified that, despite the lower dosages utilized during contest prep, that it still imparts a minor, positive effect on muscle maintenance. Whether this is due solely to the body’s ability to continue dropping fat in the presence of additional calories, or a pro-anabolic effect, it really doesn’t matter, as experience has shown clenbuterol to be a great drug for preserving muscle mass in the face of fat loss.

Growth hormone is another drug with similar effects, although they are mediated through completely different mechanisms. Unlike clenbuterol, GH does not increase the rate of calorie burning at all (at least not to any meaningful degree), yet it accelerates fat loss by increasing the rate of lipolysis (the release of fatty acids from fat cells into the bloodstream, where they can then be oxidized for fuel), while simultaneously providing a positive effect on muscle maintenance via elevated IGF-1 levels. Science has also recently revealed that the GH molecule itself has anabolic effects. Still, it is GH’s lipolytic effect that is responsible for allowing us to eat more while continuing to lose fat. Now, don’t misunderstand; GH is not a miracle drug in this regard—you can’t eat like a hog and still get expect to get ripped, but it does allow us to eat more while getting into contest condition, and that, along with its pro-anabolic effects, leads directly to improved muscle retention.

Although GH and Clenbuterol are two of the most well known and effective fat loss drugs, there are several others which can be use to accomplishing the same objective with varying degrees of efficiency. Aside from specific fat loss drugs, we also have hormonal manipulation at our disposal. Insulin, estrogen, and AAS are three of the major hormones which can be manipulated in our favor, in order to augment fat loss without a need for caloric reduction.

While I have only mentioned a few of the factors at your disposal, the bottom line is that you want to minimize your reliance on calorie cutting to lose bodyfat, as those make it their go-to fat loss tactic almost never bring their best physique to the stage. Rather, you want to implement as many alternative methods as possible, as doing so will increases your chances of achieving contest condition while maintaining your hard-earned muscle mass.

The diuretic dilemma

Although this subject has been broached more times than I can remember, the fact that hordes of bodybuilders continue to fall prey to this type of last-minute stratagem, most often to their own detriment, bears testimony to the importance of its repetition. While competitors have been known to manipulate several different variables during “peak week”, I would like to address one of them in particular—diuretics. Of all the last-minute tinkering that takes place before the final event, it is possible that no other factor has been responsible for ruining more physique than this one.

Diuretics have long played a role in the final phases of contest prep for one main reason—they rid the body of excess water. These days, being in contest-winning condition requires that one display extreme muscle dryness, as even small amount of subcutaneous water leads to obscured muscular detail; the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve on contest day. Therefore, common sense dictates that anything which provides assistance in this area should be taken advantage of, and with the sole job of diuretics being the elimination of bodily water, their use is nothing more than a foregone conclusion, right?

On the surface, the answer would appear to be yes. After all, if water is our enemy, then diuretics should be the perfect finishing touch to one’s conditioning program. But, as with many other promising ideas that never bore fruit in the real-world, diuretics often fall short of their promise to deliver bone-dry muscularity. In fact, anyone who possesses extensive experience with these drugs will attest to the fact that they often do more harm than good. Instead of making the bodybuilder harder and drier, they tend to have the opposite effect, promoting a flat, soft, and even watery look, but how?

Although the science behind this subject can get quite complex (you may want to reference some of Layne Norton’s works on the subject, as his explanations are quite detailed), allow me to put it in laymen’s terms. In short, diuretics are non-discriminatory in their actions. Rather than pulling water from only one location, they pull water from all over the entire body. As bodybuilders, there are two main types of water we need to be concerned with. There is subcutaneous water, which is the water held directly underneath the skin and is responsible for blurring muscular detail, and there is intramuscular water, which is the water we store inside our muscles and comprises the majority of our muscular volume, or bulk.

The problem with diuretics is that they remove water from both compartments equally. The more water we eliminate from under the skin, the more water we siphon out of our muscles. Knowing this, you may be thinking “Isn’t there some way we can trick the body into getting rid of water from one region and not the other?” The answer is no. The bottom line is that if you use a diuretic to reduce sub-q water levels, you are going to pull an equal percentage of water out of your muscle tissue.

The main problem here is that we hold a proportionately much larger amount of water within our muscles compared to under the skin, which accounts for a significant portion of our muscular size. So, while a 5% reduction in sub-q water isn’t too significant in terms of its impact on bodyweight, that same 5%, when taken out of our muscles, is going to account for a much larger amount of total body water. This causes multiple unwanted effects, the most obvious of which is a reduction in muscle size/fullness. This is why we see so many competitors who, after using diuretics, show up flat. They pull so much water out of their muscles that they just shrink up. Truly, when it comes to diuretics, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

But the negative effects don’t stop there. Not only do diuretics decrease muscle fullness-size, but this loss of fullness tends to make the muscles look softer and even watery. Being that diuretics also reduce sub-q water, you may be wondering how this happens. The explanation is simple. Most of you have heard of the term “shrink-wrapped muscles” used in the context of contest conditioning; a term used to describe a paper-think skin look wrapped tightly around full muscles. This is the ideal look for the competition stage because it allows the competitor to be both big and detailed simultaneously.

However, if the muscles lose their fullness (size) as a result of diuretic use, they fail to push up against the under-side of the skin surface, preventing the full degree of muscular detail from showing through. It’s kind of like wearing a tight-fitting T-shirt vs. a loose-fitting T-shirt and then flexing your arm in the mirror in order to assess muscular detail. Which one do you think is going to be more revealing? Even if the loose shirt is made of very thin material (signifying low sub-q water levels), you are not going to be able to see much detail at all, if any. On the other hand, even if the tight-fitting shirt is made out of thicker material (signifying normal sub-q water levels), you are going to be able to see much more shape and detail in your arm.

This is exactly how diuretics work. Yes, they will cause sub-q water levels to fall, but the intended effect will be lost because the skin is no longer be pulled taught against the muscles surface, making it impossible to see the fine details that are present just below the skin. In the end, the bodybuilder ends up looking smaller and less detailed and the more diuretics he uses, the more exaggerated this effect becomes. This is why symptoms of diuretic over-use are often mistaken for being watery. In reality, a bodybuilder in this situation might be the driest man onstage, but because he lacks a tight and detailed appearance, he appears to be holding water.

In an ideal world, diuretics would not be used at all, as they always result in compromise. You will always trade of some your size for reduced sub-q water levels and there is nothing you can do about it. Unfortunately, many of today’s bodybuilders, in an attempt to maintain maximum fullness (at the expense of condition), employ multiple water-retaining drugs all the way up to the show. Growth hormone, insulin, Anadrol, and high-dose testosterone are but a few. In these cases, the bodybuilder can often get away with mild diuretic use, as they provide a type of “evening out” effect, in which the bodybuilder trades a bit of his fullness for some of his sub-q water, but this begs the question—why not just avoid water-retaining drugs in the first place?

This question becomes even more relevant when one considers that there are superior methods of drying out—ones which allow you to stay dry and full without having to take the last minute risks associated with diuretic use. Without going too far off into another subject, I will finish with this. Assuming the individual has brought his bodyfat percentage down into the correct range for competition (3%-4%), he is already 95% of the way there. At that point, all it takes to come in shredded, full, and dry is the proper application of diet and supplementation/PED’s.

With that said, I will admit there are some cases in which diuretics use can be helpful, but only when the bodybuilder is already in mind-blowing condition and with muscle fullness to spare (this is rare). In these cases, peeling off that last bit of sub-q water may be all it takes to achieve anatomy-chart conditioning. However, achieving this effect would require only very minor usage the last 6-12 hours before the show. Heavy, or even moderate diuretic usage has more cons than pros and should be avoided by everyone. In my experience, 98% of bodybuilders would do well to avoid diuretics altogether.

H.I.I.T cardio during prep: yea or nay?

The research is clear; H.I.I.T cardio burns more fat than steady-state cardio. With news of this revelation spreading quickly, many bodybuilders have begun incorporating this style of cardio in their pre-contest programs and in some cases, doing away with steady-state cardio altogether. This may be a mistake, especially when considering that pre-contest bodybuilders are exposed to factors not present in other population groups. With most of the research on H.I.I.T cardio having been conducted on non-bodybuilders and to my knowledge, none on pre-contest bodybuilders, I find it odd that its acceptance has grown so rapidly.

Like most coaches who stay abreast of recent research, I too was intrigued by the claims that H.I.I.T’s was able to burn more fat while doing a better job of preserving muscle tissue. So, in an effort to confirm these claims, I began slowly introducing this form of cardio into some of my client’s programs. To my disappointment, I was gradually forced to conclude that H.I.I.T was not all it was cracked up to be, at least during contest prep. While fat loss appeared to progress at an acceptable rate, I found that it placed too much stress on the system, causing a loss of muscle mass over time.

Because H.I.I.T cardio depends on intense muscular contraction in order to power fat loss, it may be too much for many pre-contest bodybuilders to handle. This is especially true for those in the later stages of prep, who are often depleted and being assailed with stressors from all angles. When exposed to such physical extremes, throwing additional stressors into the mix makes muscle loss is a very real possibility. In a program that already includes severe caloric restriction, intensive weight training, and certain fat loss drugs, H.I.I.T can be the straw the broke the camel’s back. While muscle loss doesn’t appear to be limited to any one area of the body, it seems to affect the legs to a greater degree than other bodyparts. This is not surprising, given that most forms of H.I.I.T stress the legs harder than the muscles of the upper-body.

In conclusion, I have found traditional, steady-state cardio to be a superior alternative to H.I.I.T, particularly as contest prep draws to a close and/or the intensity level of the bodybuilder’s program picks up.

Switching food sources during peak week

As a competitive bodybuilder, finding the foods that work best for us is a process that can take years of trial and error before finally getting it right. Making matters even more difficult is that “what works best” can vary drastically from one bodybuilder to the next, making food selection a very individual and critical part of the bodybuilding experience. Generally speaking, once we have stumbled upon our ideal dietary template, we tend to stick with it, having been proven to produce reliable results time and time again. This is not to say that we should never veer from this path, as we should always be looking to improve upon what we currently have. Furthermore, the body’s dietary needs can and do change over time, making “the ideal bodybuilding diet” an area of continual refinement.

Regardless, we have all heard the old saying “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”—a saying that is wholly applicable to the bodybuilding diet. As bodybuilders, we love to follow this rule, with many of us eating the exact same foods at the exact same times, day after day for months on end. This is especially true during contest prep, when even basic flavoring agents and condiments are gradually omitted from the diet, leaving only the raw essentials. Everything is accounted for, down to the last gram of protein, carbs, and fats. We accept no deviation from the plan because we know that only perfect adherence will yield perfect results.

With laser-like focus, we continue to co-exist with this one-track mind throughout our entire prep, but then, something funny starts to happen. At about one week out from the competition, when everything is going perfectly, a type of mental stupor begins to set in, in which common sense is abandoned in favor of unproven and questionable dietary methods. Rather than staying the course, the bodybuilder begins to make major changes to his diet within a short period of time. He will often begin adding in new foods, taking out others, and changing both the ratios and quantities of food consumed. Basically, the bodybuilder starts a new diet; one he thinks is going to somehow make him bigger, harder, and/or drier than the one he was previously following.

This almost always has disastrous consequences. Indigestion leading to bloat, gas, water retention, diarrhea/ constipation, and stomach distension are a few of the most common side effects associated with such a radical departure from one’s previous eating habits. When one has been following a finely tuned diet for months on end, the body becomes accustomed to not only the particular types of food being eaten, but also the quantities and timing of one’s meals. Abruptly changing any of these variables can cause violent and unpredictable changes to one’s physique through numerous different mechanisms. While sometimes these changes may be for the better, most often they are not, and the more last-minute tinkering one does, the worse off he is likely to be by the time he hits the stage.

Last-minute manipulations, if they are to be utilized at all, should be experimented with weeks out from the competition. This will give you an idea of what to expect ahead of time, alerting you both to the effectiveness of the change you hope to employ, as well as removing yourself from the unnecessary risks that come with last-minute tinkering. Remember, once the bets are placed, it is too late to change your mind. What is done cannot be undone, so any new dietary manipulations should be experimented with earlier in prep, when the risk of a screw-up doesn’t pose a threat to your final appearance.

The body is a machine of habit and adaptation. The sudden introduction of new foods or even a change in the timing of your meals can cause the body to react in ways which are counter-productive to one’s stage appearance. Therefore, the lesson to be learned here is that unless you have recent, previous experience with this kind of last-minute stratagem, you should never make the decision to include them in the final week of your contest prep. Rather, you should rely on the foods you are already accustomed to eating in order to elicit the wanted changes in your physique.

Last-minute site enhancement

Although opinions on the use of SEO’s in bodybuilding vary, there is no denying that these inert fillers are frequently used as a last-minute touch-up for enhancing select bodyparts. The finishing touch method I am referring to here is quite different from those long-term programs designed to produce permanent growth (a subject which merits its own discussion), as any sustainable size increase emerging from SEO use is the result of extensive scar tissue formation—a largely undesirable effect which, although resulting in bigger muscles, makes them less functional, more prone to injury, frequently leads to lumps/deformation, and produces blurred muscle detail/reduced muscle density.

The sole purpose of the finishing touch method is the temporary improvement of a weak bodypart, or to otherwise improve the body’s proportions for maximum aesthetic effect. When done correctly, this type of short-term, temporary site enhancement often yields a positive result, but when done incorrectly or to excess, it is a recipe for disaster.

One of the main complaints surrounding SEO use is that it tends to diminish muscle detail. This tends to occur regardless of the method employed (although to a greater degree with long-term use), as the initial increase in muscle size witnessed with SEO’s is due primarily to inflammation occurring at and around the injection site. Some will tell you that this can be avoided through proper injection technique—by getting the oil deep enough into the muscle, so that the inflammation remains internal, thereby expanding the muscle without obscuring muscle detail—but the complete avoidance of this unwanted cosmetic side effect is rarely achieved, even with the most perfect injection technique.

This is because any amount of inflammation capable of visibly and significantly increasing the size of a muscle cannot be contained within its internal structure alone. At a minimum, some of this inflammation will spill over to the surface (the better conditioned you are, the more noticeable it is), obscuring muscle detail to at least a small degree. In some cases, the improved muscle balance obtained is worth the trade-off, but what about those who don’t get it right? If even the experienced and well-trained occasionally screw-up, where does that leave all the rest, particularly those with little to no experience in this area?

Each person can come to their own conclusions regarding the value of SEO’s for temporary, pre-contest enhancement, but make no mistake about it, anyone who decides to employ SEO’s in a last-minute attempt to bring up a weak bodypart, without possessing the appropriate degree of experience and know-how, is making a mistake; one which could have them marked down in competition. Know what you’re doing before you go this route, which means not only bringing someone on-board to teach you proper injection technique, but seeing how it affects you “prior” to a competition. This way, if you try it and decide you are better off without it, no harm is done. Be smart. SEO’s are certainly not for everyone.

In my opinion, unless you have reached or come close to fulfilling your full genetic potential in terms of muscular development (at least competitive national-level size), you have no business messing with it. SEO’s are used as a way of balancing out the physique in the face of true genetic deficiencies, as there is always sacrifice associated with it use; namely, the loss of muscle quality. So, until you are sure that you possess genetic limitations preventing you from ever bringing your physique into balance, you are better off without it, as a balanced, quality muscle is always better than a balanced, lower-quality muscle. Many would even argue that a slight imbalance, along with great muscle detail is preferable to perfect balance without it.

In addition, SEO’s really only perform well in smaller bodyparts with simple contours, such as the individual heads of the biceps, triceps, delts, and calves (gastrocnemius). The larger the bodypart, the more likely they are to be problematic. In muscles such as the lats, chest, and quads, its use is generally ill-advised, as there are is too much room for error. The size and complexity of these muscles makes proper oil distribution difficult. More so, muscles like the quads are actually a muscle “group” containing four different muscles, making the entire process a crap-shoot. Lastly, these muscles tend to lose too much detail when subjected to SEO treatment, so the trade-off isn’t worthwhile.

Carb depletion & loading

I shouldn’t need to spend as much time on this topic as I did the previous, as the countless experiences of competitive bodybuilders worldwide provides substantial evidence in favor of my recommendation. The original logic used to justify the depletion and loading process was that by depleting the muscle’s glycogen stores, glucose uptake would be enhanced when glycogen was re-reintroduced into the body, providing an overcompensation effect that resulted in fuller muscles. This science behind the concept is sound, as glucose uptake is enhanced after a carb depletion phase, but the problem is that it doesn’t always produce the desired result, which is a bigger, harder, fuller physique; all the attributes normally associated with increased glycogen storage.

Now, in all fairness, I can’t actually say that the carb-depletion-loading process doesn’t work, as it indeed can under the right circumstances. It just normally doesn’t work for bodybuilders, particularly today’s bodybuilders. Allow me to explain. The circumstances a contest-ready bodybuilder is forced to endure, particularly in regards to his physiological environment, makes it very difficult for the body to respond favorably to this practice. Quite simply, a severe glycogen depletion phase, when coupled with the severe restrictions imposed on a contest-ready bodybuilder, will almost always lead to muscle loss, and if you lose muscle, the purpose of the carb-load is negated. In the end, rather than ending up bigger and harder, the bodybuilder just ends up smaller.

By the time a bodybuilder is in true contest shape (3-4% BF), even with the assistance of anabolics, retaining the whole of one’s muscle tissue is a very difficult task. In fact, some of the best bodybuilders who have ever lived, many of whom were known for getting into fantastic contest condition, have repeatedly stated that they had to sacrifice muscle mass in order to showcase this level of condition on the bodybuilding stage. Dorian Yates is one who comes to mind.

The human body, after arriving at a level of bodyfat required for displaying maximum muscle detail, is basically in a starvation state. In this environment, the physiological drive to accumulate bodyfat is much stronger than the need to maintain muscle tissue. In fact, the body views all that extra muscle as nothing more than a metabolic liability and if it had its way, were it not for the pharmacopeia of bodybuilding drugs altering our natural set-points, it would get rid of it in a heartbeat. Even with all the drugs at our disposal, the body usually gives up at least some of its muscle by the time it reaches extreme contest condition.

Now, take the above scenario and add the additional stress of a zero-carb diet, which in itself reduces anabolism and increases catabolism through multiple mechanisms, and you have the perfect prescription for muscle loss. This is why so many bodybuilders end up looking worse after a carb depletion & loading phase. They simply burn off too much muscle tissue while depleting and no matter how many carbs you stuff down your gullet afterwards, you are not going to regain that lost size.

Now, for those athletes who are not in danger of losing muscle mass as a result of restricting their carb intake, and whose goals are primarily performance related (not appearance focused), a carb depletion-loading phase can result in improved performance. However, there is a huge difference between someone like a track athlete and a contest-ready bodybuilder. Their needs and goals differ dramatically.

In days past, there used to be some merit behind the depletion-loading process in bodybuilding circles (although results were still spotty)—before guys started getting so ripped that muscle mass was in jeopardy. These days, most bodybuilders, by the time they reach true contest ready condition, are already significantly depleted, as the majority will need to cut their carbs quite a bit by the latter stages of prep. In these cases, rather than intentionally depleting glycogen stores further, just add some carbs back into the diet, as this will allow the individual to fill out without the risk of muscle loss. But, be prudent, as many bodybuilders over-do the carb-loading phase and spill-over.
When prioritizing condition over fullness (a wise choice for most), one is better off holding back a little bit on the carb-load, rather than trying to attain that perfect balance between fullness and condition because you won’t really know when you hit that balance until you have surpassed it, and then it is too late. Better to be a tad bit flat than spill-over.

Anadrol for muscle fullness

As all competitive bodybuilders know, maintaining skin-spliting muscle fullness while getting into true contest condition is incredibly difficult and rarely achieved, yet it remains the objective behind most of contest prep’s last-minute manipulations. One method for moving towards this goal, at least in terms of muscle fullness, is a practice known as Anadrol-loading. Oxymetholone, the chemical name for the brand name steroid, Anadrol, is commonly used for this purpose—a task it performs well. Therefore, I am hesitant to label this particular application as a mistake, simply because it has worked well for many bodybuilders, but I have included it in this list because there are now superior alternatives available.

Let’s face it, Anadrol was never an ideal choice immediately pre-contest. Yes, it provides great muscle fullness and vascularity within a short period of time, but it’s definitely not the driest drug out there. When a competitor is in contest shape it tends to have a somewhat neutral effect on sub-q water levels, but a neutral effect isn’t really what we’re after—we want to be as dry as possible. To this end, Superdrol is a much better alternative.

One could say Superdrol is a cross between Anadrol and Masteron, which makes sense, as it not only resembles both drugs from a molecular standpoint, but it produces the best of effects of each, adding the fullness of Anadrol while simultaneously reducing sub-q water levels similar to Masteron. This dual-effect is actually quite unique, as no other steroid has been shown to produce such extreme levels of fullness with a drying effect similar to many “cutting” steroids. Now, when added to a mix of Halotestin, Anavar and/or Winstrol, you are not going to get any harder, as those are hardening and drying drugs par excellence, but at least it won’t have a negative effect on water levels, as Anadrol often does.

In my experience, Superdrol actually tends to produce an even fuller look than Anadrol and certainly a tighter look. Just like with Anadrol, higher dosages tend to increase fullness to a greater degree compared to lower dosages, especially when attempting to maximize this effect within a short period of time. Still, there is no need to use 100’s of mg’s daily as one might with Anadrol. When utilizing Superdrol over the last 3-4 weeks, a dose of 30 mg daily works very well even for larger bodybuilders, while those who are doing a quick 7-14 day load may want to opt for between 40-50 mg daily.

A word of caution: when using SD in combination with other methylated orals (especially orals such as Halotestin; a great combo, by the way), make sure to ease hepatic strain via the administration of liver support products. Most bodybuilders will be employing other liver-toxic drugs at the same time, compounding the strain on the liver, and with SD demonstrating above-average toxicity, taking protective measures is always a good idea.

High-dose testosterone into the show

Although bodybuilders have been running high-dose test into shows for decades now, it has really only been over the last 10-15 years that this practice has become widespread among all levels of competition. Like many of the other things we have talked about previously, maximum size and fullness are the primary motives. Of course, those who use this method justify it by pointing to everyone else who does likewise, claiming that in a sport ruled by size, failing to use those drugs which excel at mass retention will diminish their chances of competitive success. I disagree whole-heatedly with this viewpoint.

In fact, I have yet to witness a single case, with my own eyes, where this method produced the best body possible. Those who go down this road tend to exhibit softer, less detailed, and more watery looking physiques. Basically, condition suffers. There are multiple reasons for this. Not only does testosterone aromatize at a high rate, but its effect on electrolyte balance has a negative effect on sub-q water levels. Unfortunately, neither of these can be completely overcome.

While AI therapy may be capable of driving estrogen levels low enough to eliminate estrogen-induced water retention at low-moderate test dosages, administering 2 or more grams of test per week is too much for even the strongest AI’s to handle. This is because androgens have an agonistic effect on A.I. efficiency, as confirmed by clinical research demonstrating a stark difference in the rate of estrogen suppression between men and women receiving A.I. therapy. While estrogen concentrations were lowered as much as 98% in women using 2 mg of letrozole daily, this same dosage in men reduced estrogen levels by only slightly under 60% (58%, if my memory hasn’t failed me). The difference between these 2 readings is extreme, with females experiencing an almost 100% suppression rate and men having their estrogen levels reduced by only a little over 50%. At 50 mg daily, exemestane produced a 60% reduction, while Anastrozole at 1 mg daily registered at around 47%.

The contrast becomes potentially greater in steroid using males, particularly those utilizing large dosages of aromatizable AAS, such as testosterone. However, when non-aromatizing AAS are added to aromatizing steroids, user bloodwork (anecdotal) shows a greater reduction in estrogen levels compared to those who use high-dose aromatizable drugs alone. Now, AI’s do make it possible to run high-dose testosterone into shows and still come in good shape, but conditioning will always be comprised to at least some degree. These guys just don’t seem to be able to achieve the dense, sinewy-look seen on those bodybuilders who prioritize condition above all else and whose PED regimens reflect that concern.
The take home message here is that high-dose testosterone, while enabling you to come in heavier, will not make you come in better.

Insulin blunders

This one has been responsible for a lot of screw-ups over the last few years, and just like most of the others, it is not hard to understand why one might want to employ this drug during peak week. For those whose #1 priority is hitting the stage as big as possible, there is no doubt that insulin is the drug for them, as nothing is capable of increasing muscle fullness as rapidly. It is quite common for insulin users, when just starting up on the stuff, to add 10 lbs of bodyweight within 1 week, hyper-volumizing one’s musculature to the max.

Unfortunately, the risk of unacceptable water retention is extremely high, especially when using the drug to its utmost potential, and as you all know, trading condition for size is a move that rarely pans out well in competition. Now, it is possible to use insulin successfully, but before one goes and starts blasting a bunch of slin the last 1-3 days before their comp, consider the following.

First of all, in most cases some degree of sub-q water retention is inevitable. This is because the large majority of people are pre-disposed to experiencing some degree of visibly noticeable sub-q water retention upon initiating use. On the other hand, some people can use meaningful quantities while holding very little to no visible water. Regardless, there are a few things that should never be done, no matter which group you fall into. The most obvious of these is to never experiment with insulin for the first time right before you show (1-3 days out).

Before even contemplating its use during peak week, you should have considerable, previous experience with the different forms of insulin at various dosages, as not all versions and dosages affect everyone uniformly. This way, you will have a better idea of what to and not to do during peak week, should you decide to use it. Secondly, don’t attempt to take full advantage of the drug’s full muscle volumizing effects, as doing so is guaranteed to lead to water retention.

When in such an insulin-induced hyper-volumized state—a state beyond what the body can achieve on its own—the massive influx of carbs required to maximize insulin’s volumizing effects will naturally result in spill-over. This is part of the reason why off-season bodybuilders, when glycogen levels are loaded to the max, frequently display a puffy look. It is dangerous enough to try and max-out muscle fullness via glycogen loading even when insulin isn’t in the picture; just think about all the examples of non-insulin using competition bodybuilders who’ve spilt-over during peak week.

Once insulin is brought into the equation, the sole reason of which is to increase glycogen levels beyond what the body is capable of naturally, the risk only climbs. Like I said before, when it comes to carb-loading, you won’t know when you have crossed the line until you have crossed it, so you are better off stopping short and not taking the risk, rather than chancing it and screwing yourself over. The take home point here is if you are going to use insulin, use it sparingly; don’t attempt to extract maximum benefit from it.

Another safety precaution one could take would be to never use insulin the day right before a competition. A better alternative would be to use it at 3 days out and if all goes well, possibly 2 days out, and then stop. This way, if you do end up holding some water, you will have some time on your hands to help rectify the problem. Lastly, do not use large dosages at once. Keep them small —a few IU here and there with meals, and pay close attention to what transpires after each feeding. This will allow you to better gauge where you stand at regular intervals, rather than using 1-2 huge dosages and then regretting it.

Even with the most precise usage and with all of the above precautions in place, you are not guaranteed immunity from insulin’s water-retaining effects. Sure, just a few IU isn’t going to do any harm, but neither will it help. In my opinion, unless prior experience warrants its inclusion, the risk factors alone should be sufficient to deter you from its use during peak week.