PEAKING TO EARLY FACT OR FICTION?
By: Jason M. Theobald, AFPA Certified Nutrition Consultant
Top Physique Prep Coach
We have all seen on message boards, Facebook or Instagram where a guy or gal will post a picture of their prep progress, and they are looking really good, and someone will say just be careful not to “peak to soon.” The word peak gets used a lot in bodybuilding so I better define it in the context of how I’m using it for the purposes of this article, or I’ll have to spend 30 minutes dealing with some internet troll about what peaking means.
Some use the term “peaking” for the final week process where water, carbs, fat, sodium and hormones are manipulated to bring the fullest, driest and tightest physique to the stage for that one window of opportunity, which is usually 15-20 minutes wide. In that case you can definitely peak too soon, or too late for that matter. I’m not referring to that here, and maybe I’ll write a new article on peaking for the stage at a later date so you stand the best chance of not being on the early or late side of the “peak.”
For purposes of this article I will discuss when people are referring to being ready to soon in terms of your conditioning within the dieting process. The typical scenario would be a competitor starts dieting 20 weeks out from their show date and they are looking just about ready 8 weeks out and it never fails someone will say you are going to “peak to soon.” In my professional opinion this is total bullshit and a bodybuilding myth. Now I better clear up that I don’t think anyone should be show ready 20 weeks out ,that would be very difficult to improve upon into the show, but being ready 4, 6, 8 and even 10 weeks out is NOT a detriment, but rather a benefit and I will teach you how to handle this scenario so that you continue to improve and set yourself up for your best look yet.
First what does being ready look like? I think for the strategies I’m going to discuss to work you
should be damn near 90-95% ready. Glutes should have lines poking through, they may not be in 100% that’s fine, but they should be evident. From the side your hamstrings and glutes should show tie-ins while presenting the side chest. Your abs should be very tight by now, your quads should be pretty darn dry if not close to showing feathering and your lower back should be just about in with that dry look where the bone and muscle is exposed. This will be about 90% to 95% for most people.
The problem I see people run into is they get to this point and they don’t know anything but one speed.—and that’s head down, cardio like crazy, keep pulling carbs, keep adding stimulants… push…push…push. That is the last thing you need to be doing or YES you will in fact peak too soon and crash and burn. Also make sure your coach has either been in this spot before with him or herself or has dealt with these issues before with prior athletes. Not ever y coach has been in these spots and all they know is pull more calories, push more cardio and push more stimulants. If you find your coach doing this, it’s okay to question them especially if the past few moves only made you more tired and no improvements in your physique at all.
So what do you do when you are in this spot? First thank your lucky starts because personally and professionally I love this position. I love it as a competitor and I strive for it as a coach. The answer is multi faceted and will involve carb manipulation, cardio manipulation and training manipulations. Also at this point in time pictures will be HUGELY paramount and I explain to my athletes I may now need pictures every 2-3 days as opposed to once every week. Every change we make usually can be seen on the physique at this point in time and as a coach (or if prepping yourself) pictures will guide your moves. [NOTE: if you are your only eye you can put your pics side by side in a slideshow using PowerPoint so that you can compare your pics really well.]
Usually my first move is to add anywhere from 15-30 grams of carbs. I will put these around the workout. If it’s just 15 I’ll add it pre workout to improve the training intensity. If I think the athlete can handle 30 I’ll split them 15 pre and 15 post. At this point I instruct the athlete that I need biofeedback on hunger levels, energy and any training improvements along with dry morning weight. RULE #1: If we drop weight to a new low in a few days we will add more carbs in response to such. Usually this bump is higher than the first one but still spread around the training window. RULE #2: If we don’t lose weight but hunger picks up, training intensity is better and pics look better (remember you are lean enough now that it’s pretty easy to see any changes to the physique) then we bump as well but usually not as aggressive as If we achieved a new low. RULE #3: if we gain weight, but hunger is ravenous and your pics look better we will add maybe just 10 carbs and now place them post workout. RULE #4: if you gain back weight, aren’t hungry then really look at your pics from an objective eye and determine if you improved, if you did not you have hit your maintenance more than likely and probably need to take one move backwards. We will operate under these rules until the athlete reports their training intensity has really picked back up to initial dieting levels and hunger is no longer as ravenous. From here we will monitor pictures and if weight is holding and the athlete keeps getting better we won’t push more food. Usually the athlete will achieve another new low in time but it will take longer and that’s when you again bump more food.
In conjunction with the adjustments to food, and watching the pictures, I will also be adjusting cardio during this timeframe. Especially if the athlete has been doing a lot of HIIT cardio I will start pulling back on this. I may replace 10 HIIT intervals with only 20-30 minutes LISS cardio at this point. Start by pulling one HIIT session out and replacing it with LISS. I feel that once the body is very close you don’t need the HIIT which is harder on the CNS and recovery. By switching out a HIIT session you will also be improving recovery simultaneously as you want to see you training improve. I will continue to back the HIIT out until it’s gone as long as the pictures are showing improvements, if we stagnate on weight and the pictures are showing no improvements I will stop there and may even need to reinstate one HIIT session. At times I’ve had the pleasure of backing off all HIIT and getting LISS down to 2 x 20 minute sessions per week on some competitors, sometimes I’ve been able to remove all cardio.
Many times I have my competitors train 5 days per week since I’ve found for the majority of people this seems to work best while prepping and calories are at a minimum, plus many of my athletes have jobs, spouses, kids etc. As the cardio comes down and a free day opens up I will see if they could work in a 6th training day so that they are active, but stimulating the muscles to grow and stick around for the dieting process. This works well because food has been increased and cardio has been decreased both improving training response and recovery. If they can’t add the 6th day the strategy is not blown, we then decide if they need to keep a HIIT day in place or a LISS day.
At the end of the process you are training heavy, and intense into the show, while all your
competition is starving and working too hard on cardio. There isn’t a better feeling when you run into the competition and you get to tell them you feel strong, are doing no cardio, and you’re eating over 300/400 carbs again. Hey look, Arnold played mind games why can’t we?
Another added benefit to employing this strategy is it makes the final week so much easier. You aren’t starved out and flat as can be. I know many guys still like to carb deplete hard, but I prefer not to if my athletes have worked their carbs back up, we can almost walk right into the show nice and full with very LITTLE manipulations making the final week a breeze.
So the next time someone tells you that you are going to peak to soon by being ready too early just smile I tell them it’s all part of your plan.
About the Author:
Jason Theobald is a sought after nutrition coach who owns Scoobyprep.com and has been prepping athletes for the better of 10 years now. He has helped numerous athletes achieve pro cards within the IFBB pro division as well as countless overall titles within the NPC. If you want to contact Jason you can do so at Jason@scoobyprep.com
DISCLAIMER: Scooby Prep (Jason Theobald) is not a doctor or registered dietitian. The contents of this email should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health.