A peaking diet also known as “peak week’’ is a type of diet that focuses on preparing physique athletes to present their best physique on stage.
There are several different strategies for peak week, but most manipulate carbohydrates, sodium, and water to “peak” the body for show day.
This article explains everything you need to know about a peak week diet to maximize contest day aesthetics.
What is peak week?
Physique athletes like bodybuilders and figure and bikini competitors typically transition from an off-season or bulking phase to a precontest or cutting phase during which they aim to lose body fat and gain or maintain muscle mass.
The body’s stores of glucose — known as glycogen — become depleted during the precontest phase, which can last anywhere from 16 to 30 weeks.
Depleted glycogen — which is stored primarily in skeletal muscles but also the liver — leaves the muscles looking flat, similar to a deflated balloon.
Because flat muscles don’t show muscularity well, physique athletes follow a peak week diet strategy to make their muscles appear more full or dimensional while minimizing water retention to achieve a “dry” and veiny look as opposed to a “watery” one (1).
The strategy also aims to minimize stomach bloating to maintain a proportional and overall more aesthetic physique.
To achieve these goals, competitors typically manipulate their intakes of macronutrients — mainly fats and carbohydrates — water, and sodium several days leading up to the competition to present their best physique (1).
However, following a peak week diet or peaking strategy won’t save you if your body fat percentage is too high or you lack muscularity.
Therefore, you must be stage lean — which can have a different meaning depending on the category in which you are competing — to bring your best contest-day physique.
Peak week or peaking is a strategy that bodybuilders, figure and bikini competitors, and other physique athletes use to enhance muscle fullness and appearance on show day.
The body stores most glucose or blood sugar in the muscles as glycogen.
In storing glucose, the body pulls water into the muscle cells, increasing muscle cell volume.
More muscle volume gives the appearance of fuller, more rounded muscles — a desirable look on stage.
As such, a common peaking strategy involves significantly limiting carbs — often called depletion — followed by a brief period of high carb intake called “loading” to optimize glycogen stores.
There are four main strategies by which you can “load” carbohydrates — front-, mid-, and backloading as well as linear loading.
Front loading is where you consume a high number of carbs at the beginning of your prep week — on Monday, for example — and then slowly decrease your intake until competition day.
Mid-loading involves consuming a high number of carbs in the middle of the week — on Wednesday, for example — and then decreasing your intake closer to competition day.
Backloading involves consuming a low number of carbs the week leading up to the competition and then a high number of carbs the day before.
Finally, a linear load gradually increases carbs throughout the week with the highest carb day the day before the competition.
The best carb-loading strategy is the one that allows you to bring your best physique come show day.
It’s highly recommended to test a peak week strategy prior to your actual peak week to ensure that your body responds well to that strategy.
Good carb sources for these strategies include brown rice, sweet potatoes, low-fat hash browns, rice cakes, and whole-grain cereals like oatmeal.
Depleting glycogen stores and then carb loading is a common peak week strategy since it can enhance muscle roundness and fullness.
Water and sodium
Like carbohydrates, manipulating water and sodium intake is another peaking strategy.
While they are two separate nutrients, manipulating water influences the sodium and vice versa.
Competitors manipulate these nutrients to achieve a “dry” look, which is supposed to show shows better muscle definition.
Although some competitors restrict their fluid intake with the hopes of appearing drier on stage, doing so can actually hinder the look of their physique by making it more difficult to achieve a “pump” before stepping on stage causing them to appear “flat” (1).
“Pumping up” involves performing exercises in a circuit fashion right before stepping on stage to increase muscle blood flow, enhancing their appearance.
Similarly, competitors may also reduce sodium in hopes of looking drier on stage.
However, because the kidneys tightly regulate your balance of sodium — as well as water — decreasing sodium will trigger your kidneys to retain more of it.
To this point, restricting sodium is not the best practice. Instead, ensure you’re lean enough before competing and then consume enough sodium and water to help you fill out and achieve a pump prior to stepping on stage.
While commonly manipulated to achieve a dry look on stage, it’s best to keep your water and sodium intake consistent up until competition day.
Protein and fat
Protein and fat are usually not manipulated like carbs, water, and sodium as part of a peak week strategy
However, depending on the carb-loading strategy, your intake of these nutrients may be lower or higher than usual.
Still, you should consume both protein and fat throughout peak week.
This is especially true for fats as some competitors’ physiques may respond better to a higher intake of fat.
This is because, in addition to glycogen, muscle cells also store fat as triglycerides.
Therefore, like carbs, fat can also increase muscle volume and make the muscles appear fuller on stage.
Good sources of protein include meats, poultry, and seafood. Plant-based sources of protein like peas, beans, and lentils are also high in protein.
Unless you’re a vegan, try to stick with animal-based proteins since, unlike plant-based proteins, lack fiber.
Too much fiber can increase bloating and water retention.
Good sources of fat include nuts, nut butter, oils like olive oil, and avocado.
Remember to avoid foods to which you may be sensitive or intolerant and consequently interfere with your prep.
Your intake of protein and fat may vary slightly depending on the carb-loading strategy, but you should otherwise keep your intakes of them relatively consistent through peak week.
Workouts and supplementation
You should continue with your workouts throughout peak week.
Keep your exercise intensity to a moderate level, aiming for 3–4 sets of 8–15 repetitions per movement.
Avoid going too heavy on sets as this can increase your risk for injury, especially in a depleted state.
High-intensity workouts can also cause muscle soreness, impairing your ability to pose and hold poses on stage.
Working out before you travel and doing some light posing once you have arrived at the competition location is also helpful.
If you are traveling long distances for the competition, you may want to think about bringing exercise bands, even if you know the place at which you are staying has some equipment.
The competition may have equipment with which you can pump up but you should also bring a light set of dumbbells and resistance bands just in case.
Physique competitors commonly take dietary supplements to aid muscle growth and boost fat loss like protein powder, carb supplements, pre-workout products, creatine, and thermogenics — or fat burners — among others.
It’s unclear whether these supplements help during peak week, but know that some may cause digestive discomfort and other unwanted effects.
To this point, peak week is not the time to experiment with new supplements.
Continue your workouts as normal during peak week but keep the intensity to a moderate level to avoid injury and allow you to pose well on stage. Avoid trying new supplements during peak week to avoid potentially uncomfortable side effects like digestive issues.
Sample peak week plan
Here’s an example of a peak week plan that uses a linear carb-loading strategy.
In the example, the number of carbohydrates gradually increases throughout the week reaching a peak the day before the competition.
Water and sodium intake are kept constant to support muscle fullness and appearance, and protein is kept similar throughout the week with small changes in fat intake.
The workouts — which engage all major muscle groups — and cardio also stay consistent up until two days from the competition when the duration of cardio decreases.
|Protein (grams)||Carbs (grams)||Fat (grams)||Sodium (grams)||Water||Workout||Cardio|
|7 days out (Saturday)||180||90||80||3||1 gallon||Normal||Normal|
|6 days out (Sunday)||180||90||80||3||1 gallon||Normal||Normal|
|5 days out (Monday)||180||180||70||3||1 gallon||Legs||Normal|
|4 days out (Tuesday)||180||210||60||3||1 gallon||Chest & back||Normal|
|3 days out (Wednesday)||180||240||50||3||1 gallon||Delts & arms||Normal|
|2 days out (Thursday)||180||270||45||3||1 gallon||45 minutes of a light full body circuit||25 minutes on a bike or speed walking|
|1 day out (Friday)||180||300||40||3||1 gallon||30 minutes of a light full body circuit||15 minutes on a bike or speed walking|
Day of show
Come the day of the show, you likely don’t need as many carbs so find a middle ground and spread your intake over a few meals.
You can lower your protein and fat intake but don’t exclude these nutrients.
It’s also beneficial to evenly spread your fluid and sodium intake throughout the day leading up to the time you go on stage.
If you are competing in a one-day show, try to wake up 6–8 hours before you step on stage so you can get in your meals.
Keep in mind that this is just one of the many contest-day strategies and the strategy that works best for you might not for the next person.
A knowledgeable and experienced prep coach can work with you to find the strategy that brings your best physique to the stage.
If it’s your first time competing, or you’re trying a new strategy, consider performing a practice run 2–4 weeks before your competition.
This will help you avoid any surprises while also alleviating anxiety come show day.
This sample peak week plan uses a linear carb-loading strategy. While this strategy may work well for some it may not be the best one for you.
The bottom line
Peak week or peaking is a strategy that competitive physique athletes like bodybuilders and figure and bikini competitors use to enhance muscle fullness and appearance on show day.
There are many peak week strategies, but most involve manipulating carbs, sodium, and water to achieve a dry, muscular physique.
There is evidence to support manipulating carbs but keeping sodium and water intake consistent may be the best option.
A linear carb-loading strategy is one effective carb-loading strategy but it may not be the best one for you.