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Contest Preparation - The Final Week
Dorian Yates' Nine-Step Plan for Peaking Perfectly

The final week before you enter a contest is critical, when nerves and indecision can reign. Here’s my nine-step plan to keep calm and get that last week right so that you peak on contest day, which is usually a Saturday.

1) Carbohydrate Depletion and Loading

The goal of this process is to fully deplete the body’s muscle glycogen stores so that when carbohydrates are reintroduced, the body will temporarily be able to load more glycogen than usual, also known as “super compensation.” Carbohydrates attract water— one gram of carbohydrate will attract 2.7 grams of water. Since the muscles are comprised of about 70 percent water, having more glycogen and water inside the muscle cells gives a much fuller appearance. This, combined with temporarily shedding the subcutaneous water (between the skin and the muscles) will make the muscles appear both bigger and harder and more detailed.

2) Carb-Depletion Phase

I believe in decreasing carbohydrate intake for several days in the first half of the final week, but not in totally eliminating them. Typically your glycogen stores are already fairly depleted from lowering your overall calories and carbs over the course of your diet, in addition to the demands of extra cardio. Going down to zero carbs, even for just a few days, could be quite catabolic at this stage in the game. What I would do for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday is to reduce my normal carb intake (normal being the average amount you have been eating for the last couple of weeks) in half. So if you have typically been eating 300 grams of carbs a day, on these three days you will have 150 grams. It’s critical to note that you should keep your calories consistent during the depletion phase to retain your mass. In this scenario, you are taking out 150 grams of carbs, which equals 600 calories. You must replace those with additional protein and fats for those three days. Otherwise, you run a strong chance of losing some valuable lean muscle tissue.

3) Training During Your Carb Depletion

What you want to do during these three days is to get rid of as much of the stored glycogen in your muscles as possible. This is the only time I would train with higher volume, doing 15-20 sets per body part and keeping the reps around 12-15, though not taking the sets to failure. I would only train upper body muscles on these days. All leg training was stopped at two weeks out from the contest. This is because training the legs triggers inflammation, which results in fluid retention and a substantial loss in separation and detail. With the upper body, I would work each muscle group just once in those three days with the exception of my chest and biceps. As these were not my strongest body parts visually, I wanted them to be exceptionally depleted so that they would load with more glycogen. Thus, I worked those areas twice. As for cardio, I stopped that at a week out and recommend the same for everyone. Why would you expend that extra energy in the final week? If you are doing cardio to burn fat, then you didn’t prepare properly. All the body fat you needed to lose should be gone by the time you are a week out, as the final week should purely be for fine-tuning and polish.

4) Carbohydrate Loading

My formula for carb-loading was a bit different than most. I liked to load the heaviest in the first part of the loading phase. My reasoning was that since this was when your body was the absolute most depleted, this would be the time when it was most receptive to absorbing carbs. Also, by loading more carbs on the first and second day, you had the third day to gauge how you looked and adjust based on that. If you still felt you appeared a bit flat, you could keep the amounts the same. On the other hand, if you felt you were quite full and there was a chance of spilling over or if you were already starting to do that, you could cut back on your carbohydrate intake and tighten up a bit. As far as stuffing your face the day of the show, don’t bother. By then it’s too late for the carbs to be fully processed and converted to muscle glycogen. All you will accomplish is to have a bloated-looking stomach and probably indigestion as well.

So, how much to load with? I would take in two to three times my usual amount on days one and two, which would be Wednesday and Thursday for a Saturday contest. So if your usual amount was 300 grams a day, now you boost that up to 600-900 grams. If that sounds like an exorbitant amount, it really isn’t. That’s about what an average-size bodybuilder of 190-210 pounds would load on. I used to take in 1,500 grams a day on my heavier loading days. Don’t worry about gaining back body fat in this time. It’s not possible for the body to gain fat that fast. The worst thing that can happen if you take in more carbs than you should is that you’ll retain water, which can be remedied by cutting back on your carbs on Friday. If you do find yourself looking full enough when you wake up Friday morning, revert to your normal 300 grams of carbs for that day. If you’re still flat, stick with 600-900 grams. Keep in mind these are just theoretical numbers and you will have to figure out your own optimal amounts. Regardless, by the late afternoon or early evening on Friday, I would only eat proteins and fats until the next morning to bring about a diuretic effect.

5) Shedding Water

I know you have heard about various protocols for losing water, and I tried them all. The main drawback to cutting out water too soon or even tapering down fluid intake gradually is that the body is constantly seeking balance. If the body is denied water for too long, it retains water as a survival mechanism. The technique I finally arrived at was to drink as much water as I wanted up until the night before the contest, then cut it completely. Even if cutting out water too soon didn’t have that backlash effect, it’s essential to keep water intake high during the carb load so that the muscles are able to fill up with glycogen and water. When you go from a high water intake to zero, the body will continue eliminating water via urination, and this fluid will come from under the skin. I would also have a bit of wine once I cut my water to further enhance the diuretic, or water-flushing effect. From that point on I would have only sips of water on the day of the contest if I felt I really needed it.

6) Sodium

I only worried about my sodium intake on Friday. I wouldn’t have fish or egg whites that day, or any condiments. There is no point in restricting sodium any sooner than this, because once again the body can only be “tricked” for a brief time period. On the day of the show I would eat normally until at least the judging. You need some sodium to be able to get a pump.

7) What to Eat the Day of the Show

For breakfast I usually had a couple of whole eggs with some oatmeal. From that point on I would have small servings of chicken and sweet potato, and maybe a banana. I intentionally kept my meals small and didn’t eat anything I wasn’t accustomed to while dieting. The last thing you want is stomach bloat or a stomachache when you’re onstage trying to keep your midsection flat and tight. After judging I sometimes would have a burger and fries for the fat, carbs and sodium, but I wouldn’t drink anything until the show was over except the aforementioned tiny sips. Again, it’s important that you have normal amounts of sodium on contest day. So many times guys eat normally right after the show and wake up looking much fuller and more vascular because they had been restricting their sodium. By evening on the day after, just about everybody starts looking a little blurry from the water retention. But by taking in sodium and keeping your fluids very low on contest day, you can temporarily have the best of it all: looking tight, full and vascular.

8) Pumping Up

Don’t waste your time pumping up too much. I used to just do push-ups and some light lateral raises and curls to have a little pump in the chest, shoulders and arms. You don’t want a full pump, for two reasons. Most importantly, a pumped muscle shows less detail and separation. You can see this clearly when you train in the final weeks. Pose in the mirror before and after you train a body part like chest or quads and it’s obvious how the pump blurs out the fine details. Secondly, you waste valuable energy that you will need onstage for posing. As I posed, I found I always got and maintained a very slight pump, which is ideal, in the areas I flexed. Finally, you can only hold a tremendous pump for so long. It looks rather silly if you come out looking swollen and gradually shrink before the judges’ eyes.

9) Back to the Gym or Take a Break?

Some bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman were known to take as long as three months off from training after a contest. That never made any sense to me. As it is, even with the best efforts you’re bound to lose a bit of muscle mass getting into true contest condition. If you take an extended break, you’ll lose even more size and strength. This means you’ll spend a substantial portion of your off-season simply trying to get back to your normal starting point before you can even begin to try and make any new gains. I used to take off no more than a week or two, which felt sufficient to rest and recover. Even if I happened to be on holiday in Hawaii, I would still often find a local gym just to work out a bit. Why? Because I love to train. In my seminars, people ask me why I didn’t take longer breaks and I retort with another question— why would I take three months off from having sex if it’s something I enjoy a lot? Long layoffs make no sense for a competitive bodybuilder. The body has been overworked and underfed during your prep, and afterward is the perfect time to make new gains. I made most of my best gains in the months following each of my contests.


In the end, it’s not really what you do in the final week before a contest that will make the biggest difference. It’s what you did in the 9-15 weeks of preparation leading up to then that determines how good you look. If you failed to get rid of all the body fat you needed to, manipulating your carbs, water and sodium isn’t going to suddenly make you shredded— though unfortunately this seems to be a common misconception. Don’t fall victim to the type of denial in which you’re not lean enough but convince yourself that you’re only “holding water!” But, if you have done your homework and properly prepared, the final week can be the time to put the finishing touch on your physique that can put you over the top and into first place.
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