Since shedding over fifty pounds of fat from my body eight years ago, I’ve never again been out of shape. But every now and then, I decide to get in REALLY phenomenal shape; bringing my body fat down to around seven percent. It’s a fun test of one’s ability to set a specific goal and hit it like a laser beam – especially for those of us who are otherwise easily prone to gaining body fat over the long term when we don’t take conscious control of it.
Recently, I took it a step further by having some pics taken immediately after a “carb depletion-carb loading” phase that was preceded by a “sodium loading” bout that had me bringing sodium levels back to normal around the same time that I started the ‘carbohydrate loading.’
If that quick description sounded dizzying, don’t worry; I’ll lay it all out for you.
‘Sodium Loading’… with an eye on blood pressure
First of all, the idea behind sodium loading is to temporarily down-regulate the body’s production of ‘aldosterone.’ This is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands for the purpose of reabsorbing sodium into the bloodstream. When sodium levels are significantly increased, aldosterone release is (theoretically) decreased. This, in turn, will allow the body to shed a lot of subcutaneous water retention that can otherwise hide striated muscularity and vascular detail that a bodybuilder would want to reveal in either a contest or photo opp.
Does it work?
Well, competitive bodybuilders at both the pro and amateur levels often do this religiously before contests and swear by it. However, many of them also enhance the effect with the use of diuretic drugs. My question: If ‘sodium loading’ is so effective, why do many of them put their health in jeopardy by getting dehydrated with diuretic drug use?
Did it work for me?
Well… it sure had me monitoring my blood pressure closely for a few days. I loaded with sodium and high water intake for about a week. Although my blood pressure has been in the normal range since becoming lean over eight years ago, this brought it up slightly (about ten points average), as you might well imagine. Of course, I would not have even dabbled in sodium/water manipulation if I was prone to chronic high blood pressure problems.
But whether my aldosterone levels were temporarily suppressed, resulting in short-term subcutaneous water depletion, is questionable to say the least. My body weight did increase about seven pounds during the water/sodium loading phase (I was drinking about two gallons a day). This was followed by a drop of those seven pounds as I brought sodium intake back to normal and water intake down to minimal.
‘Carb Depletion/Carb Loading’: “What a rush.”
The idea behind ‘carbohydrate depletion/carbohydrate loading’ as it pertains to bodybuilding/physique enhancement is to pump up the muscles with maximum levels of glycogen so as to create a fuller, harder appearance resulting in more muscle separation, cuts, and striations.
The effect of this technique is maximized by first getting the body down to the desired leanness. In other words, ‘carb depletion-carb loading’ should not be utilized to attempt to make up for shortcomings in body fat loss, whether using it in preparation for a contest or photo op session.
Basically, here’s what I did: After spending three days incrementally cutting my carbohydrate intake down to nearly nothing – I spent the subsequent two days doubling the amount that I would take in normally. I cut carbohydrate intake by about fifty percent during the first two days – then went down to about 15% to 25% of my normal intake on the third day. During the carb depletion phase, I did sets in the gym of 15 to 20 reps for my entire body in order to completely deplete my muscles of their glycogen stores.
As I carb loaded for two days, I didn’t go to the gym at all; I simply allowed my muscles to fully “soak up” the excess circulating glucose in my bloodstream. This increased glucose was the result of my consuming about twice the amount of carbohydrate foods that I normally would using strictly ‘complex carbohydrate’ sources – oat meal, rye bread, rice. I simultaneously dropped my protein intake slightly while carb loading after increasing it slightly while carb depleting.
What were my results?
When I carb depleted, my muscles felt stringy and small. My body movements became slow, lethargic – my overall demeanor… unenthusiastic.
When I abruptly switched gears and went the other direction, my blood sugar felt like it was shooting a hole through the back of my head. I had lots of nervous energy. Interestingly, my brain became foggier when my blood sugar was higher than normal compared to when it was too low. The big plus: I felt my muscles suddenly fill up with glycogen and become very expanded and defined.
My ‘carbohydrate loading’ concoction
In order to make the carb loading part of the endeavor a bit easier, I prepared a smoothie concoction that had me feeling like I was guzzling down a bottle of paste every three hours. The ingredients were simple – the effect somewhat repulsive and addictive at the same time (if that contradiction makes any sense). I cooked up a huge batch of Quaker Oats and stored the oatmeal in a large bowl in the refrigerator. I would scoop a huge serving of it (approximately 60 grams of carbs) in to my blender along with a serving packet of ‘Lean Mass Complex’ meal replacement by ‘Prolab.’ The meal replacement contains about 40 grams of carbs along with 40 grams of protein and some dietary fat.
Naturally, one hundred grams of carbohydrate every three hours felt like a strain on my entire body. I thought about my poor pancreas having to pump out all that insulin and whether the stress (no matter how temporary) on my system was worth the results – which actually seemed relatively superficial and partially imagined. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was simply trading one physiological extreme for another – with no significant, non-placebo benefit for all the work.
Here’s a breakdown of the schedule I used for ‘sodium loading/sodium depletion’ and ‘carb loading/carb depletion.’
Tues. July 28th – Began (slowly) sodium loading
Thurs. July 30th – Doubled my sodium intake/tripled water consumption
Sat. Aug. 1st – Began carbohydrate depletion/continued sodium loading
Tues. Aug. 4th - Stopped sodium loading/cont’d carb depletion
Wed. Aug. 5th - Switched from carb depletion to carb loading/started tapering off water consumption
Thurs. Aug. 6th – Cont’d carb loading/cut water consumption in half
Fri. Aug. 7th - Minimal carbohydrate intake/very little water (evening photo op)
Now, I’m not going to claim this was the ideal schedule for a “carb depletion/carb loading” phase before an ‘event.’ The best method for doing it seems debatable and mired in some subjective opinion.
I’m also not going to recommend that any of my readers experiment in this – except at their own risk, by one’s own volition, and with full consent with one’s personal physician. I’m simply sharing my personal experience/technique of this practice of “carbohydrate depletion/carbohydrate loading” – “sodium loading/sodium normalization” with my readers for information purposes.
I would love to hear about experiences with this from other readers.