Bodybuilding Diet 101 – Carb deplete and Carb loading

You’ve trained hard, worked your bodybuilding diet and now it’s time to show the results of months of hard work. Whether you’re about to step on stage or do a photoshoot, you need to know how to manipulate carbs in the final few days. Here’s the 101 on carb depletion and carb loading.

Why do bodybuilders, fitness models and physique athletes manipulate carbohydrates in the final week before a show or a shoot?
Carbohydrate manipulation can create a fuller, harder look to the muscles, helping to fill out your physique so it looks super-impressive on stage or in photographs. Fuller muscles look bigger, and push out against the skin, making you look drier and more vascular (if you are lean enough).

Without enough carbohydrates, the glycogen stores in your muscles will deplete, leaving you looking flat and unable to get a pump. However, too much carbohydrates and you run the risk of over-spilling. Carbohydrate molecules bind with water (hence the name!), so take in too many carbs and you will also hold water, leading to a soft, bloated look.

How to manipulate carbohydrates
You’ll need to approach carbohydrate manipulation in two stages: a deplete and then a load. Most competitors and models will carb deplete for 3-4 days prior to the contest or photoshoot. This means keeping carb intake low (50-100g a day, depending on the amount you have previously been eating), and performing fast, light, full body circuit style training sessions to fully deplete the body of glycogen. Take in most of your small carbohydrate allowance in the post-workout window.

The day before the show or shoot, you would start to load up on carbohydrates. The amount you take in will depend on a number of factors: carb tolerance, leanness, body weight, and your regular diet protocol. Some people carb up on as little as 180g carbs, others can take in thousands of grams! The aim is to bring about a super-compensation process, because your body is depleted of glycogen. From 24 hours out from show time, eat 30g carbohydrates every couple of hours (other than when you are asleep). Be sure to choose sources which you know your body tolerates well and which will not bloat you. White potato, sweet potato, rice, ricecakes, jam or honey, oatmeal and bananas are popular choices. You could also choose a waxy maize or dextrose supplement drink.

Is carb depletion and carb loading suitable for everyone?
The success of carb manipulation for physique sports depends on your tolerance for carbs and on how you have dieted in the previous 20, 16 or 12 weeks of your prep. It’s a good idea to do a trial run of a carb deplete and carb load, around 3 weeks out from your show or photoshoot. This way you can assess the results and decide whether or not it’s for you.

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