What the heck is Peak Week?

Here we are – Monday morning of “peak week” for the Ontario Championships. In my progress post last week, I said I would explain peak week and what happens, so here we go!

Essentially, “peak week” refers to the final week of prep – the five or so days leading right up to the competition. As is the case for everything, peak week can be incredibly different for everyone, especially when you compare people competing in different categories as their stage appearance needs to be different. In women’s physique, they’re looking for a symmetrical, muscular yet feminine, body and appearance, with clear definition between muscle groups. In order to get those last finishing touches, there are a few techniques we use: depletion, loading, and water manipulation.


The front half of the week is spent depleting your body of it’s glycogen stores. Usually this is done through a combination of diet and training. For me, carbs get cut really low so the muscle cells never get replenished (protein intake is high, and there are a LOT of vegetables throughout the day – fibrous carbs at least).

Pretty much my thoughts on circuit training.  Bring back the heavy weights, please!

Pretty much my thoughts on circuit training. Bring back the heavy weights, please!

In addition to the diet change, training shifts to high rep circuits, focusing only on the upper body. I trained legs yesterday and will not work them again before the show to allow them to recover and prevent any blood / water pooling in them. So, for Monday – Wednesday I’ll do these circuits to get the blood pumping, and drain the muscle of anything it had stored in it. Mentally, these days are hard. You start to look your worst as your muscles “deflate” and, well, you’re pretty hungry. Secrets – stay busy! Female competitors can book all their beauty appointments during this time (that’s how I’m filling my evenings this week), and can start getting my food prepared for the time out of town.


The highlight for a competitor is whenever we get to eat! So, the loading days are usually fun. Carbs are brought back in pretty high quantities (especially in comparison to how low they’ve been for the last few weeks). Specific carbs are used throughout the day to fill the muscle cells back out, making you look bigger again. Protein and vegetable intake is still pretty similar throughout these days.


Some coaches will opt to load with fats instead of carbs. In this case, it’s harder to go “wrong”, or “too far” with it. So, in a lot of cases, you’ll hear of competitors getting  a burger, fries, and cheesecake before the show or in between shows. This is always a welcome announcement to hear!

At this point, training is pretty much wrapped up.  I might do one more lighter circuit workout to help “push” the nutrients into the muscle, but then it’s all about resting and recovering.


This is probably the area most people have heard about, because I usually get asked / lectured about dehydration. Why do we do this? If you’re able to remove the layer of water sitting between your muscle and skin, your skin will wrap itself tightly around the muscle, making you look even more defined.

There are a few methods for this: 1- starting your week with a high water intake and dropping it, 2- drinking a moderate amount at the beginning and then a higher amount before cutting it off, or 3- keeping your intake the same until you cut it. We usually only cut water out about 8-12 hours before getting on stage for pre-judging (so it’s really not that bad!). Again, water manipulation is one thing that is really dependent on the person (some people hold water more than others), and on your category (bodybuilders need to look as “dry” as possible, while bikini shouldn’t).

I'm happy that my water intake isn't really changing during peak week.  However, the peeing all the time is always an issue.

I’m happy that my water intake isn’t really changing during peak week. However, the peeing all the time is always an issue.

One thing to keep in mind – water is needed to transport the carbs into the muscle. So, if you’re loading carbs, there better be some water going with them, otherwise the whole process is useless.

Usually during peak week you’re monitored more closely by your coach to make sure things are staying on the right track. You don’t want to get so depleted that you’re unable to fill back out again, or load to the point that you take in too much and lose definition… there’s a fine line to walk and it’s really a lot of trial, leaning towards the side of being a little more cautious. If it’s the night before / day of the show and you’ve gone too far, there’s no way to fix it!

Backstage, before heading out, a lot of competitors will have a quick digesting carb with sugars (usually rice cakes with jam or honey) for the last push. However, I think a lot of competitors and coaches fall into the trap of doing this just because it’s what “should” be done… I’ve seen competitors doing this who didn’t quite get lean enough for stage in the first place. In these cases, you don’t need to load with anything!

So, in a nutshell, that’s peak week – food, training, and water. I have a love-hate relationship with peak week. I miss my usual style of training, circuit training doesn’t interest me much  and I have to constantly remind myself of the purpose. And watching your body start to look worse is never fun – especially knowing you’re on stage soon. This is where “trusting the process” comes into play, which is easier said than done for most of us. We can’t forecast the future and know how we’re going to look on stage, so watching the changes day to day can either be exciting or terrifying. All you can do is follow your plan and wait.

Best of luck to everyone entering peak week!!!


About Ashleigh

I'm passionate about health and fitness. I work as a Health Promotion Specialist, a group fitness instructor, and also a coach for physique competitors / weight loss clients. I grew up as a competitive athlete, and have continued with this passion as a Women's Physique competitor. Research and writing is another interest of mine, which I use to share my knowledge with the general public.
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