The Road to Nationals – Tweaking Through Peak Week

Ahh, Peak Week.
What a week to be alive.

Also known as the week before stepping on stage in which you try a whack of voodoo and magic tricks, thus ruining everything you worked for over the past 4-6 months.

On the other hand, you can be ready well in advance, focus on keeping your stress levels low, and cruise onto the stage by staying the course, and making minor adjustments as needed.

This encapsulation of my final days leading up to stepping upon the Canadian National Bodybuilding stage began with a simple desire to document the process to provide a frame of reference for future competitions, and to allow the lessons learned during the process to sink in.

From that germ of an idea, it spread into an ongoing series of which I shared with the community of brothers and sisters-in-swole that make up Mullan’s Meatheads. As the week went on, I came to realize that there were valuable lessons and interesting insights amongst the daily meatheaded musings of this peak week, and I’d be remiss to not compile all these “diary” entires into a singular blog post.

Which is what you’re about to read below. Enjoy.

6 Days Out – A primer on peak week

To kick this off, let’s clear up exactly what peak week is.

In the competitive bodybuilding world, “peak week” refers to the final 6-8 days leading up to stepping on stage, in which you (typically) will pull back on training, cardio, do what you need to do in order to make your weight class (if needed), deplete yourself to the best of your ability, then “fill out” for the the big day.

Peak week will almost assuredly go one of two ways, depending on your approach.

If you fall victim to the countless shiny tactics and seemingly brilliant peak week ideas out there, you will fuck up your physique.

You’ll come in flat, watery, and empty on stage, often while battling a whack of negative side effects while trying to keep it together onstage. When you’re this damn lean, the smallest of details can have a powerful impact, and it’ll show.

If you do it right?

You’ll practically cruise onto the stage, and pull off presenting a tight, dry, and full physique.

For the record, “doing it right” essentially means being “ready” 10-14 days in advance, doing nothing drastic or stupid, and making small adjustments each day to fine-tune things leading up to the stage. Which is one step a lot competitors miss, in that many fall victim to thinking that peak week will bring out loads of magical muscle detail or be the week they finally drop those last bits of body fat. 

If you’re not stage-ready in time for peak week, you will not be ready come show day. Simple as that.

You often hear of competitors lamenting afterwards about not being able to get “the last bit of water out” or some such excuse. The reality of the statement?

You weren’t lean enough, you weren’t ready in time.

In my case, I was in the fortunate position of being “ready” once the 3 week mark rolled around, and being ready so early made the final stages of this prep incredibly smooth, and relatively enjoyable.

My peak week began with a trial run of how my body would respond to filling out. Which meant 5 meals, spread 3 hours apart, each consisting of 20 grams of protein, 50 grams of carbs, and trace fats.

Last year I had the utter *pleasure* of having to drop roughly 10 pounds in the final week to squeeze into my weight class. Needless to say, both my peak weeks last year were utter hell. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like such a bag of trash, or waste of space as I did in those final days. To make such a big cut, I was doing 2 cardio sessions each day, training, having 3-4 blazing hot epsom salt baths per day, while eating paltry amounts of protein and veggies.

No carbs, no fats, no life in my body.

This year, I had 7lbs to drop, and plenty of time to do so. Instead of depleting water and sodium like last year, given how responsive my body has been, it was as simple as “switching off” food the day before and of weigh-ins, while pulling back on water, and a few rounds of epsom salt baths the day before and morning of weighing in.

As for today at 6 days out, it was business as usual:

  • One fasted 40 minute cardio session in the morning.
  • A quick and dirty chest & triceps session in the afternoon.
  • 220g protein, 10g fat, and no carbs spread over 5 meals.
  • All of the coffee.
  • Extra focus placed on keeping stress low (if there was ever a key to peak week, it’s this).

5 Days Out – I’m riding an energetic high

Okay, now that we’re on the same page with what peak week actually is, and the role it plays in stepping on stage, we can get right into what went down today.

In terms of activity, today consisted of 40 minutes of fasted steady-state cardio in the morning, and a real quick (took me about 35 minutes) back & biceps session in the afternoon.

The underlying goal with training during peak week is not about building muscle (that ship sailed away many weeks ago). Instead, it’s about getting a quick pump, steering clear of muscular failure, aiding nutrient partitioning, then getting the hell outta there.

From a nutrition standpoint, I was able to eat a whopping 50 grams. Which turned out to be the setup for the next two days, and I kept my sources strictly to jasmine rice or potato as stressing my digestive system is the last thing I wanted to do at this stage in the game.

As it was for the past few days, water stayed at 6-7L of water, and then bumped up to 7.5L at 4 days out.

Mentally, it was a great day, and to be honest…I truly cannot complain. My energy levels were up (relatively speaking). Although, that could have been the 4 delicious coffees I drank. The weather was absolutely fantastic, and I was excited to train (which is rare at this point).

All things being considered, I was quite happy with how things were shaping up at 5 days out.

To loosely quote @andyfrisella, "How you *feel* is irrelevant. What you *do* in spite of how you feel is what matters and drives you forward." • At this point, all the fasted cardio, training, and running on zero carbs aren't leaving me feeling like a million bucks. But in just over 5 days, every single moment will have been worth it. Besides, at the end of the day, contest prep is a fascinating process to go through. End half-baked, brain-fog-heavy thought. #roadtonationals #thewanderingmeathead #picklepump • • • • • #massthetics #masstheticsclan #doyouevenlift #meatheadproblems #teammpt #legworkouts #legday #gymflow #gymrat #bodybuilding #truenutrition #ironrebel #CBBFF #BCABBA #mirin #instabodybuilding #gains #quadzilla #swole #trainhard #shredded #bodybuildingnation #meathead #fitfam #muscle #elitefts #bodybuildinglife

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4 Days Out – …and the high rolls on

Today was a goddamn whirlwind.

Between having my second-to-last session of cardio (down to 30 minutes fasted now) and training (a quick 40 minute chest & delts blast), a trip to the barbers, prepping meals for the next day, grabbing last minute supplements, and finding my way to the airport, I didn’t have a chance to stop and breathe until waiting at the gate for my plane to board.

Quick note on going to the barber: one of my favourite parts of peak week, and something I find is quite underrated is the things you do to bring your swagger back, and get some life into your body. For me, this is a fresh haircut, taking care of all hair removal a few days in advance, making sure I’m not out of any personal care items, and doing what I can to ensure my skin is on point for when the tanner goes on. As I’ve said before, the details matter, and when you *know* you look good, it goes a long way towards helping you *feel* good as well. They feed into each other, and often bring forth some momentum and excitement.

Moving on.

Despite the added layers of complexity added, I loved the fact that the days leading up to the show were jam-packed with excitement. Between a quick trip “home” for my sister’s graduation, the grad festivities themselves, and travelling back and forth, Saturday came in the blink of an eye.

I’ll be honest — I’m not entirely sure how my energy levels were riding so strong at this point, but I wasn’t complaining.

Tomorrow was slated to be my final bout of cardio and last training session before I pull both, and focus on recovery and getting rid of any remaining inflammation. Best of all, given that I’ll was back in the town I grew up in, I was able to close out The Road to Nationals at my “home” gym. 

Took a quick break amidst all the graduation festivities to squeeze in my final training session of prep. Many thanks to the fine folks at @fitnessexcellence for letting me have my way with their weights today. Being able to wrap up this prep at my "home gym" seems rather fitting. • Now it's time to shift the focus to recovering, making weight, then filling back up for Saturday morning. #roadtonationals #thewanderingmeathead #sweetswollenbiceps • • • • • #massthetics #masstheticsclan #doyouevenlift #meatheadproblems #teammpt #legworkouts #legday #gymflow #gymrat #bodybuilding #truenutrition #ironrebel #CBBFF #BCABBA #mirin #instabodybuilding #gains #quadzilla #swole #trainhard #shredded #bodybuildingnation #meathead #fitfam #muscle #elitefts #bodybuildinglife

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Thanks to strategic amounts of coffee, being constantly on the move today, and having 7.5L of water to drink, appetite wasn’t much of an issue at this point. That being said, the gate for my flight was sandwiched between a Chili’s and some shop that sells ice cream cookie sundaes.

Fuck me, right?

3 Days Out – Meathead Mullan gets emotional, and the work is done

As I predicted, today was yet another whirlwind, but in the best of ways.

Things began on a great note by waking up to my body having dumped 2 pounds overnight, and noticeably tightening up.

In my eyes, this boded well for dropping the remaining 6 pounds I needed to lose by Friday afternoon in that I *shouldn’t* have to do anything drastic to make it happen.

As I mentioned yesterday, today was the day my “little” sister graduated from high school.

How she has grown to be 18, in charge of her life, and absolutely stunning if I may so, is utterly beyond me. 

After kicking the day off with my usual coffee and an hour or so of work, I rolled out to the gym for my final cardio session of prep.

Since I seem to enjoy making things more complex and tight for time than they need to be, today was also the day I decided to make the shift from a normal human with body hair, to having absolutely none aside from what sits on my head. Enter the two-and-a-half-hour waxing appointment I crammed into the morning.

After going through the awful chore of using shitty razors and sitting in tepid bathwater for two hours on two separate occasions last year, there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going through that again. Not to mention the fact I didn’t have the luxury of having someone around to shave the areas I can’t reach this year.

So, waxing it was.

Fun story from my waxing appointment: when it came time to do my legs, I asked if I could sit up so that I could knock back a litre of water and eat a meal. Talk about being a fucking meathead. Thankfully my aesthetician was having a blast, and more than happy to oblige. Meatheads gotta do what a Meatheads gotta do.

Moving on.

I made it back to my parents in the nick of time for the photographer to show up so we could all parade around in fancy clothes and take beautiful pictures. Honestly, I thought I would hate it. Turns out it wasn’t so bad. Probably something to do with the momentous day that it is.

Once we wrapped up the photos, my sister headed off to take *more* pictures with her friends at a park, and it was time to knock out the final training session of prep.

Training today consisted of about 30-40 minutes of back, delts, and biceps work. My sole intention was to get in, pose, get a nice little pump, then get the hell out. Mission accomplished.

In terms of food, today was the same as yesterday.

220g protein, 50g carbs (WOOOO), absolutely zero fats.

That’s about it for today. Tomorrow brings an early-ish flight back to Edmonton, and more weight to drop.

Then the fun shall truly begin…

2 Days Out – A cascade of excitement

After a day chock-full of my sister’s grad festivities, putting in the final two sessions of “work,” and getting set for the home stretch, I figured I’d be absolutely exhausted at this point.

But, in a probably not-so-surprising turn of events, I’m absolutely brimming with excitement, ecstatic with how my body has been responding this week, and without my usual evening “medication,” I could barely sleep last night.

Eventually, as it always does, morning came.

This morning consisted of my standard routine:

  1. Wake up, rub the sleep out of my eyes, then stumble to the bathroom to check my morning weight (170.0 pounds today).
  2. Take a fresh set of progress pictures, then get right to making coffee.
  3. While drinking said coffee I fired off my pictures, weight, and relevant notes to my coach, then move onto writing my daily email to the MASSthetics Clan.

Today I knocked out another 45 minutes or so of work before prepping two meals to travel with, finishing off packing, and chatting with my Mom, then it was off to the airport.

6 or so hours later, I touched down in Edmonton.

Knowing what’s to come over the next few days, I purposely didn’t plan much for the rest of the day aside from getting groceries for tomorrow’s loading (hello, delicious carbs), a couple of espressos, and prepping my first few meals for after tomorrow’s weigh-ins. Oh, and all of the posing practice.

Now for some fun stuff.

Here’s the plan to get there:

  1. My last meal for today will be at 8pm, and I’m cutting water around 10pm (Still at 9.5L today, which is not fun when travelling).
  2. With my last meal I’ll be taking a double-dose of an OTC diuretic to help flush out any remaining water.
  3. The final hour before I go to bed is going to consist of four 10 minute, piping-hot epsom salt baths, with about 5 minutes of “rest” in between.

As for what I’ll be doing in the morning to drop more weight if need be, nothing is set in stone aside from another dose of the diuretic upon waking.

That being said, at this point the plan can change at a moments notice, which means I’m in constant contact with my coach, assessing things, and hashing out the best course of action.

All in all, I was very happy with how I’m looking, feeling, and how damn responsive my body is being.

As I’ve said before, this prep has been a relative breeze, a tremendous learning experience, as well as night and day in comparison to last year.

1 Day Out – I made weight by the skin of my teeth, and the “loading” is on

As I assumed would happen, the festivities throughout the week combined with putting the finishing touches on prep made peak week go by in the blink of an eye.

I’m quite possibly the most exhausted I’ve been, aside from a few select days, during this entire process from start to finish. It’s all beginning to hit me, and even though I’ve got another meal to fit in tonight, I can’t wait to get some sleep.

Today, though, began by waking up an unsavoury 3 pounds above where I needed to be, extremely thirsty, yet still excited.

In effort to get rid of the last bit of weight before heading for weigh-ins and registration, back to pulsing Epsom salt baths for 90 minutes it was.

All the athletes from Team BC met at noon to grab our team jackets, and get a few group photos. Then began what I’ve found to be the most painful part: registration and weighing in.

Picture this: an entire room (if memory serves, there was around 350-400 competitors) jam-packed with hungry, dehydrated, exhausted meatheads all waiting to move through weigh-ins and registration in order to start filling out for tomorrow.

It’s a messy situation to say the least. Thankfully I had an idea this would be the case, managed to get near the front, and only had to wait 90 minutes to get through the process. Those poor souls who showed up late…

Weighing in itself was much more nerve-wracking than I would have liked. Throughout the morning I did all I could, and left at the last possible moment. Yet, I was still sitting about a pound above where I needed to be.

After a not-so-lovely, slow, and brutal waiting process, it was finally my turn to step on the scale. At first step, the scale settled at 165.0 on the dot where it froze for a moment, then dropped to 164.5.

What a relief.

Out the 3 shows I’ve competed at, this has been the closest I’ve been to the limit, most uncertain I’ve been of whether I’d make it or not, and also with the largest consequences hanging in the balance. By that I mean being at the bottom of a weight class at the national level is not a favourable position.

Without about 90 seconds of stepping off the scale I’d down a can of coconut water, 750ml of water, and was finally able to start the process of filling out.

These were the meals I ate to fill out:

  • 2 ounces ground chicken + rice + 3 rice cakes (15g protein, 85g carbs, trace fats)
  • 2 ounces ground chicken + Japanese sweet potato (fucking incredible) + 3 rice cakes (15g protein, 75g carbs, trace fats)
  • 2 ounces ground chicken + rice (15g protein, 50g carbs, trace fats)
  • 2 ounces ground chicken + rice (15g protein, 50g carbs, trace fats)
  • 2 ounces ground chicken + Japanese sweet potato + 1tbsp peanut butter (15g protein, 50g carbs, 8g fat)

In terms of supplements, I’m took 300mg of ALA before meals 1, 3, 5, digestive enzyme with each meal, and another dose of the diuretic before ebed.

The Dance is Over

Man, where to start?

Leading up to the show, there was so much anticipation, excitement, and eagerness to get on stage that I’m currently crashing hard (the surges of carbs and sugar I’ve had probably aren’t helping, either).

Anyway, I’ll start this off by saying that I did *not* place where I wanted, but deep down, I know that I placed about where I deserved.

Out of 9 welterweights, I didn’t crack the top 5, but can confidently say that 6th place was mine. At the end of the day my conditioning was on point, but I was simply out-muscled by guys who have clearly been playing this game longer than I have. Especially when it comes to upper body size, which I knew would likely be the case going into the show.

Rather than dwell over not placing as high as I would have liked, there’re far too many positives coming out of this show to throw a cloud over.

  • In a 6 month off-season I was able to add 15 pounds of pure muscle tissue. For what it’s worth, a rate of 2.5 pounds of muscle growth per month is, well, ridiculous.
  • At 4 weeks out I was in better condition, and looked far better than I did on stage last year at either show.
  • From the start of prep for my first show last year up to today, I’ve only been “competing” for 18 months. To go from having not a clue of what I was doing to stepping on a National stage, I suppose that’s something to be proud of.
  • I know exactly what I need to do in order to be more competitive at this level, and that’s something you can’t learn unless you do the damn thing.
  • From start to finish this year’s prep was an infinitely better experience, my body responded far better, and I learned A LOT in the process.
  • I can confidently say that over the course off my off-season and throughout this prep, I left no stone unturned, spared no expense, took no chances, and did everything I could to improve upon last year’s shows. Mission accomplished.

While I’m not the kind of guy who wakes up striving to achieve 6th place, taking all the above into account, I’d be a fool to call my experience at Nationals a failure.

Disappointing? Absolutely, and that’s largely because I was born with a competitive nature that was fostered by playing hockey for 13 years. But, this competitive season has been far from a failure.

And that is something I want you to think about as you go about the rest of your day.

Sure, you may not have the greatest training session of your life every time you hit the gym. There’s always going to be days, sometimes weeks, where keeping your nutrition on point is a battle, and it feels like you’re not making any progress.

Thing is, your progress doesn’t lie in the end result.

True progress comes from the lessons you pick up along the way, how you learn to not make the same mistake over and over again, and the fact that no matter how perfect (or not) a day is, you’re still moving a tiny bit closer to where you want to be.

I’ve gotta say, that is the most succinctly I’ve been able to sum up my approach to training, nutrition, and health.

Lastly, I want to thank every last one of you for being here not only to improve your health and physique, but for trusting this wandering fool of a meathead to be your guide, allowing me to share my own journey with you, and for being one hell of a supportive bunch of meatheads.

While the two pictures below are far from my favourite or best poses, they’re also the only two stage shots I’ve got (we were not given much time on stage, and they blasted through each pose – that’s a tale for another day, though).

And so it is.

With my first Nationals experience now under my belt, I’m shifting my focus to brining hormonal and metabolic function back to my body, then switching gears and diving headlong into a what will be roughly a 16-month-long improvement season.

peak week

peak week

PS. 4 out of 5 lifters will let their rationalization hamster run wild. Convincing themselves they’re making progress…yet you build no muscle, and burn no fat. The 5th lifter joined the MASSthetics Clan and put the information within the (free) Hypertrophy Handbook to good use. He no longer has to rationalize his progress. It simply happens. Click here to become the 5th lifter, and let me know where to send the prestigious Hypertrophy Handbook.