The Science Behind Salt Intake

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The body stores water inside and outside of body’s cells. The stuff inside is great; it makes your muscles look full. “Extracellular” water is what people are attempting to eliminate by cutting water and taking diuretics.

The body maintains a 70/30 ratio of intracellular-to-extracellular water, a ratio tightly controlled by internal systems. Your body’s water balance is so crucial to cell function, ion balance, blood volume, and blood pressure that it’s regulated by the minute! There’s no way to pull water from one compartment only without affecting the other.

The body stores water inside and outside of the body’s cells.

The stuff inside is great; it makes your muscles look full. So if you take a diuretic or cut water, you’ll lose extracellular water, but to maintain homeostasis, you’ll also intracellular water. The ratio will remain unchanged; all you will have done is flatten out your physique.

This is a big reason why you always hear people at shows talk about never having been able to fill out or get a pump.

Competitors who couldn’t fill out the day of the show, no matter their carb consumption, often experience a weird epiphany after their post-contest cheat meal: They look 10 times better an hour after pigging out!

The carbs didn’t fill out their muscles; the water and sodium did! In contrast, carbs consumed while cutting water will never fill you out properly.

Kai Greene vs. Jay Cutler at the 2010 Olympia. Greene’s bloated body was no match for Cutler’s ripped physique.

Another aspect of a typical peak week that goes hand in hand with cutting water is cutting sodium, the results of which can be just as disastrous. The sodium balance in your body directly affects fluid dynamics and blood volume.

In turn, these affect blood pressure.

No wonder the kidneys regulate blood sodium levels so tightly, around 140mEq/L. For example, if you eat more sodium than normal, the kidneys will see to it that your urine contains more.

If sodium from the diet is reduced, the kidneys will conserve sodium by reabsorbing more sodium back into circulation and peeing out less.

The following 1990 Harvard study by Rogacz, et al, illustrates this point perfectly (1). The researchers reduced dietary sodium to practically nothing for six days and examined the results on serum (blood) and urinary sodium, as well as aldosterone.

Restricted Sodium Diet Results

Even when sodium was cut almost completely from the diet, concentrations in the blood remained unchanged.

In fact, by Day 6, the kidneys had almost stopped excreting sodium all together! All that sodium depleting that the “gurus” recommend during the final week doesn’t change blood sodium levels.

What sodium depletion does is increase levels of aldosterone

A hormone whose job it is to cause the re-absorption and retention of water and sodium.

After two days of sodium depletion (standard in most peak week protocols) aldosterone levels have doubled! Cut out sodium even earlier, and by Day 6 levels have more than tripled!

Elevations in aldosterone will cause increased water retention as the kidney reabsorbs both sodium and water back into circulation. Deficiencies in dietary sodium also lead to a drop in blood pressure, pushing plasma water out of the vascular system.

That means less water in blood vessels, making you appear full and vascular; and more in the surrounding space, making you appear soft. What’s more, you’re now reabsorbing more water back into circulation due to elevated aldosterone.

What sodium depletion does is increase levels of aldosterone, a hormone whose job it is to cause the re-absorption and retention of water and sodium.

Only, without sufficient pressure in the blood vessels, that reabsorbed water will also be heading into the subcutaneous layer exactly, where you don’t want it. Instead of tricking your body, you’ve tricked yourself, and it’ll show onstage.

With the conventional approach, the problems don’t there. The gurus also recommend loading potassium while depleting sodium, to keep electrolytes elevated. The idea is that sodium is bad, potassium is good, and having none of one and a bunch of the other will benefit your physique.

Guess what? Your body is smarter than you are. If the ratio of potassium to sodium gets too high, aldosterone levels can rise too! On top of the already large increase in aldosterone from cutting sodium! That means more water taking shelter under the skin, making you look soft.

Finally, cutting sodium can interfere with a proper carb load.

The conventional wisdom has been that sodium depleting will make you tighter, while carb loading will fill you out.

The problem is, sodium depleting reduces the activity of a protein, SLGT-1, responsible for glucose absorption, limiting your ability to absorb glucose and achieve your desired fullness! Now, all that undigested glucose is going to remain in the small intestine and pull water into that area, causing bloating in the gut-another place you don’t want excess water.

Now you understand why competitors say they look so much better after they went out after the show and had a cheat meal. Most people think this means that they didn’t carb up enough, but that simply isn’t true; after all, they loaded carbs for 2 or 3 days!

The cheat meal likely contained lots of sodium, and they drank a lot of water with it. That combination finally allowed them to fill out properly. That’s why they looked so much better!

My recommendations: Keep water and sodium intake the same. If you’re used to drinking 2 gallons of water a day, continue drinking that amount up till an hour or two before the show and that’s just so you don’t feel like you have to pee standing onstage! Similarly, if you’re accustomed to eating 3 grams of sodium a day, continue doing so during peak week.

In fact, It was found that eating a meal relatively high in sodium, carbs, and fat 2 hours before stepping onstage can drastically increase vascularity and fullness. 🙂 🙂

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