So your competing with the INBA or ANB?

A student/client of mine asked me 6 really good questions which relate to a bodybuilding contest preparation.

It took me a little while to answer so I said to hell with it, I’m going to answer them once and for all so that if someone asks me these questions again, I can send them to this article.

Note: This advice only applies to natural bodybuilding and figure competitors.

Mark and Jen backstage…. Pumping up backstage is not what you think… really! -2010

1. Water: What do I do? How much water per day, when do I start, when should I cut it before I hit stage?

Most people believe in dehydration.

I have done this and found it to be very dangerous and the results aren’t very good.

Natural Mr. Olympia, Warren Clampit who helped me with my comp prep in 2007 taught me hyper-hydration. It is very effective and safer.

Hyper-hydration, meaning drinking MORE water than what is comfortable.

How to do it:

From 14 days out, gradually increase your water. DO NOT DO ALL AT ONCE.

Water consumption level does depend on how much water your ‘used to’ drinking.

For example, if you’re only at 5 litres and you push it to 7, your body will adapt and flush extra subcutaneous fluid. The whole point is you stretch your water intake 1 to 2 litres than what you are used to drinking.

This also depends on body mass: The bigger you are the more water, the smaller, the less water you need.

Cut the water in the afternoon 4pm the day before the comp. Try and stay as dry as possible. Slip when needed and don’t be stupid; if you’re light-headed, give yourself some water (it has to be said though obvious).

Also, you can add electrolytes to water so you don’t deplete your minerals. The Poliquin ones are good as there are no sugars or added crap. I haven’t used them before with athletes but it makes a lot of sense whilst you are water loading. It is something I will be testing in the future. I believe it will make a difference to carbohydrate load and pre-pump up on the day.

Before I found the Poliquin ones I could only find ones with heaps of sugar which is a BIG no-no.

You can order the Poliquin electrolytes here.

2. Salt: When should I start eliminating salt from my diet and should I also cut out shakes?

By salt you mean high sodium foods; 5 to 7 days out.

Salt notes: This includes eggs and tuna and all canned food. I have athletes who have tried sodium loading, it doesn’t work and they always end up holding fluid.

Cut shakes 5 days out from the comp. These aren’t a big deal but I prefer athletes to cut them.

The rest of the time, COLOURED salt like celtic sea salt, should be apart of your diet.

3. Are there any supplements that I’m taking currently that I should eliminate leading up to comp? HCl, BCAA’s, Magnesium, etc.

No, I don’t think so, but for you as a personal client I will check over your full list personally.

BCAAs, HCl, Magnesium, Zinc, etc: keep in.

Actually I would increase your magnesium to prevent cramps on stage.

If you’re not a personal client, then there are probably a few ‘pre-work stacks’ that I would recommend you cut. The problem is there are so many supplements out there that I can’t give general advice.

Your best bet would be to book an hour of my time while I’m still doing online consults. You can book in a consult here.

Note: I am running a business so please do not expect or email me your supplement list, diet or training hoping I will look over it. Again, if you want my help click here. It’s a fair price to pay for optimal advice for your contest preparation.

4. Will there be any changes to diet (assuming I have no carbs i.e. depleting) like decreasing fat intake/overall calorie intake?

This ALL depends on how you look. Can’t tell you right now as you change week to week. I would like to see you harder still so maybe…

The only real things we ever modify are fats and carbohydrates. As it gets close to comp, I recommend having more salads and fewer vegetables.

If you’re not changing and we have added cardio everyday and no carbs, then and ONLY THEN we lower protein intake… Never before.

Lowering protein intake is an extreme option and I don’t think you will need to do that as we can easily increase your cardio which I would rather do than lower your food. At the moment its 5 weeks out and you’re doing no “planned cardio” other than riding your bike so we have heaps of room to add a couple of cardio sessions in your routine.

Remember this key concept; Your body is an adaptive machine; and it’s ALMOST a game of how much you can get away with. If you get leaner each and every week without dropping carbs then there is no need to drop them. It’s not about how much you need to sacrifice. Needless sacrifice doesn’t make your body look any better.

Notes on Fat: You need fat in your diet… If you’re depressed during a comp diet, it’s not because of the lack of carbs, it’s the lack of saturated fats. This is the fuel of the brain… No, it’s not glucose (actually technically it is glucose) but your body wants to make that glucose for your brain out of fats preferably. Your brain is about 80% fat (obviously a special type of fat). Your brain requires fats, in fact it’s how we evolved, but that’s a topic for a podcast.

Again cutting down on protein is extreme and I don’t like doing it. It is the very last option. Very rare I do that with anyone… in fact I can’t remember the last time I had to implement this approach.

Mark and Tristan Boyce comparing legs backstage – 2009

5. How will we go about carbohydrate loading e.g. How much, how long for, and what foods?

Carbohydrate sources for loading are rice cakes and sweet potato. They’re the two carbohydrates to use to be safe.

And you start the carb load the day before the show. This is a generalisation, it does depend on how hard you have dieted, but for 90% of natural competitors I have found this enough time to get the job done.

Why rice cakes?

As a dry carb they pull subcutaneous fluid from beneath the skin as there digested and help you get the hard, dry, skintight look.

Compare this white rice: It’s actually cooked with water which means your also ingesting water when carb loading on rice which is exactly what you don’t want for a bodybuilding show.

Some MAY be able to have crunchola (it’s an Australian sugar-coated, oatmeal breakfast cereal).

Janet and Mark – 2011

Natural Ms Olympia, Janet Kane does because she is super carbohydrate tolerant. Her upper back skin fold is 4! If that is not you, do not do this. Stick to the above. However, if you are looking flat, this will work faster so get on it provided you have no sensitivities to gluten. If have any sensitivities I would highly recommend you stay away as it could make you bloated and give you gas.

Also make sure the rice cakes are 100% BROWN RICE and not maize… Maize is stupid as most maize is genetically modified (good one Monsanto, thanks for ruining a perfectly good food).

When do I have the rice cakes and when do I have the sweet potato?

Start your carbohydrate load the day before the show with sweet potato at around 4pm. Then switch to rice cakes every meal thereafter.

How much?

Well that depends on how flat and how severe you have dieted. It could be anywhere from 1 to 5 cakes per meal.

By the time you go to bed, you should have had 3 carb meals. 1 sweet potato meal and 2 rice cake meals (obviously you have these with a protein source which could be fish or chicken or kangaroo).

To be clear, your schedule the night before comp will probably look something like this:

4pm – Drop water. Chicken and 250 grams of sweet potato.

6pm – Fish and 4 rice cakes

8pm – Chicken and 4 rice cakes

The number of rice cakes you have is dependent on how flat you are. The above is a good starting point so you don’t smooth over. We can always eat more on the day. Some say it’s too late ‘on the day’, I would have to somewhat disagree; However its true, its BEST to get it right the night before.

On the day, have a steak for breakfast (fatty cut, like a porterhouse) and your rice cakes. Then, every one and a half to two hours, rice cakes. I recommend not eating anything with the rice cakes as it will keep your waistline tighter for stage. Plus it will only be a couple of hours you’re going without protein so it’s really not a big deal if your show is in the morning.

Of course if you were hitting stage at night I would recommend eating every 2 hours until show time and the first 3 meals having a serve of chicken with the rice cakes. Do have smaller serve of chicken to keep the waistline tight on the day. Do not eat until you are full. We don’t want you bloated.

Above is a Video of Aidan sharing his story of working with Mark 

This how it will look like:

Show time between 12 PM and 2 PM

7:00 Wake

7:00 Steak with rice cakes

9:00 Rice cakes

11:00 Rice cakes

Show time in the PM

8:00 Wake

8:30 Steak with rice cakes

10:30 chicken with rice cakes

12:30 chicken with rice cakes

2:30 Just rice cakes

So how many rice cakes again?

About 3 to 4 depending how you look… Again, if you’re flat, get eating!

AND note what you do. A short pencil is a lot better than a long memory. If you’re flat in the morning when you wake up on show day, note that you were flat so next time you compete you can adjust your carb load.

It’s the only way to get it perfect. Why do you think my personal client and natural Ms Olympia Janet Kane nails it every time? She’s done something like 20 or 30 odd shows and we make personal tweaks each and every time.

Actually I have seen Janet eat a whole box of cruchola the night before a show! I would never recommend doing this for a first timer as it could make them smooth. However in time you will learn the perfect amount for you. Additionally, this is where GOOD coaches come in to play.

Of course your welcome to contact our office or book in a consult with me here (phone consult).

(If your in Melbourne I would recommend seeing me face to face. Email for further information)

And beware of ‘chemically enhanced advice’; what works for someone taking 1 to 3 mls of gear a week will not work for someone natural. Our bodies are much less forgiving.

6. What preparation do you suggest backstage? E.g. How long for pump-up what foods/supplements should we take, Deep-heat, Canola spray etc.

Get some UNHEATED honey; other honey is waste of time and money. The container must say UNHEATED on the label. Try a local markets or local health food store.


Gee you ask a lot of questions…

In nature, honey will only ever reach 93 degrees fahrenheit, when it goes over 93 fahrenheit, bees cool the honey with their wings (might sound funny but true). In food processing, honey is heated to 170 to 180 degrees fahrenheit which destroys the honey. Honey should have trace amounts of vitamins and minerals and very important enzymes for digestion. When it’s heated, they are ruined.

You can use the raw honey on your rice cakes as it gets close to show time on the day (about 1.5 hours out from stage time). Also you may use strawberry jam on the rice cakes… No fats. Do not send me an email about peanut butter! The answer is no.

Also, if you are a personal client (you see me face to face and train with me) remind me to give you a couple of tabs of glucose disposal to help with the carb up. If not buy some here. This will help you absorb more carbs into the muscle.

Pump up hard, otherwise the carbs won’t get it to the muscle—very important!

Also, pose the night before when you start eating carbs. If you don’t get a pump after hard posing, you have not had enough carbs.

Carbing up too early is bad because you peak too early. Timing is important.

Again, NO FATS!

As for the prep:

I like to take my time…


I like to start 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs out from show time which means:

I tan up there with dream tan. Contest colour is the under coat. Personally, I do not like shimmer however use your personal preference.

I spray deep heat on 15 minutes before show time, and then I fan the competitor to make them get really hot.

Take 3 tabs of B3 (niacin) and Beta Alanine so you get hot flushes. The deep-heat, B3 and the Beta Alanine will all work to make you vascular. Just be careful how much you use.

The niacin is size dependant of athlete; 300mgs is based on a 77 kilos person. The easiest way to tell if you have used enough is to feel the hot flush. It happens very fast and all at once so do NOT use too much. It will feel like ants are in your skin, it works but be careful not to use too much, even go 100mgs, wait 15 minutes, 200mgs, wait 15 minutes etc.

Canola Oil (which I hate as a food product and it PAINS me to buy it) is good to get shine. It is the only useful purpose of canola oil which is a poison to ingest.

No lollys, sweets, junk, chocolate, fat, wine, alcohol or any other retarded method I have heard of. These things will make you tired and feel sick. Do not have them.

Note on wine: I have used it many times, each time I find athletes feel sick or feel drunk. Both are not desirable effects. So from personal experience, I advise against it.

Start pumping 30 to 45 minutes before you hit stage. Get a pump and don’t be freaking lazy or I will slap you. Seriously, you need to work!!

Remember, all that hard work, that dieting, that cardio, those hard leg sessions… Don’t screw it up with a lazy 45 minutes of half-assed reps and pumping up. You have come to far not to go even further!

No pumping of the legs ever.

I hope that answers your questions. If it doesn’t, book a coaching call here.

If you enjoy this article post a comment below and thank top student, Sebastian Spangenberg for asking all the questions!

Mark and Sebastian – 2009

Maximus Mark

That’s me on the right in the purple trunks – 2007

P.S. Also note: The above is for a 100% natural bodybuilder or figure competitor. Once you start adding drugs the whole game changes. I have only ever trained natural competitors; therefore if you are natural, listen to what I am saying.

If you are chemical enhance, I wish you luck however my advice may not be suited to you. There are many other coaches who can help you and I would suggest looking them up.

14 Responses

  1. Wicked article Mark!  Thanks. 

    In the final week of prep, what do you do with carbs before the load?  Do you recommend completely dropping them out?  It seems a lot of people completely drop carbs for 3 days, and then the following 3 days (leading in to comp) you carb load.

    Do we completely drop carbs at any stage, and is the day before enough time to load?

    1. Hey Anthony,

      Hard question to answer… it depends how you look…

      If your not lean enough, deplete for sure – I rarely do this with anyone any more because I like to get them ready well in advance. This article assumes you are lean and do NOT need to deplete.

      If your depleting, you may need 2 or 3 days to reload.

      I hate depleting and do my best to avoid it.

      Great question BTW. 


  2. Thanks for this great article Mark which I found very informative. Can you please provide clarification/guidance on the reason expressed in this article for gradually increasing water over a 14 day period rather than for a shorter period closer to competition and in particular  why you suggest cutting water 4pm the day before competition – what effect does this have on getting competition – ready? Also, have there been any further developments in your consideration of adding electrolytes to water to prevent mineral depletion?

    1. Thanks for your comments..
      Yes, with electrolytes, do NOT use them pre – comp.. But when you step off stage and are done for the day.
      Reason for increasing water… your body gets better accustom to excreting water. Additionally, if we increased your water overnight from 4L to 10L .. this would be a very uncomfortable process… the body is an adaptive machine. In the very least I would do it over 10 days. Again, going from 4 to 8 or 10 L is very hard and damaging.. I have found 1. better compliance and 2. better results doing it gradually. Also, once you start drinking 5 or 7L you start getting thirstier and its easier to drink more. Does that answer your question?

      1. Once you cut water at 4… Your body is already very well adapted to excreting water, so you go to bed.. STILL waking up to go pee, and you spend the rest of the day needing to go pee which helps get rid of any subcutaneous fluid. But no water is coming in, but you keep peeing like your drinking 10 L’s … Does that make sense?

  3. Good solid awesome advice one again from coach Maximus Mark – I used the above methods before hitting the stage last year however I havent tried 
    B3 (niacin) and Beta Alanine or deep heat… I used red wine… so maybe will give it a go this year!  🙂

  4. Perfect advice from a perfect coach!
    From my experiences, my memory does not serve me well for comp day prep, due to the brain mush we have with carb depletion, so I have always kept notes to ensure the best results each time.
    Print this info and consult Mark’s services to ensure success.
    You deserve it.

  5. Thanks! This article really helped me. I have my first competition this weekend. I am a natural so this information is PERFECT!

  6. Perfect article Mark!!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!! Helped me a lot whenever I am prepping me bodybuilding athletes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Privacy Policy

Mark Ottobre Pty Ltd, the parent company for is committed to protecting your privacy. Any personal information collected by will not be transferred to or shared with any third party without your consent. uses safe, secure 3rd party provider technology to protect your personal information.

Personal information may be used by to communicate with our customers and subscribers, fulfil orders, improve customer service and also for editorial purposes. may also use personal information to send updates about new products and promotions, providing the user explicitly requested such updates. Users may unsubscribe from these updates at any time by clicking on the ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of any email from

Email addresses submitted to will remain the private property of and will not be sold to any third party. reserves the right to amend this privacy policy at any time. Amendments to this policy will be posted on our web site in a timely manner.

Protection of Website and Others

We may use or disclose Personal Information or Prospect Information without your consent in certain circumstances:

  • If we are required by law or by an order or requirement of a court, administrative agency, or other government entity, or by court rules concerning the production of records;
  • If we have reasonable grounds to believe that use or disclosure is necessary to protect the rights, privacy, property, or safety of our users or others;
  • If we have reasonable grounds to believe that the information relates to breach of an agreement or violation of the law that has been, is being, or is about to be committed;
  • If it is necessary for fraud protection, risk reduction, or the establishment or collection of funds owed to us;
  • If it is necessary to enforce or apply our Terms of Use and other agreements, to pursue remedies, or to limit damages to and its owners;
  • If the information is public;
  • For other reasons allowed or required by law.