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The Diuretic Myth: Why diuretics have no place in physique sports

Bodybuilding, figure, physique and bikini competitors alike continue to turn to medicinal diuretics for a hard dry look on stage. Medicinal diuretics remove water from the body at levels that override our natural homeostasis and can leave us in a state of severe dehydration, often with fatal consequences. What should have been a fly-by-night fad after they first made an appearance in the sport decades ago, unfortunately has turned in to a mainstay in competition prep, quite often at the direction of misinformed and reckless contest-prep coaches who have mindlessly followed the trend without looking at the facts and analyzing their first hand results. The reason diuretic use persists, quite frankly, is because they technically “work”. That is, they are instantly and overwhelmingly effective at eliminating water from the body. However, the percent of this water loss that is from subcutaneous fluid is tiny, and comes at the cost of a inordinate loss in muscle volume due to water loss in muscles, electrolyte imbalances, cramping, kidney/liver and other organ damage, and, on several occasions, hospitalization and death.

The goal in competition prep is not to eliminate water from the body. The goal is to eliminate water from fat tissue. Muscles need water to look full and hard, and to look your best, they must be hydrated. Maintaining hydrated and full muscles is done through proper carbohydrate manipulation and targeted water intake the last week of prep, among other strategies in nutrient manipulation. The problem with medicinal diuretics is that they do not discriminate where the water comes from; they just get rid of it, all of it. Why is this a problem? To understand why medicinal diuretics are in all but in very rare circumstances counterproductive to a hard, dry and full look, you must take into account where the body holds the bulk of its water stores. The human body is made up of about 60% water. Muscle is actually extremely water dense, being composed of about 75% pure water. Our brain and lungs are about 80%. Even our bones are over 20% water. Interesting to note, however, is that fat tissue is only about 10% water. So, this means, for every ounce of water we lose from fat, we are going to lose 7.5 ounces from muscle. So losing 1 pound of fat weight by water elimination from medicinal diuretics (considering they don’t discriminate) will come along with 7.5 pounds lost from muscle tissue. Hardly worth it.

This negative impact is on top of the health risks of diuretic use. Hospitalizations and adverse effects seem to have increased considerably in the last few years, largely due to a few popular contest-prep coaches who foolishly continue to prescribe these harmful drugs to their naive clients. Dehydration due to diuretics is not pleasant. Electrolyte imbalances cause cramping on the mild end of the spectrum and heart stoppage on the extreme end. Organs cease to function without proper hydration and quick and permanent damage can quickly result as your bodies control mechanisms are overridden.

The optimal approach to take is a proper combination of food and water intake leading up to the show. Carbohydrate loading, nutrient manipulation, and well timed water intake are not only the safest, but the best way to get the best look. Herbal, over the counter water loss pills can also be beneficial as they do not override the body systems, but rather work with it to channel water out.

Overall, the use of medicinal diuretics in bodybuilding and physique competitions is reckless and counterproductive. If their health risks aren’t enough to deter would-be users, perhaps the fact that you will sacrifice 7.5x the water weight in muscle that you lose from fat will be. There are many medicinal aids in bodybuilding that can and have been used widely to achieve a great look, unfortunately, diuretics are not one of them.

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