In part one of this article series I covered the basics of water retention.
This time I’ll list a few effective tricks that will help you deal with it when and if it occurs. Don’t worry, you won’t be sweating it out in a sauna and sucking on ice cubes. I’ll offer simple and non-intimidating strategies that don’t require a whole lot of thinking. They can be used in isolation or in combination.
The most common reason people hold water is due to shifts in sodium balance. Going from a low baseline intake of sodium to sudden and high intakes can have dramatic effects on your visual appearance (which any bodybuilding-competitor can attest to). Conversely, reducing sodium can have the opposite effect and cause water loss. This is all about relative and not absolute numbers; it’s not high sodium per se that cause water retention/water loss, but deviations from the habitual intake. The solution therefore is to reduce sodium to a level below baseline. So for a day or two…
- Ditch all canned or pre-packaged foods since they tend to contain a lot of sodium. A paleo approach to food choices is a pretty good model to use for your diet during these days since it’s relatively low in sodium.
- Reduce spices and table salt – make a conscious effort to use less than you’re used to. An easy way to reduce sodium without feeling deprived is to use a salt substitute, which contains only half of the sodium chloride found in regular salt.
- Drink a ton of water. Aim for 6-8 liters. You should be pissing like a race horse.
- It’s claimed that some foods have a diuretic effect and they’re often referenced as natural remedies to combat water retention – asparagus, celery, cucumber and watermelon, for example. I’ve yet to find some scientific backing for these claims, so take it for what it’s worth. I suspect that the proposed diuretic properties of these foods is related to their high water content rather than some other magical mechanism.
Get cortisol back to normal
Elevated levels of cortisol can cause water retention, potentially due to interfering with aldosteron (a hormone that regulates fluid balance). Excessive cardio, particularly of the more intense variety (HIIT), and low calorie intakes increases cortisol.
- Only do low intensity steady state cardio, such as walking or similar activities with a low perceived rate of effort.
- Increase calorie intake to a level that is no less than 500 kcal below maintenance (i.e if your maintenance intake is 2700 kcal, you should eat no less than 2200 kcal these days).
Have a drink
Alcohol has a quite profound diuretic effect, so drink a a large glass of wine (7 ounces/2 dl) or a large shot of vodka (2 ounces/6 cl) shortly before going to sleep. Caffeine-rich beverages are often said to have a diuretic effect as well, but this is actually a myth. Studies show that the fluids ingested with the caffeine more than makes up for the diuretic effect of caffeine itself. In order for caffeine to have a diuretic effect, take caffeine pills.
Look over your fiber intake
In my experience, both high and low fiber intake can cause water retention and a feeling of bloatedness. Look over your diet and it should be clear what the problem is.
Do a refeed
Do a carb-refeed, preferably after having depleted muscle glycogen. A full-body session consisting of 2-4 sets of 12-15 reps per body part will get the job done. Carb choices should consist primarily of starches such as potatoes, rice, pasta and bread. Keep fiber low, potassium high. The exact amount of carbs to be ingested depends on several factors, but I suggest playing it safe and not going overboard.
- 4-6 g of carbs per kilo lean body mass is a good starting point, preferably on the low end of that if you’re inexperienced with carb-refeeds and how you react to them.
- If you do it right, this will have the effect of pulling water outside the muscle cell into the muscle cell. Along with increased muscle glycogen, this will give you a lean and full appearance the next day – ideally also causing a “whoosh” over night.