Spilled or flat: How to carb load for a physique show

A how-to guide for perfectly full and defined muscles at ultra-lean body fat levels. The final touches to getting your muscles to look spot-on for the stage.



1. Overview

2. Pick the photo

3. What the hell happened?

4. The science and research

5. Dive deeper

6. Finding your sweet spot

7. Learnings

8. References

The gist

  • Carbs are stored in muscle fibers with water which gives them the look physique competitors are striving for.

  • However, once the inside of the muscle is full, water will begin to be stored on the outside of the muscle.

  • Not enough carbs is termed flat and is described as stringy and soft.

  • Too much carbs is termed spilled and is described as soft and bloated.

  • Just enough carbs is termed full and is described as hard, striated and defined.

  • There are certain signs you can look and feel for to tell whether you are flat, spilled or full, such as by poking contracted muscles and by assessing your ability to get a "pump".

  • Prevent walking on stage flat or spilled by starting your carb load at least 2 days out—take pictures frequently and adjust as you get closer to show time.

  • If you spill, do periodic light exercise and consume little to no carbs until back in the full range.

  • Keep calm—a spill can be corrected and the show is meant to be fun. Remind yourself that you're learning something fascinating about your body.

This post is inspired by a learning experience I had at one of my physique competitions. I didn't know what I was looking for at the time until the morning of the pre-judging where I had spilled over to a bloated and soft state rather than full and hard. I wish I knew this information then, so I hope this manual will help you look your best after the months of hard work you've put in leading up to your event. — Coach Eric

Check out these pictures:

Pick which photo you think has the best physique for a competition.

Now, let's add the following labels to these pictures:

  1. the countdown to the competition;

  2. the time they were taken;

  3. and what I had done prior to them



2 days out from competition (AM)

  • 8:00

  • fasted

  • pre-carb load

  • 0 total grams carbs


2 days out from competition (PM)

  • 19:00

  • post 5 meals

  • 480 total grams carbs

  • 6.0g/kg of carbs consumed on this day


1 day out from competition (AM)

  • 10:00

  • post 1 day carb loading (600g carbs)

  • + 1 meal (90g carbs)

  • 690 total grams carbs consumed


1 day out from competition (PM)

  • 20:00

  • post tan

  • post 1 day carb loading (600g carbs) + 4 meals (390g carbs)

  • 5.0g/kg of carbs consumed on this day

  • 990 total grams carbs consumed up to this point


Competition day (AM)

  • 11:30

  • post 2 day carb loading (1050g carbs)

  • + 2 meals (120g carbs)

  • 1.5g/kg of carbs consumed this morning

  • 1170 total grams carbs consumed up to this point


Competition day (Aft)

  • 15:00

  • no carb consumption

  • light exercise since previous picture


Competition day (PM)

  • 18:00

  • no carb consumption

  • no additional exercise


What the heck happened!?

In a physique competition, where the goal is to be lean, muscular and hard, most people would agree that pictures #4 & #7 are best. The physique in each picture was improving until a noticeable diminishment of definition in picture #5. Following this, the pictures progressively improved again.

You'll notice that just before #5 I had an extra 180g carbohydrate since my last picture. This was just enough to "spill over" as they (physique competitors and fitness models who get ultra-lean for competition and photoshoots) would say. I then corrected this before stepping on stage again for the evening show.

What is glycogen and why does eating lots of carbs make muscle striated and larger?