Diuretics FAQ Everything you need to know

It’s no secret that athletes who need to get dry for a bodybuilders competition and/or for a photo shoot will rely on using diuretics to help get a drier and more defined physique.

However anybody who is going to start cutting water from their bodies needs to understand how it works, the potential side effects and what the best form of diuretic actually is. Below is a list of answers to the most frequently asked questions on diuretics.

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What is a diuretic and how does it work?

Diuretics are a food supplement that aid the elimination of sodium (salt) and water from the body. The oral forms of these drugs are sometimes referred to as "water pills.

Diuretics increase the excretion of water and electrolytes from the body's fluids. They thereby decrease the extracellular fluid volume giving a drier and more defined physique.

What are the different types of diuretics?

There are many types of diuretics but the two most used in bodybuilding are loop-acting diuretics are potassium-sparing diuretics.

Loop-acting diuretics

These cause the kidneys to get rid of more urine, lowering the amount of water in the body and the blood pressure. These are by far the most popular diuretics in bodybuilding. Loop diuretics act directly on the kidneys and are non-discriminatory diuretic, which means they remove any and all fluids coming through the kidneys.

They have a big effect on the electrolyte balance as they literally flush potassium, sodium and calcium from the body with whatever fluid enters.

Potassium-sparing diuretics

These drugs reduce the amount of water in the body, but while other diuretics cause the body to lose potassium in the process, this type does not.

These diuretics are milder, however, create problems of their own. While these are slower acting and more tolerable, they can cause an excess of potassium in the body as they do not allow it to flush and keep the balance of electrolytes intact.

Check out our range of diuretics here

When should you start using a diuretic?

How much time is needed to cut water weight really depends on which strategies the competitor decides to implement. Different strategies can begin as far as 2 weeks out, but at least one week before the competition is where most people will begin protocol to shed excess water.

At one week out, carbohydrate depletion, sodium loading, and increasing water intake can all begin along with the safe use of a diuretic.

Is there another way to get dry besides diuretics?

Reducing water from the body can be aided in a multitude of ways. Often, most or all of these methods are employed. They include

  • Cardio training in heavy clothing
  • Sodium load then depletion
  • Excessive water intake followed by a sudden and drastic reduction of water intake
  • Drinking mineral and electrolyte-free distilled water
  • Herbs and natural water-reduction substances
  • Natural/Herbal diuretics
  • Carbohydrate/Glycogen Loading

Sodium Load/Depletion

One widely-used approach to cut water weight is sodium loading, and then depletion. With increased sodium intake, the body will begin pumping more of it out of the body. When the depletion occurs, the body will still be tricked into pumping out more than normal and taking excess water with it.

One approach is to use salt during all meals to equal about 5,000 mg of sodium daily starting about a week out from the competition and then completely eliminate salt from the diet about 3 days out. With another strategy, sodium load begins at 2 weeks out, with several timed decreases in total sodium intake until the day of competition.

Limit Water Intake Leading Up To Show

Obviously, depleting water intake will help to get excess water out of the body. There is a little strategy to this as opposed to just stopping drinking water.

Anti-diuretic hormones can cause the body to retain water. They are released when water consumption is limited, so it is important to consume a large amount of water before a gradual decrease in water intake about 3 days out. By drinking over 10/12 litres of water a day, there will be a decrease in anti-diuretic hormones, and they should stay low through the water depletion that follows.

Carbohydrate/Glycogen Loading

Although more to supersaturate muscles with glycogen to make them appear hard and full, all the glycogen in the muscles should pull much of the remaining subcutaneous water into the muscle cells. There are different strategies for carbohydrate depletion and loading.

With one strategy, carbohydrate depletion will begin about a week before the contest, and then the loading phase will begin the Wednesday before, or 3 days out. Carbohydrates should be lowered to about .5 grams per pound of bodyweight for the depletion phase. Carbohydrate intake should be increased to up to 3 grams per pound of body weight spread out throughout the 6 meals when the loading phase begins.

Are there any side effects to diuretics

The most common side effect associated with diuretics is an increased elimination of potassium, resulting in a dangerously low level of potassium in the body. With the exception of potassium-sparing versions, all diuretics may cause a loss of potassium, which, if left untreated, increases the risk for heart rhythm disturbances that can be serious.

Taking a potassium supplement or eating high-potassium foods (such as bananas and orange juice) may help maintain healthy potassium levels. A potential side effect of potassium-sparing diuretics is a dangerously high level of potassium in people who already have a high potassium level or who have kidney disease.

Generally, older people may be more susceptible to side effects of diuretics and may require lower doses.

Cardiff Sports Nutrition's recommendations for taking diuretics

  1. Drink PLENTY of water BEFORE you begin taking diuretics. If you drink water before taking a diuretic, you will be able to flush the water out. Drinking water after you take the diuretic is stupid because you are just adding fuel to the fire that you are already trying to put out. This is the primary reason that many competitors totally cut out drinking anything the day of the show. You want the water totally in you before you begin taking them.
  2. Ingest a sugar-free electrolyte packet with your water before you take the diuretic. This will provide your body with the necessary electrolytes and vitamins and minerals that you will need when the diuretic kicks in. This will aid your body in replacing your minerals and vitamins that will be lost when you begin urinating excessively.
  3. Do NOT take diuretics for more than 4/5 days in a row, MAX. You have got to allow your body to rest and restore itself by properly hydrating and replenishing the minerals you have lost. Excessive use of diuretics will pretty much guarantee you a one-way ticket to cramps, if not worse.
  4. Do a trial run a few weeks before you compete. Everybody is different and will react differently to diuretics. Don’t chance it by waiting until the last-minute to see if your body plans on working symbiotically with you on your big day. You’ve trained and prepared too long and too hard to be disappointed when you wash out or go flat because you did not know your proper dosage. Be smart folks!

Check out our range of diuretics here