Depletion workouts | what are they?

March 23, 2021

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Summer is getting closer, but unfortunately the gyms are still closed due to Dutch measures to fight COVID-19. However, it is a good time to obtain essential information on doing workouts, in fact on doing depletion workouts. But what are these workouts? If you are wondering and you would like to challenge yourself physically as well as mentally, I recommend you keep reading!


Body system

When it comes to workouts for hypertrophy, which is the growth of muscle cells, you usually have a date to aim for to be looking your best. It could be for a competition, holiday, or simply just to challenge yourself personally. There are a number of methods to get your physicality to the limit. One of these is doing a depletion workout. 

To grasp the concept of depletion, first you need to understand some technical aspects of your body’s systems. Everyone’s body uses carbohydrates as energy, which are stored as muscle glycogen. Therefore, this is sometimes also called “glycogen depletion”. Depletion, then, is a method which involves maximalist workouts to exhaust (or better to deplete) your body’s supply of muscle glycogen. As a result, this increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Insulin is simply a hormone which is in control of the glucose levels your blood carries, and once your body is depleted of muscle glycogen, your insulin will become highly sensitive to the ingestion of carbs since you have not had an adequate load of carbohydrates.

Once you have depleted your glycogen and increased your insulin sensitivity, your body is ready to handle a bunch of carbohydrates without increasing the risk of gaining fat. This idea is similar to when you eat very little food for a day for example due to illness, then begin eating normally the next day. Then, your body realises it lacks fuel to function efficiently. In both cases, we deplete our carbohydrate supplies and give our body a re-feed a couple of days after the “depletion week”. This way, we manage to hold onto the carbohydrates more than we usually would. This means that your body can store more carbohydrates in its muscles, and you look more muscularly full, when you load a lot of carbohydrates after your depletion week. This process is called a “glycogen supercompensation”. We will come back to this discussing the depletion week in detail.


Preparation before depletion week

To start with this week you must have done a few important “preparations’’, otherwise the depletion week does not have a significant effect on your body. What preparations? To start with the peak week, I want to emphasise that your base fitness level must be in order. This condition is meant to give your physique the finishing touches. Obviously, you cannot give the finishing touch if the base is not in order. When your fat percentage is for instance above 10%, then the depletion week will certainly have no effect on you. Therefore, it is generally recommended at least to be under 10% body fat, but preferably a lot lower than that.


Peak week

The depletion week, most of the time called the peak week, can be seen as the last step to the finish line of becoming as shredded as possible. Usually aesthetic bodybuilders do the depletion workout for about four to six days. This way, the details of your musculature become more visible for a competition or photoshoot. Note, as said, you can also do the depletion workout-week essentially to challenge yourself psychically (but keep in mind it is also a mental game).


To look your best after the peak week, you need to prepare your diet. You want to benefit from a process called “glycogen supercompensation”, which has already been explained in technical terms. To achieve that compensation, however, one must first do the opposite: deplete the glycogen reserves. You do this by simply minimising carbohydrates in your diet a week before the start of your real workout. It is advisable to be below 50 grams of net carbohydrates per day. Maybe you are now thinking: “Wow, that’s a big cut in my carbohydrate intake”. That’s true, but that is the whole idea behind glycogen depletion. To avoid being short on vitamins, it is recommended to fulfil your 50 net carbs with, for instance, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. Moreover, it is suggested to get two grams of protein per kilo of body weight and about one gram of fat per kilo of body weight. Try to track your macronutrients as precisely as possible.  During this heavy diet also try to double your water intake to reduce hunger pangs. By the way, doubling water intake will dissipate moisture which also has the advantage of making you more shredded. Keep this schedule during four full days with a normal training workout each day as you are used to.

Depletion training

After following the diet for four days, you continue with the next phase, in fact the most important and exciting phase! From now on you will perform depletion training in order to remove all remaining glycogen from the muscles. As earlier said you will do the training for four-six days in a row. You can start with four days and if you have the feeling that you have enough energy you would have to continue a few more days, depleting as much as possible. It is preferable to do the training as early as possible in the day since in the mornings hunger pangs are less than the rest of the day. The key to depletion training is to train with lighter weight, but higher repetition, approximately 15-20 per exercise (see figure below). Moreover, try to keep rests of 30 seconds between each set/.

Glycogen utilization in working muscle (Ramos, M., & Wyatt, F., 2019)

Furthermore, it is highly recommended to exercise a different muscle group every day. This will deplete your last little bit of glycogen in each part of your muscles. Are you not tired after your training? Note, you should not feel good after your workout, but exhausted; otherwise you have not depleted enough glycogen from your muscles. As I earlier pointed out, it is a mental game, so try to keep thinking about your physical goal.

Loading carbohydrates

Immediately after days you have been working out (and been exhausted), you will move on to the next phase which is called carb loading. From here you have two or three days until you achieve your goal. To keep it simple: for maximum supercompensation, your body needs about 15 grams of carbohydrates per kilo of body weight. For instance, a man of 80 kg needs 1200 grams of carbohydrates! It is important to get complex carbohydrates such as white rice and potatoes. Moreover, limit carbohydrates from fruit, because the carbohydrates in fruit are not stored efficiently in the muscles.


Your muscles absorb all those carbohydrates like a sponge. When you are loading carbohydrates, try to keep an eye on your body every 12 hours. If you still look a little flat after about two days loading carbohydrates, it means you can eat a lot more. In that case you eat as many carbohydrates that day as the day before. Should you look full and dry, it’s a good sign! At the same time you have to be careful not to get overconfident now and keep eating carbohydrates. If you do that, you run the risk of getting soggy.


Finally, there is only one thing left to do: be mentally and physically proud of yourself for what you have achieved and enjoy it!

This article is written by Moesen Tajik

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