I wanted to write this article on my first-hand account of prescription diuretic use for competition because in my post-contest rebound, I Googled and I Binged and I could not find anyone else who had written about their first-hand account of diuretic rebound. I desperately needed to know if what I was feeling and what I was going through was normal. I hope that my experience will either be helpful to you in your rebound or will enlighten you enough to choose not to use prescription diuretics or at the very least get all the necessary information about their use from a qualified individual.
I’ve always prided myself on being a “natural” figure competitor. I have nothing against the use of performance enhancing drugs, nor do I judge people who use them, I just personally choose not to use them. To be honest, I’ve never even been tempted to give them a try…until recently…
It was exactly one week before my last competition and I knew I was no where near ready to step on stage. I would say I was at least 4-6 weeks from being as lean as I should have been. I considered not taking the stage and bailing out at the last minute, but I didn’t feel like that was a legitimate option for me. I thought perhaps if I could drop enough water weight in the coming week it might compensate for my “fluffiness”. A few days later, a friend and fellow bodybuilder offered me prescription diuretics and I figured that since it was not a tested show, there was really no harm. After all, it’s just a diuretic.
I’m still not exactly sure where I went in my head that made me think this was a smart idea. The thing that is most important to me in the whole competition process is making sure that I set myself up for a healthy post competition phase. I knew that there would be harsh consequences as a result of what I was choosing to do, but for some reason, I completely disregarded what I know to be true. Desperation is the only answer I’ve been able to find.
The diuretic that I received was: Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ): a thiazide diuretic (water pill) that helps prevent your body from absorbing too much salt, which can cause fluid retention. Hydrochlorothiazide treats fluid retention (edema) in people with congestive heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, or kidney disorders, or edema caused by taking steroids or estrogen. This medication is also used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension).
It probably wouldn’t have been that big of a deal had it been taken correctly. But, in my desperate attempt to look remotely stage ready, I did not take the time to do my due diligence and investigate what exactly I was taking and how I should be taking it. Of course, in my haste, I didn’t know I was taking a drug that should not be used by asthmatics (me) and people with sulfa allergies (also me). And so, I took what was advised and it was advised to take a LOT! By the time the day of the show arrived I was severely and dangerously dehydrated.
The week of the show, I started water loading as usual, but unlike how I normally water deplete, I went from 2 gallons to 20oz as recommended by a friend. I was still 3 days out from the show. I was still doing cardio and using the sauna to drop water. The two days before the show were sips of water only. Over the course of 36 hours, I took 10, 50mg tablets of HCTZ. Between Sunday morning and Thursday afternoon I lost 19lbs! I knew that losing that much weight was going to mean severe consequences in the coming days. You just don’t lose that much weight without having a serious rebound.
My usual carb load meal is pancakes with butter and syrup and a glass of orange juice. Because my coach didn’t know I was taking the diuretics, she still had me loading on the usual pancake meal the night before the show. In hindsight, that was probably a really bad idea to have all that sugar in conjunction with the diuretics. The morning of the show I had my same pancake breakfast and was feeling pretty much like death warmed over. I was already getting bloated before prejudging. After prejudging, I didn’t really feel like food so much as just something cold and wet in my mouth. So, I enjoyed a couple small bowls of soft serve ice cream and a whole lot of pineapple. Yet another bad idea. All that sugar was just a recipe for disaster.
What I didn’t know was how careful you had to be with sugars in combination with diuretic use and also how careful you have to be when adding water back after the show. After the night show, I guzzled water like crazy! More than food, I just wanted water. The week following the show, I enjoyed foods I like, but nothing crazy or out of hand. I hit the gym in typical post-contest style the day after the show to keep up with my cardio as that’s the best way I’ve found to avoid packing on the quick pounds. By mid-week I was having terrible digestion issues and feeling pretty bloated.
Little did I know there was a “perfect storm” brewing inside of my body and I was in for a very long road ahead. I knew I was in for a harsh rebound, but I thought maybe a couple weeks would be all. Unfortunately, it was not that simple.
Post Contest: The Rebound
The first few days after the show seemed to be pretty much status quo. However, by Wednesday following a Friday contest, I could tell that there was something serious going on. The first thing I noticed was that my digestive system just wasn’t working right. I wasn’t sure what was the cause…being on a keto diet and then reintroducing carbs too fast or if it had something to do with the diuretics. About a week after the contest I decided to start taking Cleanse & Lean again as well as Dandelion Root to see if that would help with my digestion and water retention issues.
They helped, a bit. About a week later I decided it was probably best to cut the Cleanse & Lean and the Dandelion Root and allow my body to reach its natural state of balance on its own without the help of supplements. This is when all hell broke loose! I swelled up so fast. My abdomen was distended, making me look about 5 months pregnant. It was painful. Every part of my body was swollen: my legs, my arms, my butt…everything! My clothes didn’t fit and I didn’t know what was happening to my body. Lifting weights was painful because I was on glycogen overload so I would get ridiculous pumps that were too painful to be “cool.”
A good friend of mine is a paramedic and so he became the recipient of my many questions that I couldn’t find answers to online. He told me I was suffering from total body edema. The edema was also making it hard for me to breathe and exacerbating my asthma. When I would do cardio, I would be breathless at a level that normally I could handle easily for an hour. Because my blood pressure was elevated and the edema was also in my lungs, it took great effort to get through my cardio sessions. Even going up the stairs in my house was a chore.
I did a lot of cardio, time in the sauna and water loading. This seemed to help a little bit. Weeks went by and while the swelling and bloating got better, it was so gradual that it was hard to notice. About 5 weeks after the contest I had a lymphatic drainage massage and even had the massage therapist work on my abdomen. The massage was definitely a turning point in my rebound. I noticed dramatic results immediately, however, I continued to have water retention as well as digestive issues. I had to start using the Cleanse & Lean again and kept using it for another 4 weeks before my doctor told me I had to stop taking it as it was making matters worse and prolonging my recovery. My body had become dependent on it from using it for so long and couldn’t function without it.
All the while, I was following my typical 4-6 week out diet. Super clean, low carb, low fat, high protein. This diet always works for me and it works fast, so the fact that I was not dropping much with the food and the 2-a-day cardio sessions was really affecting me mentally. I wanted results and I wasn’t getting them. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and I couldn’t do anything about it. What worked before wasn’t working this time.
The beauty of being a female is in addition to all the other issues going on in the body we have to deal with wacky hormones and reproductive-related issues. This whole process did a big number on my hormones. Over the course of 9 weeks I had my cycle 6 times. Regular, 5 day long cycles. Admittedly, I was starting to get scared. Nine weeks is a long time and the fact that my cycles weren’t getting longer was starting to worry me. I finally made an appointment to see my naturopath.
My naturopath nearly fell off her chair when I told her how much of the diuretic I took in such a short time frame. On the other hand, a client of mine who is a physician didn’t seem all that alarmed by it, so I don’t know how bad it really is for most folks. For me, it was too much and my body revolted. I was relieved when my naturopath said that my body was doing what it was supposed to do and that everything sounded on track for getting back to normal.
I had a bit of a caffeine addiction (a “bit” being a pretty big understatement) that I had to kick to help speed my recovery process. In hindsight, the caffeine I was consuming was likely hindering my progress. The dehydration messed with my electrolyte levels, so we had to work at getting that fixed as well. She also started me on probiotics to treat an infection caused by being dehydrated and to help with my digestive problems. If you find yourself in a situation like me, I would strongly encourage you to seek medical advice as early as possible so you can give your body everything it needs to start healing.
Over the last couple months I have done a lot of research on this matter and one of the things that I found particularly interesting was the impact all of this has on the adrenal system and how important it is to keep our adrenal system healthy and functioning well. A few supplements I added for adrenal support are:
- Pantothenic Acid/B5
- Vitamin C
- Evening Primrose Oil (this is a good one, in general, especially for women)
- Vitamin B Complex
It’s now been 12 weeks since my last show and I’m still working on getting back to normal, helping my body get back into balance. I am eating clean, training hard and trying hard to rest more and give my body all the things it needs to get back to a healthy state. This has been an extremely traumatic experience for me mentally, physically and emotionally and it was important to me to write this because I can guarantee that there are other people out there, like me, and are confused and scared and wondering if this is normal and “will I ever feel like ME again?” It’s not something I’m proud of, so reaching out for help was a fear I simply had to overcome to be able to get better.
It has also been important for me to use this experience and this time to reflect on what I did and why I did it. I have 4 children who depend on me, I cannot “voluntarily” put my life in jeopardy. No contest is worth that to me and it shouldn’t be worth that to anyone. I have definitely learned a lesson the hard way, but in looking at the positive side, I have gained so much knowledge over the last couple of months and now I have first hand experience to go with it. It’s not a road I will ever take again and hopefully others can learn from my experience and not feel the need to go down this road themselves. As I said before, should you decide that you want to take prescription diuretics for competitive purposes, PLEASE seek the advice of a trained professional that knows what they’re doing so that you get proper guidance before, during and after use.