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Most physique athletes treat their off-season as a free-for-all. Coming off a show prep leads to a binge mentality, which often leads to missed gains between physique competitions. Gaining quality weight in the off-season really is a concentrated effort. Can you really afford to slack off and let your competition one-up you? The truly successful athletes—the ones who seem to effortlessly make improvements from show to show—are the ones who really buckle down and treat their off-season diets with the same weight as their competition prep. While I can’t motivate you to remain focused on a successful off-season plan with this article, I can attempt to indicate how to methodically add quality muscle mass during your off-season phase. Applying my tips should set you on the right path, keep the gains consistent, and make you a better competitor come stage time.
Before we start gaining, we need to determine where you are. This requires a little homework on your part. You’ll need to figure out your total daily caloric intake. I suggest that you track what you eat for three days and average out the calories and macros (carbs, fat, and protein). There are several apps and websites designed to work out these numbers for you, and a quick Google search will get you there. All you need to do is start weighing and measuring your food and recording it. The app or website will do the rest. Give yourself three days (or more) to get a good average. This will be our starting point. Alternatively, you could figure out your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), but I like the three-day average approach better.
Assuming that you’re not gaining on your current caloric intake, you will need to start adding calories. Let’s face facts here: If you aren’t gaining weight, you’re not eating enough. I’ve heard it all before—“But I eat lots.” No, you don’t. Plain and simple. If you want to look like a 200-pound gym monster, you can’t eat like a 110-pound bikini girl. You need to bump up your calories. It’s quite common for a guy who eats 16 times his bodyweight to have to ramp up his calories to 20 times his bodyweight to see the scale move. Yep, you had better strap on a feedbag! Oh, and let me bring some of you lab-coat bodybuilders back to reality. You know, the ones who promote that adding 500 calories a day for seven days will increase the scale weight by a pound because 3,500 calories is a pound. Really? The world isn’t a test tube. Real life happens, and predicting weight gain on the 500-calorie increase per day is foolhardy. Please get your ass off the classroom desk seat and park it on a weight bench. You seriously need some real-world experience. Besides that, where do the 500 calories come from? Fat? Carbs? Protein? I’m not really sure, as the just “add 500 calories to your daily totals” maxim really doesn’t go into that kind of detail.
What you should be doing is adding smaller amounts of calories but consistent with the principles of the diet you are following. For example, if you’re employing an isocaloric approach, you may want to add 33 calories to each of the three macros—33 calories to fat (3 to 4 grams), 33 calories to pro (8 grams) and 33 calories to carbs (8 grams). Once the change is made, you should track the results over three days. Did your weight go up? How did how you looked in the mirror change? It’s always a good plan to take pictures, as this will really help with indicating where the added weight is going. Another example would be if you were following more of a 60/30/10 split (60 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 10 percent fat). You have the option of splitting the 100 calories between the three macros in the desired ratios, or you could focus it more on one macronutrient. You may desire to add 100 calories of carbs post-workout and then see where your weight and body composition goes. If you were looking to add less fat, protein would be the first macro to add or carbs structured around your workout. You could even time everything so that your extra calories are derived from protein on your non-workout days and derived from carbs on your training days (focused around your workout).
There are really many possibilities here—too many to describe in my column. Your best bet is to keep detailed notes and take numerous pictures and work from the feedback you’re providing yourself. This is what a good coach would do. We do that with our serious athletes who are truly committed to making the biggest changes in their physiques in their off-season programs. If you’re serious about presenting a different look at your next physique event, you need to take your off-season training seriously—it really is just as important as your contest prep!
For more information on taking an off-season, and how to go about it, check out more columns here!