MAXIMIZE YOUR OFF-SEASON
by Gavin Gibson
Happy festive season to all!
So pretty much all of us bodybuilders have now finished with our competitive seasons. Some will be happy with how their year went and others will not! Many of us have already made plans as to what we will be doing over the coming months… and that is called the OFF-SEASON!!!
So, you’ve been dieting for what seems like an eternity, all to peak for a few minutes on stage. Your moment to show of all your hard work and sacrifice you have put in. Then, in the blink of an eye the show has finished… the lights are off… your season is over… NOW WHAT??!!
You look at your plan that doesn’t extend past show day. You’re not sure what to eat. You’re not sure how to train. This is alien to your regimented schedule of the previous months.
You go to the supermarket and find yourself wandering around gazing at items you didn’t even know were there. “This aisle is more colourful than the chicken and fish aisle,” you say to yourself. Before you know it you’re looking at the macro content of a bag of crisps and a pack of muffins you have had your eye on for months. Are they really that bad? How can they fit in my diet? You’re an emotional wreck! You’re torn between satisfying cravings and not losing your abs.
The truth is, unless you have a plan as well regimented as your pre-contest plan, off-season can be very confusing and even dangerous for some. I’m going to take you through some of my methods, used for my clients and my perspective on what’s safe, what’s beneficial and what’s ludicrous!
I’m a bodybuilder, just like you. I have been in that “supermarket” scenario many times (and kinda liked it) but now I always have a plan. One thing I always say to my clients is, “There’s always a plan” and I live by that.
“BE WARY ABOUT REPLACING FLUIDS, SUGARS, SODIUM, AND FATS AT SUCH A RAPID RATE.”
You’ve come off stage and you want to eat! It’s cheat meal city and you are the damn mayor! This is very normal and I would agree 100% that you need it. Mentally and physically. But be wary about replacing fluids, sugars, sodium and fats at such a rapid rate. This can be extremely hazardous to your health and is something that should be re-introduced into your diet bit by bit. One meal post competition wont give you anything to worry about other than a sore stomach. But for many it’s a case of “once you pop you just cant stop!” Binging post show will lead to the body “rebounding,” leaving you with a watery and bloated look that won’t be pretty.
Reverse dieting out of a show seems to be the popular thing right now and that’s because it works! Maybe harder to stick to than a pre-contest diet but more beneficial in the long run. Make sure you/your coach has a plan to execute post-competition.
So, lets say you have reverse dieted your way out of a competition (or not), you’re healthy and decide now is the time to start bulking or making some gains. What now? Do I eat everything in sight to boost my calories? Do I drink 25 pints of milk a day and drink the mass gain with the most sugar? The correct answer would be no! But… we’ve all been there! Not all of us are lucky to have useful guidance there at our disposal, especially when we are first starting out. I’ve seen so many promising competitors get so fat in their first off-season that they never recovered. They tried to shift the fat. It was much harder than last time so they gave up and that was bodybuilding done with.
So is it as simple as “eat more lift more”? In a word, yes. Just be sensible. If you are one of these athletes that takes a very scientific approach to your nutrition, you would have worked out how many macros your body needs to maintain your current muscle mass and body fat levels. So therefore a gradual increase in macros should equate to a gradual increase in muscle mass and unfortunately some body fat.
The other scenario is, you want to enjoy your off-season and add a little more flexibility to your diet. You want to lift like you did six months ago and fill out those shirts again.
This method is much more the middle ground. Extra body fat will go on but strength will go up and those big lifts become enjoyable again. Plus if you’re lifting more, chances are you’re gaining more.
“I WOULD ALWAYS RECOMMEND YOU KEEP SOME FORM OF CARDIO IN YOUR PROGRAM…”
Now you’re really into the swing of things. You have stopped looking in every mirror you pass for an “ab check” and have resigned to the fact that your six pack is now a two pack… at best. DON’T PANIC! This is completely normal and remember we are natural athletes, body fat and hormones are a little harder to control.
I would always recommend keeping some form of cardio in your program during the off-season. This will allow you to eat more food and keep the body fat down. If you aren’t consuming enough, muscle growth will stall, but that doesn’t mean the more you eat, the more you grow necessarily.
Being a natural lifter your body has limited capacity to build muscle. This is what makes us all different and the reason why some can grow muscle easier than others. Also why guys bigger than you or me don’t have to eat as much. Everyone’s capacity to synthesize ingested protein is different based on many variables such as testosterone, test to cortisol ratio, your insulin sensitivity, your muscle fibre make-up and your genetics. You can eat what you want but you can’t change your protein synthesis limit naturally. Eating in excess will just lead to a quicker gain in body fat.
So lets say you have balanced eating habits now. During the week you are eating clean with increased calories and at the weekend you let your hair down a little. Relax with the family, socialize with friends etc… perfect! But how much muscle will you put on?
SHOW ME THE GAINZZZ!
“HOW MUCH MUSCLE A NATURAL CAN PUT ON IN A YEAR IS AN AGE-OLD ARGUMENT…”
How much muscle a natural can put on in a year is an age old argument that will never be settled! Many say realistically a lean muscle gain of 1kg is achievable, but as I explained above, there is a valid scientific reason why some athletes may put on more.
It’s also worthy to note that any increase in muscle weight may not transfer to the scales. Not in the way you would expect anyhow. For example, I have gradually been adding a kilo or two every year for the past four years. When I won the WNBF European Championships in October I weighed in at my lightest (in years), biggest, fullest and best package to date. A full 3kg lighter than at the same competition last year. So don’t always rely on the scales.
Moderate fat levels will help increase testosterone and reduce cortisol, but too much will have the opposite effect. So it’s important not to be sub 9-10% body fat year round if you want to make any substantial gains.
“WHO WANTS TO GO ON STAGE LOOKING LIKE A STRING BEAN ANYWAY?!…”
I realize that some people may want to stay in their weight division and not gain any new muscle. Their existence is purely to maintain muscle and increase condition. That’s great for them, but generally bodybuilding is about building your physique. That endless pursuit to be bigger and better. That’s the driving force behind 99% of gym goers.
With competition coming back around fast, what happens now? I can tell you that if you have had a pretty structured off-season, improvements will be clearly visible, even with a layer or two of fat covering up all this new muscle. It will enable you to diet on higher calories, so less hunger! Fuller muscles and less cardio. Which will equate to improvements onstage which is what an off-season is truly about!
Who wants to go onstage looking like a string bean anyway?!
DO NOT underestimate the power of a good off-season.
I hope all my American friends had a great Thanksgiving and seasons greetings to all wherever you may be reading from.
One more special thank you to the USA. Thank you for black Friday! Sales galore as I write this!
All the best. Keep it natural and #DOWORK – Gav
GAVIN GIBSON | CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Gavin is a five-time Natural Bodybuilding Champion, including U.K. and British titles, INBF World title, and is a WNBF Pro. He owns IRON BODIES GYM in England. He is the founder of the #G70 Training Principle, and is a Personal Trainer, Contest Prep Coach, and most importantly a father of two!
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