Staying Lean during the Offseason
For a bodybuilder Offseason is usually a joyous time filled with Pop-tarts, hot dogs, pizza, *Insert your favorite food craving here*. At least, that’s how those on the outside looking in see it or those that don’t have a clue on how to conduct themselves during a proper Offseason. The term is called “Bulking” and amateurs tend to abuse the hell out of it. It doesn’t help that the most popular league in bodybuilding has athletes looking like the Michelin man during their Offseason without releasing to the kids who analyze their training/diet regimens that their cutting is a little different from those who are unassisted (not making an argument here at all about bodybuilding as a sport here at all).
What is Offseason:
I’d say that about 80% of the time bodybuilder’s are in this stage of their training. At least for those that haven’t maxed out their genetic potential. I mention genetic potential because for advanced level bodybuilder’s gains come slower and slower and more time is spent competing/maintaining than making huge strides in the muscle department. Those pictures on the magazines and instagrams of the world highlighting “ripped” physiques are roughly 10% or less of the bodybuilder’s schedule. The last 10% is prepping and getting to that ripped state from Offseason.
Specifically, Offseason is the time when bodybuilders are not IN-season. Meaning they are not competing in the near future. It’s a time spent building muscle, perhaps delving into a non-physique based sport like Powerlifting, and eating at a caloric surplus or maintenance calories. In addition, there is usually less cardio and more emphasis on strength training.
An Offseason is necessary because as a natural bodybuilder, or any mere human for that matter, when you diet or try to get shredded it’s nearly impossible to build onto your musculature (I say nearly because I don’t know everything…but as far as I’ve read in studies and from personal experience this is true). Therefore, to actually improve your physique you’re going to need to have an extended period at a caloric surplus/maintenance. Once again it’s important to clarify the word extended. I say extended because if you were to go from contest prep to eating a surplus for a week and lifting hard, you are not likely to see a single improvement. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you won’t even be back to your pre-contest strength (unless your prep was short or you didn’t actual diet down low bodyfat levels).
During my prep I went from 185 lbs all the way down to 144 for my competition. That’s a solid 40 lb loss between January and September when I walked on the stage. During that time I lost a small, but noticeable amount of strength. It wasn’t for 2-3 months post contest that I was close to my original numbers on the big 4 lifts (squat, bench, overhead press, deadlift).
I’d now like to take a moment to analyze the logistics of a bodybuilding Offseason aka the primary purpose for this article. I’ll utilize my own prep to give guidance and my current Offseason routine/diet.
Natural Bodybuilding competitors are known for dieting for a long periods of time. Prep is usually in excess of 20 weeks for those bodybuilders that want to be competitive for the overall (1st place). My own prep was 31 weeks and that was for my first competition in which I wasn’t ready. It took another 7 weeks for me to settle out to 144 pounds and display my physique to the fullest. Why am I talking about contest prep when this article is about Offseason? I’m talking about contest prep because the amount of time you prep is entirely determined by the leanness you uphold during your Offseason.
When I was 185 lbs, I had to lose a little over a pound a week to get ready for that last competition. I’d say that a pound a week for a male is a safe way to diet because you’re not dropping too fast, causing your metabolism to slow and strength to falter among other problems. Now, had I planned for a competition in May or June, to get to that 144 pound “shredded” mark I’d have to lose closer to 2 pounds a week. That’s really beginning to push the boundary that I’m comfortable with because I know that I’d have to up my cardio and decrease my calories even further than I already was.
40 pounds during contest prep is quite a bit of weight, however there are tons of amateurs that put on near 50-60 pounds above what would be their contest weight because they don’t know any better. They think that the bigger they get, the more gains they are going to have, and the better they are going to look in the end. To some extent, these amateurs are right; they are going to have some more gains, but it may not be where they want it. When you’re in Offseason or “bulking” you’re going to be putting on a combination of fat and muscle. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer the latter. Putting on 50-60 pounds on me would result in me being at a hefty 200lbs as a beginner-intermediate level bodybuilder (in terms of muscle maturity). That means that when contest prep came around, to enjoy my normal pound a week weight loss routine, I’d be shooting for a prep of almost an entire year. That’s freaking insane! Granted, you could just destroy your calories and cut quicker…or go into the show less prepared, but either way you wouldn’t be happy with the results.
Staying Lean during the Offseason
Alright alright…I’ll to the point. I’m not arguing that you should have etched abs throughout your Offseason, merely that you stay lean enough to make your contest prep bearable or even….dare I say it….FUN. Prepping can be grueling, but it’s going to make it FAR better if you’re closer to your contest weight than not.
There is something important to note. Being at a caloric surplus is imperative for regaining and adding strength. This correlates directly with the amount of muscle you’re going to build during that Offseason. If you remain too close to your contest weight…it’s going to be tough to accomplish those goals. Try to get to a weight where you begin to see some PR’s, but you aren’t hard-pressed to find some definition SOMEWHERE on your body. For me, I can still see a striation or two on my delts and quads if I have the right lighting.
In this picture I’m 174. That’s 10 pounds lower than when I was bulking last time around. By the way…my Deadlift, Squat, Bench, and Overhead press have all put on a solid 10 to 20lb PR’s!
It’s also important to know that the same rule that I apply to my contest prep is just as appropriate for the Offseason. When you begin to “bulk” putting on a pound or so a week is a good number to aim for. It will limit the amount of actual bodyfat you chunk on. I know it’s tough when you’re coming from a deficit to hold back on the ice cream, but be patient. You’ll definitely thank me later.
What I’m trying to say is to strike a balance. Don’t get so puffy that your contest prep is futile and getting back to double-digit bodyfat is a goal in itself (see what I did there…kids going to triple digit bodyfat…) Find a bodyweight that is optimal for performance in the gym and stay there. You can put on muscle at 20-30 pounds above stage weight, you don’t need to jump to > 40-50 pounds. That’s just going to make your job that much harder come time to show it off.
Little knowledge drop for IIFYM
In the Offseason…I eat almost as “clean” as in season. I’ll have some candy or ice cream now and again, but this isn’t a daily thing. For those that think that Pop tarts and shit are the only thing on the menu…you’re in for a big surprise. During the Offseason…I do indulge, but there is no way in I could keep myself at optimal performance if I was missing out on essential micro nutrients, vegetables, staple proteins, etc.
For those wondering…..yes, the default picture of this article is a pop-tart ice cream sandwich, I urge all of those who have fats and carbs left on their macros for the day to try one lolzzzzz