Whether building muscle in the offseason or shredding for the beach or the stage, quality nutrition (including quality supplementation) remains the single most important means to ensuring ongoing success.
What we put in our bodies determines how much energy we have to train at a high intensity; optimizes recovery by providing the raw ingredients for tissue healing and growth; and ensures steady muscle gains via around-the-clock muscle anabolism (or constructive metabolism: i.e., the coveted growth state all size-hungry bodybuilders seek).
Quality Nutrition for Quality Size
When it comes to building more muscle, quality nutrition often takes a backseat to ‘anything goes’ nutrition, where the overriding objective appears to be caloric-overconsumption as a way to optimize muscle gains via the (often overblown) benefits of additional weight gain (the rationale being that when at our heaviest we are at our strongest and thus in a better position to grow).
While we do have a little more ‘nutritional freedom’ in the offseason, it’s important to note that quality muscle gains are possible only when quality nutrition is emphasized. This is to say that while the offseason affords us the opportunity to consume more of what we enjoy most, we must treat this period the same way we would the pre-contest phase: regimented and focused toward the achievement of a singular goal (in this case, the building of more quality size).
This means consuming foods that are designed to boost energy,
enhance strength and augment muscle anabolism. Pizza and ice cream, needless to say, do not fit this category. Such foods may in fact reduce strength and compromise gains (more on this soon) Quality Nutrition for Quality Size.
Furthermore, we must not confuse the offseason and pre-contest periods: these are for the most part mutually exclusive and separate training and nutrition strategies must therefore be employed for each. Indeed, for most, shredding is likely to interfere with muscle gains while extreme size-building requires less emphasis on conditioning.
If healthy eating is the key to mass building, what nutritional changes must we make to ensure we gain more muscle without the additional fat? And if we are to continue gaining in strength, but not at the expense of our waistlines, how might this be achieved without substantially compromising any hard-won muscularity?
Healthy eating does not, for many lean-body hopefuls, readily equate with quality mass gains. Ironically, such lifters may, in the offseason, go so far as to abandon many of the beneficial foods that enabled them to optimize their physique in the first place.
Instead, the clean eating essential to tissue (including muscle cell)
repair is replaced with a ‘bulking’ regimen heavy on nutritionally-dubious, calorie-laden fare.
Is it any wonder that many lifters, when following such protocols, fail to add an appreciable degree of quality mass during the offseason?
But there is a better way forward: a nutritional approach that is simple and easy to navigate and which does not require a radical departure from one’s pre-contest endeavors.
To truly excel in the offseason does not mean eating everything not nailed down, nor does it necessitate an obvious increase in bodyfat (those ‘muffin tops’ are hardly appealing nor beneficial from a performance standpoint).
So even though the offseason and pre-contest periods do, as mentioned, require different methods (the former focused on pure muscle gains and the latter geared toward extreme definition and muscle maintenance), there can, for those wanting to stay in shape year-round, be some overlap between the two. A such, this article seeks to provide more of a balanced perspective on
how best to gain muscle, without the additional fat.
While not diverging excessively from most solid offseason plans, the following framework does require a reasonable amount of restraint at the dinner table and ongoing monitoring of bodyfat to ensure muscle gains are of the highest quality. By following the principles and plan below, you’ll not only gain more muscle than ever before but will also be proud of your physique, whether it’s displayed in the offseason or pre-contest.
More fitness/bodybuilding articles have been written on protein than perhaps any other subject. And for good reason. Whatever the training goal – whether it be crafting a shredded mid-section, adding more biceps mass, sprinting faster, or keeping one’s metabolism on point – the inclusion of liberal amounts of protein is of unquestioned importance.2, 12
It’s advised that any good muscle-bulking plan include at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, per day (1.5g is better, to be on the safe side), regardless of the necessity of carbohydrate and fat manipulation. Of the many variables responsible for crafting an impressive physique,
the 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight dictate remains non-negotiable.
However, there is a big difference between sufficient protein and sufficient quality protein. Obviously, a higher quality protein source will result in more impressive gains in lean muscle. It’s also worth remembering that just because the desired ‘protein’ quota for the day has been achieved does not mean all of this protein will lend itself to repairing damaged muscle.
In fact, besides inferior sources (like soy and low-grade protein powders) adding to one’s protein quota but not providing a sufficient return on investment, protein (whether high quality or low) remains our hardest-working macro and important to a wide range of biological processes and functions.6, 7
This means much of the protein we consume may be used to build enzymes, enhance liver function, transport oxygen to tissues
and assist myriad other functions not directly associated with muscle growth (but nevertheless important for muscle gains). It makes sense, in this regard, to ingest a surplus of compete proteins from a variety of trusted food sources, to ensure muscle tissue is at all times well-nourished and primed for growth.
The fact that quality proteins are as important in the offseason as they are pre-contest means we must be aware of deleterious foods which masquerade as high-protein items. Thus, it is imperative that our 1-1.5g (per pound of bodyweight) is secured from sources that have stood the test of time. These include eggs, various meats (chicken, lean beef, and fish), and high-grade supplemental protein formulations (the popular ISOFLEX is as good as it gets in protein supplementation).
The exact composition of carbohydrates and fats needed to support lean muscle gains fluctuates from day to day/phase to phase and is highly contingent upon multiple individual factors including bodyfat composition, age, activity level, training status, and somatotype. Based on this information, a sound coach can construct the perfect plan of attack, whatever our training goals may be.
In the absence of such information my prescription for carb/fat ratios nevertheless remains a positive one: whether pre-contest or offseason, do not be tempted to severely curtail either of these important macros, but, instead, base their inclusion around daily activity levels and specific training objectives.
For offseason lifters who want muscle without excess adipose
(the subject of this article), the same advice given for protein intake can be given here: strive for quality. Equally important, include carbs and fats strategically, for best results (the plan below gives a good basic idea of how to structure each for optimal body composition and performance gains).
A big mistake many lifters make is to either under or over consume carbs and fats.
Mostly this comes from either eating too many caloric dense foods (pizza, ice cream etc) or fearing such nutrients will promote weight gain and cutting them accordingly. Like most things worth pursuing, the solution lies somewhere in the middle.
Carbs and fats, it could be argued, are as essential to muscle building as protein is. Both macros (particularly carbs) supply A-Grade energy for blisteringly intensive workouts. In addition, both are packed full of essential nutrients of importance to keeping the body healthy and functioning on all cylinders.
For most hard training bodybuilders, a good daily ratio of carbs and fats
respectively, around 50% and 20% of daily macronutrient intake
keeps energy high and the many unique systems of the body functioning correctly. Choose from high quality sources: for carbs, sweet potato, oats, brown rice, green vegetables and smaller amounts of fruit are ideal; for fats, cold water fish, flax seed oil, red meat (for testosterone-boosting saturated fats), nuts, avocados and egg yolks remain superior sources.
Because the name of the game is size-building, the offseason is no time for nutrient restriction to the extent that it may be practiced pre-contest. Rather, the key to gaining size is to ensure that the body remain in an anabolic state via a surplus of quality nutrients.
With conditioning not being the sole focus, the offseason lifter need not be concerned with adding a small amount of bodyfat
the key word being small; for practical purposes, no more than 16% bodyfat so as not to completely obscure muscle definition.
For the majority of lifters, it’s as impossible to stay shredded in the offseason as it is to be on the top of one’s strength game pre-contest. Different rules apply. But, once again, having the green light to consume additional calories is no excuse to gorge to the detriment of performance and physique.
To ensure caloric intake is sufficient, monitor bodyfat levels periodically and, again, do not exceed 16%. An increase in strength and lean body mass is also a sure sign that one’s offseason caloric intake is beneficial.
A big part of keeping calories sufficient in the offseason is to ensure that what pre-contest bodybuilders like to call “off-limits foods” are kept to a bare minimum. These may consist of typical fast-food fare and foods packed with “to be avoided at all costs” nutrients such as high fructose corn syrup and trans fats (donuts, fried foods and sugary fruit juices spring to mind).3, 4, 9, 10
Besides going straight to the midsection, such foods are metabolically damaging to the extent that, when consumed, cellular growth may be adversely affected and a disruption to normal biological processes may also occur.4, 10
Calling such items treats, or even foods, may also be misleading.
A treat implies a reward that is given for a positive behavior. Here it could be said that the compromising of muscle gains and health and wellbeing do not constitute a reward.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. While not directly contributing to muscle gains and increased performance, such calorie-laden fare can provide a welcome break from the “grind” of healthy eating 24/7. Also, such foods may provide a temporary metabolic boost, to kickstart further fat loss. Consume such foods sparingly though, and limit them to 2-3 “cheat” meals (not days) per week.
When wanting to keep Quality Nutrition for Quality Size and muscle gains consistent, a rule many serious bodybuilders rigorously follow is to eat before bed. Rather than consuming foods that would best be incorporated immediately following training (ideally, the biggest meal of the day), it’s best to include those comprised exclusively of sustained, or slow, release proteins.1, 5
Two things happen upon consuming slow-release proteins before bed. First, muscle protein synthesis is triggered during sleep while its corollary, the catabolic consequences of fasting, can be avoided. Second, growth hormone (GH) is simultaneously released when quality proteins are consumed before turning in for the night.1 This, in turn, may help to reduce bodyfat while enhancing muscle gains.
So, which proteins are best before bed? As mentioned, slow-release proteins – so named for their ability to release amino acids into the bloodstream over an extended period of time – are best.
Such sources are primarily limited to dairy products that contain the unique protein, casein.
Here, cottage cheese is best as it is healthier than other dairy sources, congeals for longer in the stomach and takes many hours (typically 6-8) to digest.
Of course, the best slow-release protein of all is pure casein itself.8, 11
Of the different types of casein, micellar is best
as it is less rapidly absorbed than the others. The best form of micellar casein remains ALLMAX Nutrition’s CASEIN-FX. Its enzymatically activated absorption rate over a ten-hour period makes it the best ‘before bed’ protein source and the perfect companion for advanced-level recovery and muscle growth. It’s also much better tasting and easier to consume than the comparatively unpalatable cottage cheese.
While a good off-season nutrition plan may be comprised primarily of wholesome and healthful whole foods, no quality bulking regimen should be without a solid assortment of key supplements.
A beneficial array of quality supplements not only plugs any nutritional gaps but also provides specific advantages that a diet exclusively comprised of whole foods cannot.
For example, to gain the equivalent caloric and nutrient composition of reputable weight gainer shake is likely to take more food than one can tolerably assimilate at any given time. In addition, and as discussed above, sustaining protein synthesis while we sleep is best done with an isolated, high-grade form of casein protein (as well as being an inferior source, the next best choice, cottage cheese, may need to be consumed in such amounts that the extra calories may end up on the hips).
The supplements important to enhancing offseason gains are many and varied. Most have been discussed in many of my other articles on nutrition. Here are three that I consider perfect for helping to build quality offseason muscle.
The offseason is the ideal time to train harder than ever. With extra calories and carbohydrates on board, the lifter is well-equipped to demolish the weights with extreme volume and intensity. But there is always room for improvement and a training session can always be harder. IMPACT Igniter makes such advancement possible by upgrading intensity to ensure that every workout is an opportunity to grow.
As well as providing a full listing of ingredients designed to stimulate mind and body and to enhance muscle pumping to signal greater growth gains, IMPACT Igniter also increases strength while minimizing fat gain via sustained metabolic enhancement.
Long gone are the days where a lifter would need to bulk up whichever way possible to get strong. Now, with IMPACT Igniter, strength gains and fat loss may occur simultaneously. The result: a more muscular physique minus the added bodyfat.
Touted as a rapid mass gain catalyst, QuickMass, with 64g of protein per serving, is the perfect companion for clean bulking. Nutritious and delicious, the 1010 clean calories contained in each serving of this unparalleled weight gainer are designed to promote muscle anabolism over long periods of time. This is achieved via a range of quality protein sources, each designed to encourage steady lean muscle gains.
A reputable multivitamin supplement remains top of the list for many fitness and non-fitness populations, and for good reason. A solid foundation for health and vitality always begins with one’s micronutrient intake.
The micronutrients are uniquely beneficial yet collectively and synergistically important to ensuring all of the other micros properly perform their respective roles.
While most multis provide the usual suspects (key vitamins and minerals essential for general health and tissue repair), VITAFORM (available in male and female versions) goes a step further by also including unique compounds essential to ensuring that functions specific to men and women are addressed along with bone and joint health, immune support, mental focus, and performance via an ideal blend of key electrolytes.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all serving sizes are to be specifically tailored to the individual (i.e., must comprise one’s specific daily caloric intake).
- Three whole eggs/three egg whites
- One serving of oats with added blueberries
- Six Brazil nuts
- One serving of VITAFORM
- One large chicken breast
- One serving of brown rice with green beans and 50g of avocado
- One slice of whole grain bread with all-natural peanut butter
- One large sweet potato
- One serving of freshwater fish
- One serving of brown rice
- One serving of broccoli
- One serving of pumpkin
- Six walnuts
- One serving of beef (any type)
- Butler, N. How Protein Before Bed Can Promote Muscle Growth. [Online] https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/protein-before-bed – retrieved on 15.1.20
- Carbone, J. W. et al. (2019). Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients, 11(5), 1136.
- Dhaka, V. et al. (2011). Trans fats-sources, health risks and alternative approach – A review. Journal of food science and technology, 48(5), 534–541.
- Iqbal M. P. (2014). Trans fatty acids – A risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Pakistan journal of medical sciences, 30(1), 194–197.
- Kinsey, A. W. et al. (2015). The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients, 7(4), 2648–2662.
- Lonnie, M. et al. (2018). Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults. Nutrients, 10(3), 360.
- Marengo, K. How Much Protein Does a Person Need? [Online] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/196279.php#sources – retrieved on 15.1.20
- Madzima, T. A. et al. (2018). Pre-Sleep Consumption of Casein and Whey Protein: Effects on Morning Metabolism and Resistance Exercise Performance in Active Women. Nutrients, 10(9), 1273.
- Meyers, A. M. et al. (2017). High fructose corn syrup induces metabolic dysregulation and altered dopamine signaling in the absence of obesity. PloS one, 12(12), e0190206.
- Rippe, J. M. et al. (2013). Sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and fructose, their metabolism and potential health effects: what do we really know? Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 4(2), 236–245.
- Snijders, T. et al. 2019). The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6
- Wolfe R.R. (2012). The role of dietary protein in optimizing muscle mass, function and health outcomes in older individuals. Br. J. Nutr. 108:S88–S93.