It's time to bulk, and bodybuilder Alex Stewart has 10 tips to help you maximize your off season and pack on new muscle mass.

Now that summer has come to an end and tank tops and shorts are replaced by baggy pants and sweat shirts, it can mean only one thing in the bodybuilding world: it is time to bulk.  Your goal this winter should be to put on some solid beef. The off-season is the time to make the improvements to your physique so that you will improve your placement in your next contest or bring up a lagging body part. Every off-season, many\bodybuilders fall short of their goals. Why? You might ask. Below are some of the most common mistakes bodybuilders make during the off-season that hinder their gains. If you can avoid as many of these mistake as possible, you will be on your way to a productive off-season.

1) Not Eating Enough

First off, I have to say that women tend to fall victim to this mistake a lot more than men. The reason behind this is that women hate putting on weight and after looking so good on stage the last thing that they want to do is put on FAT. So they continue to eat like they are still dieting. The result is they don’t have the energy to make any new gains or improvements to their body and, in many cases, lose muscle mass.  The off season is the time of year a person makes 95% of their improvements to their physique.

Without the energy and the fuel, via a surplus of healthy clean food, you can not make the improvements you need. Make sure that you are eating enough calories to enable you to make those improvements and show up better next time you step on stage. Though you might put on a little (note I said a little) body fat, the body fat will come off once you diet down for your next show.

2) Not Eating Enough Healthy Clean Foods

What is the first thing you do after you step off the stage with all of your trophies (let’s be optimistic)? You go directly to your favorite restaurant, or fast food place, and EAT.  Granted, it is fine to indulge in good food after the show is over. You earned it. However, don’t let a fast food frenzy spill into your off season diet. Now, above I talked about taking in enough calories so you can put on good size in the off season.

You might say ‘fast food and junk food are calorie dense so why not have them once or twice a day so I can bump up my overall calories?”  While you want to have excess calories while bulking, the majority of those calories should be from clean healthy foods: lean cuts of meat, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.  The off season is the time to put on size but the majority of it should be muscle, not fat. A diet riddled with junk food will result in little muscle gain and plenty of fat storage. Clean it up and you beef it up!

Dumbbell curls

3) Staying away from Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a very important part of the off season diet and a great energy source, if used properly throughout the day. Simple carbohydrates (i.e., fast digesting) are great to have post-workout because they spike your insulin level and drive the glycogen into your muscles. They also help to drive the amino acids from your protein shake, that you should have post-workout, with that simple carbohydrate to aid in protein synthesis (i.e., muscle building). Complex carbohydrates provide a more prolonged energy source and are great to have for breakfast or later in the day. Examples of complex carbohydrates are oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes. Examples of simple carbohydrates are sugars, white bread and pasta.

4) No Cardio

This is a huge mistake that I see all the time and 99% of the time men fall victim to the no cardio approach in the off season. They justify it by saying “I don’t want to lose any size”. Well, I am here to tell you that three 30 minute cardio sessions a week will do wonders for your bulking phase. By incorporating a cardio routine into your workout program, your appetite will go through the roof, which will make it a lot easier to eat clean healthy food.

You also will improve your cardiovascular system, which is critical when lifting heavy. I have seen countless guys fail to reach their desired rep range because their cardiovascular system failed on them. They were strong enough to get those extra 2 reps but were too out of breath and had to rack the weight. Sooner or later you will start losing muscle if you don’t reach your desired rep range. If you want to put on that size start, then start doing some cardio.

5) Too Much Cardio

Ladies, this is where many of you slip up. You don’t want to put on those couple of extra pounds so you stick to your contest prep cardio program. Your body cannot make improvements in muscle size and shape if you are expending too much energy with cardio. Most people (guys and gals) should stick to a moderate cardio program like 3-4 low intensity 20-30 minute sessions a week. This will keep both your metabolism humming and your appetite up and, most importantly you will be working the heart, which is the most important muscle of all.

6) Too Much Machine Use

Bulking for womenToo many trainers rely too heavily on machine use in their workout programs. With all the new fancy machines out now, who can blame them? They are comfortable, smooth and easy to use. But I have the motto “nothing in weight lifting is easy”. These machines do have benefits, when used properly and are great to supplement your program (I like to use them at the end of the workout, if I use them at all) but nothing works better than free weight basics.

Free weight basics, with barbells and dumbbells, like squats, deadlifts, rows, bench etc., should be the bread and butter of all of your workouts off season and pre-contest. They recruit the most muscle fiber use which will lead to maximum growth and improvement. Only after you have exhausted maximum energy with the free weight basics, should you think about using machines or cables. Remember, the harder you work, the better the results and nothing is harder than free weights.

7) Not Enough Rest/ Recovery Time

In the off-season, your major goal is to put on lean muscle mass. Many novice trainers don’t realize that you do all your growing outside the gym. Even some experienced lifters find it hard to stay away from the gym in the off season. They do everything right: eat clean, workout out hard, but forget to give their body’s enough rest and recovery time between workouts so gains are negligible. You break down the muscle tissue in the gym, given that you fuel your body with nutritious food.

The final piece of the puzzle is time. You need to give your body time to recover. Without adequate time to recover, you will break down already broken down muscle tissue caused by over training. There is a lot of debate over how long a muscle needs to rest/recover from a workout before you should work it out again. I am a big believer in 72 hours, or 3 days of recovery time. If the muscle still seems to be sore, give it another day of rest. The last thing you want to do is to injure yourself.

8) Scale

Worrying about the scale has caused a lot of men to put on fat in the off season. Men love stating how much they weigh, if the number is above 200 lbs. So in their pursuit to put on as much weight as possible, most of these ego driven males end up putting on a substantial amount of body fat. Your body cannot continue to add pounds of lean muscle mass each week, so if your weight continues to increase every week, you are probably putting on too much body fat. I tell my clients to focus on what they look like, not on what the scale says.

Women are the complete opposite once they see their weight go up; they either stop eating as much or do a lot of cardio. This shift is driven by the pursuit to keep in contest shape. However, this practice will make it extremely difficult to make improvements.

9) Lack of a Goal

This issue is for my competing athletes and starts immediately after your contest is over. You should talk to the judges about your presentation to help you understand where you can improve and what your strong points are.  Then, in the next week or so, sit down with your personal trainer and discuss how you are going to approach the off season and make the improvements to your physique.

I see many competitors, pros and amateurs alike, who show up every year looking the same. These individuals don’t improve and also don’t win. Judges take notice of competitors who improve on weak points and they will reward you with a higher placing. So in the beginning of the off season, make some short and long term goals for yourself; this will help keep you focused on the improvements that you need to make between competitions.

10) Skipping Meals:

This is a common mistake made by the hard gainers. They are not hungry so they either push back the meal by an hour, or worse, just skip it all together.  This is a big mistake.  Your body needs protein every 2.5-3 hours so your muscles can have a steady stream of available amino acids. You need to keep your body in a positive nitrogen balance. When your body doesn’t have enough amino acids, it goes to your muscles to find them.

Your body will begin to eat away at your hard-earned muscle for fuel, a result you must avoid. This is referred to as a catabolic state (i.e., muscle wasting). You want to be in a positive nitrogen balance as much as possible, which is referred to as the anabolic state (i.e.,muscle gaining). If you can’t stomach a full meal, then try to suck down a whey shake. This will give you enough amino acids until you eat your next meal.

The off-season is a time to make improvements to your physique. Use this time as productively as possible by avoiding any of the mistakes discussed above. Wasted time is wasted growth so if you find yourself falling into any of these pitfalls, then make a quick correction in your diet and/or workout programs. If you can do this, you will be well on your way to adding that desired inch to your physique.

Alex Stewart is the Sales Manager for Betancourt Nutrition Supplements. For more information on Betancourt Nutrition supplements, click here.

melissa willems
Posted on: Tue, 03/06/2018 - 22:08

I came off a show prep and my coach put me on a high carb high fat and high protein diet. 138 grams of fat. is this too much?

Saksham Sharma
Posted on: Wed, 12/09/2020 - 10:13

So the thing is he did a little opposite, when you come of a show start from a bit high fat , high protein and low carb then start introducing more carbs every other day , little by little, then when it is upto the range you need keep lowering the fat in a balance to protein and carbs and then carry on , but don't introduce carbs too quick it might lead to fat gain

Posted on: Wed, 03/01/2017 - 08:38

"Your body needs protein every 2.5-3 hours so your muscles can have a steady stream of available amino acids" Nice broscience

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 03/01/2017 - 09:14

Hi Michael,

You're right, research has shown this to be hyperbole. This article is quite old and was published back in 2010.

Still, adequate protein intake is a necessary component to building muscle, and while not necessary to eat every 3 hours, breaking up your daily protein requirements into 5 or 6 daily meals does help people hit those requirements while also keeping them satiated throughout the day.

Posted on: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 13:31

I'm a pretty experienced lifter while at the gym, but a definite an amateur when it comes to the other stuff. I'm bulking very well, but I still have some belly fat. Whats the best way to go about this to keep building muscle but still drop the fat?

Posted on: Tue, 11/04/2014 - 17:44

How am i supposed to consume protein every 2.5 hours? Yeah i have whey but i can't be having a shake every 2.5 hours lol

Posted on: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 11:52


7am - breakfast
10am - snack
12pm - lunch
3pm - snack
6pm - dinner
9pm - snack

Posted on: Wed, 03/12/2014 - 10:42

on days off should i be eating carbs to gain mass?? or just eat veg, fat and protein??

Posted on: Sun, 01/26/2014 - 21:51

I have a suplement whey shake,super amino,and a pre workout supplement how can i manage to use all of these supplements?tnx

Posted on: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 13:40

I am a wrestler what would be the best workouts for me to get to my certification wieght I weigh 140 and I certified 127 and what are the best foods for me to eat

Evan Casey
Posted on: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 11:50

I just started working out about 6 months ago. Trying to lose my stomach fat was my main concern. I'm not fat I just have a bit of fat over my gut that's hiding my lower abs. So I've been cutting my calories substantially and at the same time I've been trying to gain muscle by substituting protein for calories. Can I do this. I'm 19 yrs old. How many calories should I be eating a day. I work out daily unless sore then I skip a day and I do cardio 3 days a week. Right now I'm eating around 600-1000 calories a day. Is this okay if I want to bulk up and lose fat at the same time ?

Saksham Sharma
Posted on: Wed, 12/09/2020 - 10:18

You ar really low on calories and you shouldn't do that first of all find your maintenance calories on any app that guides you for macros and then decrease those maintenance calories by 100-200 calories every week or every third day , depends on how fast or how better do you want the results, don't hurry on anything ,cardio is good but I wouldn't recommend bulking until you lose the gut fat so once you lose fat on certain areas then increase your calories slowly for bulking, like I said don't hurry

Ryan D.
Posted on: Mon, 12/30/2013 - 19:53

More broscience from muscle and strength......your body NEEDS a steady stream of amino acids every 2.5-3 hours? Whole food protein from a decent sized meal digests at a rate of 3-5g per hour on average....maybe try updating your research because last time I checked it was 2013.

May Palmer
Posted on: Mon, 12/30/2013 - 18:14

Great Article, Alex! Yup, for sure....As a woman I can related to gaining muscle/gaining some fat and freaking out!! I'm new to strength training and while I put on some impressive muscle mass, I've gained some fat as well (i.e., abdominal). Thanks so very much for the great advice as presented in your article at M & S. With Ivory Soul & Gratitude, May Palmer, The Queen of Ivory Soul

John Schroeder
Posted on: Mon, 12/30/2013 - 17:06

Hey Alex, I have a few questions. I'm 16 and do sports and in. Season and off season lifting year round in the mornings. I do swim team, track and football. Lu lost about 85 pounds when I was 13, and I'm wondering if teens my age should bulk and cut? I take a mass gainer now post workout and during swim season I eat about 8000 calories. And I've read your squat articles and I have a question. When I squat I can barley reach parallel and is there any stretches I can do to so eventually I can break parallel? I want to be able to touch my butt to my heels. And how much cardio is to much cardio for someone trying to grow? Thanks guys I love all your articles!

Posted on: Sat, 09/21/2013 - 14:27

I am a u.s. marine and we do a lot of cardio. Whats the best way to bulk in this situation?

Saksham Sharma
Posted on: Wed, 12/09/2020 - 10:19

Increase calories more and more until you find the sweet spot

Andre Fournier
Posted on: Fri, 09/13/2013 - 17:36

Oh, I need to add in to my previous comment that I workout 5 days a week, cardio sessions for about 15 minutes 4 days a week, hope it helps :)

Andre Fournier
Posted on: Fri, 09/13/2013 - 17:33

Hello, I'm 18 years old and weighing in about 173-175 (fluxuates hourly). I've been lifting for the better amount of 2 years now and I've gone from 118 back in grade 10 to what I am now, recently graduated. I'm looking at jobs where having bulk and strength is wonderfully appreciated and I was wondering if you could give me a list of little snacks I could munch on at work to add in the extra calories? On average I eat ~2400-2600 food based calories then take a post workout shake with milk and berries to add in an extra 800. I'm looking to hit more or less 4000 calories a day

mukesh shelar
Posted on: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 01:18

i want to bulk up i want a shedulde for bulking up and build muscle

Peter Madrigal
Posted on: Fri, 08/16/2013 - 15:28

If people end up going catabolic, then why do people get great gains while doing interminent fasting and not eating for hours at a time?

Posted on: Mon, 06/03/2013 - 20:19

Hey I'm 16 years old 5ft9 and I'm thinking about bulking. I'm around 120-130lbs and I want to know what happens when you bulk, gain the muscle, and stop going to the gym for a while. Do your muscles deteriorate and turn into fat? Also, do you have any advice on what workouts I should incorporate for my calves and legs. My goal is to be able to dunk by the end of the summer and I can touch the rim right now. It seems improbable but I am determined and dedicated. Much help is appreciated and thank you for wasting your time in reading this :p

Posted on: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 23:32

Bro-science certified.
Protein every 3 hours? Haha! Good one.

Posted on: Fri, 02/01/2013 - 20:40

Great article and it definately helped clear up some things:) I now know I am on the right path for sure with regards to increasing calories in order to increase muscle mass.

Nawab Maidul
Posted on: Wed, 12/19/2012 - 23:40

Sir, I am very much satisfied with your tips, but i would like to know how should i make my exercise routine. should i put on some weight and go heavy. as it is said dat heavy weight light repetetion for bulk...i am a amateur bodybuilder. i work out 5 days a week. plz reply coz ur advice will be of great help to me.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 12/21/2012 - 17:17

If your goal is to put on some mass, then yes, go heavy with fewer reps.

Posted on: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 20:11

I would say the top 4 pitfalls of bulking are:

1. Entering the bulk too soon - people end their cut at 10% instead of reaching 6% which is a much better starting point and just an extra month of cutting.

2. Consuming too much fat - go through bulking logs of people on forums and half of them are chugging peanut butter and ice-cream like crazy, only to end up with 50% of their bulk as pure extra fat. For lean gaining it's all about high glucose and low fat consumption. All fat you eat on surplus day, is stored as fat.

3. Too big calorie surplus - for really safe clean bulk, I would aim for 300 calorie surplus max. I've tried 400+ and ended up with 20% of my bulk as fat gains. while on 300 surplus its less than 10% !!!

4. Never setting a limit on self allowed fat gain.
When I bulk, I always start from 6% body fat, and always stop at 7%.
whenever I reach this point, I do a quick one week cut back to 6%, and resume my nice, ultra-clean bulk.

Posted on: Sat, 09/24/2011 - 17:08

Hey Alex,
My name is Aby and i need to bulk up my body and muscles. kindly suggest me what type of workout and diet should i take in order to have an attractive body and muscles....

RJ Perkins
Posted on: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 17:26

Alex i want to be just like you how can I do that?


Alex Stewart
Posted on: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 23:11

Thanks RJ

Posted on: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 11:52

will doing strength training and bulking leave me fat and undefined?..or do i do bulking for a while then cutting to take the fat off?i want to be bigger stronger more defined.any advice.thanx

Alex Stewart
Posted on: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 12:08

Strength training will never leave you fat the only thing that can get you fat is eating too many calories

You need to combine a clean healthy diet 5-6 small meals with protein in each and a smaller amount of complex carbs and or healthy fats

Posted on: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:34

Hello Alex and congratulations for your article. I see that you give emphasis on "food factor" so i would like to ask something that i read in a very known magazine. Is it true that in order to weight for example 80 kg you must eat 2,25gr of proteins multiplied by 80? Of course similar calculations are done for carbs and fat.

Alex Stewart
Posted on: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 16:46

Yes you are using the Metric System in most of the mag they say 1 gram per pound of body weight and that is a good number to start with the rest of your calories should come from Complex Carbs and Health Fats

Good Luck

Posted on: Sun, 08/22/2010 - 08:50

And what's the way of calculating the carbs and fat amount?

Posted on: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 22:18

hey alex,

ive been going to the gym for about four months now, and ive gained about 10 lbs, i go 5 days a week, is that good? or should i be going less days? my biggest problem is keep my weight because im a hard gainer and i never seem to be hungry when i follow my meals correctly, its like i force myself to eat, idk what to do or how to get more of an appetite. any advice?

Alex Stewart
Posted on: Thu, 08/19/2010 - 16:44

Appetite has never been an issue for me lol (makes it tough to diet) But I have help countless clients put on the size them need with some helpful tips
Your issue is getting in enough calories to induce muscle gain here are 3 easy ways to increase your overall calories

Snack on Almonds or Pecans couple extra handfuls a day equals 500 calories (I keep a tub of Planters Deluxe Nuts at my Desk when I am bulking)

Have a spoon full of natural Peanut Butter with each meal

Add Dextrose or Sugar to your Postworkout Shake, this is amazing for an insulin spike postworkout but it is very easy to get down extra calories in liquid form

Posted on: Mon, 08/16/2010 - 15:30

Hey Steve,

I do about an hour a day of boxing. Would this be detrimental to gaining some mass? It used to be longer but I was told it would hinder progress on gains.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 10:51

Hi EJ,

I use to play basketball after lifting, and was able to make great gains. Just eat big, rest plenty on off days and you will be fine.

Posted on: Sat, 08/14/2010 - 18:30

Hey Alex,

I want to start a bulk up routine but my sport is year around. I train an hour or more a day in boxing but I would like to add some size to move up in weight classes. Some people say that boxers shouldnt go up in weight because it slows them down but then I see so many boxers who move up in weight to challenge themselves and earn a ranking in the pound for pound world. Would doing boxing hinder me from gaining some mass? Would that be too much cardio regardless of an additional weight session? Will I need to just eat more? Thanks!!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 08/16/2010 - 11:57

Hi EJ,

You can still gain mass as long as you are resting when you can, eating enough, and not doing excessive amounts of cardio. Diet and rest are the real keys. How much cardio work do you perform each day?

Alex Stewart
Posted on: Wed, 08/18/2010 - 12:22

Hello EJ,

The Main way to gain size is to increase your overall calories to do it effectively and to make sure you are not adding unneccessary body-fat, the extra calories should be in the form of complex carbs and healthy fats...The amount of cardio that you do in boxes is neccessary to keep in top shape and keep your speed up continue training hard and increase your calories about 250-500 a day in the first 2 weeks then stick with 500 above what you doing now for another 4 weeks and you should be well on your way to increaseing your overall weight and mass

Good Luck