While most refer to wintertime as the “offseason,” I like to refer to it as “progress season!”
The word “off” makes it sound as if it is the time of year to relax your training and eating habits since no competitions are anywhere in sight.
However, when the temperatures begin to drop, this is precisely the time when you need to turn up the heat - both in the gym and in the kitchen!
It is only during progress season that you will have the opportunity to build significant amounts of new lean tissue, gain extra strength/power, and bring up weak/lagging muscle groups so that you can display a new and improved version of yourself (onstage or at the beach) the following year.
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With that in mind, let’s take a look at some nutritional, training and supplementation strategies that will help you pack on muscle faster than snow packs on the ground during a winter storm!
Mass Building Nutrition for the Off-Season
While some lifters use the off (progress) season as an excuse to eat everything that is not tied down, the truth is that this will do nothing more than add useless bulk (aka, FAT) that will later need to be dieted off.
In fact, adding too much body fat will actually have a negative impact on your ability to add true muscle tissue (due to the effect that too much body fat can have on one’s hormonal cascade).
The best strategy for approaching nutrition during this phase is to gradually add quality calories to your diet – week by week – so that your body can be eased in to effectively absorbing and assimilating all of the extra food.
A reasonable goal would be to consume an additional 500 calories per day over maintenance the first week, and then to add 200-300 extra calories (per day) every week thereafter. So, for example, if maintenance calories for you are approximately 2500 per day:
- Week 1 = 3000 cal/day
- Week 2 = 3250 cal/day
- Week 3 = 3500 cal/day
*Continue to add 200-300 calories each week as long as you do not see any significant increases in body fat.
As far as what types of calories (in terms of percentage of macronutrients) one should ingest, this can be somewhat different for each person. Some people thrive on high carbs, while others do better with healthy fats. Some grow like a weed when protein is as high as 2 grams per lb. of bodyweight, while others need no more than 1 gram per lb.
This is something you may need to experiment with, trying to find the right combination of macronutrients that help you consistently accrue muscle while limiting the amount of body fat that accumulates.
When it comes to food, you will gain optimally from eating the same clean foods you use when cutting, but just in larger quantities. However, during progress season I feel it is reasonable to have at least one cheat meal per week, where you allow yourself any foods you may be craving.
Whenever possible, I suggest you try and schedule your cheat meals as post workout feedings, so that more of the extra calories will be shuttled towards muscle and not as much toward adipose tissue.
To best illustrate what a solid and effective progress season eating plan may look like, below is an example for someone with a maintenance calorie level of around 2000, and looking to add muscle mass at a rapid rate, but without significantly effecting body fat.
- P: egg whites + two whole eggs scrambled (12 oz. uncooked measure whites + 2 whole)
- C: oatmeal (3 oz. uncooked measure) + blueberries (10 oz.)
- F: no added fats
- P: chicken breast (7.1 oz. cooked measure)
- C: large mixed green salad and brown rice (7.5 oz cooked measure)
- F: olive oil (1/2 tablespoon)
Meal 3 (Pre-Workout)
- P: tilapia (8.3 oz. cooked measure)
- C: none
- F: natural peanut butter (3 tbsp.)
Meal 4 (Post-Workout)
- P: whey isolate protein powder (2 scoops)
- C: engineered carb powder (measure for 50 grams carbs) + white potato (8.3 oz. cooked measure)
- F: no added fats
- P: sirloin steak (7.1 oz. cooked measure)
- C: sweet potato (6.2 oz cooked measure)
- F: no added fats
- P: casein protein powder (2 scoops)
- C: none
- F: walnuts (20 grams weight)
Mass Building Workouts in the Off-Season
As a coach to high level bodybuilders and athletes one of my main responsibilities is to provide workouts that will help each individual get as close to their genetic potential – in terms of muscle size and development – as I possibly can.
And while beginners, and even intermediates, can continue to grow on a basic program of progressive overload, coupled with proper technique and use of mostly compound movements, after some time, progress will slow significantly – and may even come to a complete halt.
That is precisely why I developed several advanced training methods, which address all of our physiological pathways (muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress) for hypertrophy, so that all of my clients – and now Muscle & Strength readers – can maximize their gains during the all-important progress season.
The following workouts, from a program I call ESPX2™, is a highly intense workout protocol that will have you utilizing extended TUT’s (time under tension) by focusing on various portions of a rep to create tremendous amounts of tension and induce muscle fiber damage.
You will then finish with a few high rep sets to bring about metabolic stress and flush the traumatized muscle with blood, nutrients, oxygen and hormones. Together, this will provide the kind of anabolic punch that will add slabs of new muscle onto your frame!
Day 1: Chest
|Incline Dumbbell Press||2/4/1||3||6-8|
Day 2: Back
|Close Grip Pull Up||4/0/1||3||MAX|
|Close Grip Cable Row||2/4/1||3||6-8|
|Wide Grip Pull Down||2/0/1/4||3||10-12|
|Underhand Bent Over Row||2/0/1||2||21+|
Day 3: Delts/Traps
|Seated Dumbbell Press||5/1/X||3||6-8|
|Standing High Cable Face Pull||2/0/1/4||3||6-8|
|Standing Side Lateral Raise||2/0/1||2||21+|
Day 4: Legs
|Lying Leg Curl||5/1/X||3||6-8|
|Single Leg Seated Leg Curl||2/0/1/4||3||6-8 Each|
|Standing Calf Raise||2/3/1||2||10-12|
|Seated Calf Raise||2/0/1/3||2||10-12|
Day 5: Arms
|Incline Dumbbell Curl||2/4/1||2||6-8|
|Lying Cable Curl||2/0/1/4||2||6-8|
|Reverse Cable Curl||2/0/1||2||21+|
|Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extension||4/0/1||2||6-8|
|Overhead Cable Rope Extension||2/4/1||2||6-8|
|Straight Bar Tricep Extension||2/0/1/4||2||10-12|
|Close Grip Bench Press||2/0/1||2||21+|
Mass Building Supplementation in the Off-Season
I would like to finish off my discussion of how to maximize your progress season with a quick word about supplementation. Once you have a solid diet and training regimen in place, the use of certain supplements can tie everything together and add an extra “turbocharger” onto your muscle-building engine.
- Creatine: Take 5 grams along with your post workout meal. Take 5 grams with first meal of the day on off days.
- Leucine: Take 5 grams immediately after workouts.
- BCAAs: Take 5-10 grams upon rising and sip on 5-10 grams while working out.
- Pre-Workout: Take a serving approximately 30-45 minutes before training.
- Digestive Enzymes: Take as directed with meals.
- Whey Isolate: Take after workouts as your protein source.
- Casein Protein: Take as your protein source at final meal of the day.