Gain Weight in Your Off-Season with This Meal Plan

TAGS: off-season diet, matt mills, gaining weight, meal plan, Mark Dugdale, strongman, bodybuilding, diet, muscle, powerlifting, Nutrition

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I’ve said this many times before: if you want to know how to lose weight rapidly or gain weight, talk to an experienced strength athlete or bodybuilder. I get a lot of questions about my diet since over the years of competing as my weight has fluctuated quite a bit. I have always done my best to stay as lean as possible while gaining weight.

If you are having trouble gaining weight — and by weight, I mean pure muscle — then you have to increase your calories, number one. I get a lot of people who tell me that no matter what they do, they can’t gain weight. It’s very simple on paper, at least. If you want to lose weight, you have to take in fewer calories than you burn in a day; if you want to gain you have to take in more calories than you burn in a day.


RECENT: Matt Mills Finishes in 18th Place at the 2019 Arnold Amateur Strongman World Championships


Something that many of you may disagree with me on is that it’s much easier to drop body fat than it is to put solid muscle on. I have gone through this process many times, and when done the right way, I can get very lean very fast. However, when I wanted to get bigger, I ate everything in sight, and my body fat crept up along with the new muscle mass I added.

So please keep in mind, putting on solid muscle is a difficult and slow process. If the scale goes up 0.5 to 1 pound a week, that’s a good thing. However, if you gain any more weight than that, you are most likely adding body fat as well.

Most people can put down a lot of food in one sitting, but if you want to gain some serious weight then you have to eat a lot, a lot of times per day. You may think gaining weight will be fun (it’s a lot better than dropping weight), but when you’re eating at least five huge meals per day, you will have to start force-feeding yourself.

I look at it the same as training: We push ourselves past the pain threshold to move more weight, to get bigger and stronger; we have to do the same thing with our nutrition. Whatever your portion size is for that meal, you have to sit there until you finish everything. There have been countless times I have stared at a bowl of ground bison and jasmine rice, almost puking trying to get it all down. If you haven’t experienced this at some point in attempting to put on weight, I can tell you that you have never really tried to get big.

After I cut for a competition, I slowly increase my calories. Too many competitors gorge themselves after cutting and rapidly put on body fat as a result. Again adding muscle is a slow process, and getting fat is easy.

Increase your portion size slowly over the weeks to come. Then the next step I take is increasing the number of meals per day. If you are on target to gain weight slowly, as I discussed above, then you are on the right track. When weight gain slows down, it’s time to add in an additional meal. The easiest way to do this is to have your meals already prepared. For those of you finding it difficult to food prep, there are a number of good websites you can buy your meals from — so there’s no excuse!

When losing weight, it is common knowledge that you should avoid drinking your calories. So, when trying to gain weight, you DO want to drink your calories. It is much easier to put down more calories through liquid than solids. If any of you are familiar with Derek Poundstone, he was well-known for liquefying chicken breasts (yes, you read that right) because it was easier for him to chug them down than it was to chew them.

I’m not saying to start making delicious chicken breast shakes, and to be clear, I have never done that, but it is an option to get creative with your calorie consumption. Another easy way to add calories to your diet is to have a shake with every meal or a shake in-between each meal. A favorite of mine, as you will see later, is:

  • 2 scoops of protein powder
  • 1 cup of oatmeal
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1 banana
  • Mixed with 16 ounces of whole milk

You need to be consistent while gaining muscle or losing fat. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see when working with new clients. Sticking to the plan for three days may pack on another pound, but under-eating for the next three days will just put you back right where you were. Whatever your goal, consistency is essential in attaining it.

oat flakes with milk

 Thanthima Limsakul © 123rf.com

It’s OK to have a bad day here and there because that’s bound to happen. Two steps forward and one step back is still progress in the long run. However, if you end up having just as many bad days as good days, you will just be spinning your wheels. You have to eat when you’re not hungry, so you have to get in a schedule. Certain times of the day, you absolutely have to eat. A good way of reminding yourself is downloading an app that will go off to remind you.


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Furthermore, when it comes to gaining or losing weight, the number of calories you take in a day is the most important, followed by macros. With that being said, you will reach a point in your muscle-building journey that you will not be able to continue just eating “clean” foods. I know that sounds like a contradiction to some things I’ve written previously, but this step comes only after you’ve hit that weight-gaining plateau and cannot force any more clean food down.

To be clear, I’m not saying to eat fast food every day, but feel free to put down a double bacon cheeseburger and a large pizza all by yourself once or twice a week. That being said, I don’t agree with the “dirty bulk” strategy of eating — unless you are OK putting on half of your weight as body fat. If you are, that’s totally fine. “Weight moves weight” is the old saying in powerlifting.

My last tip isn’t nutrition-related but it’s one of the most important in regards to gaining weight. If you aren’t increasing your intensity each week, then don’t expect to get any bigger. By intensity, I mean weight added to the bar or doing more reps with the same weight.

You have to give your body a reason to grow, so your priority in training should be to get stronger at all times. I have seen people gain over 20 pounds without even focusing on their diet because they have packed on muscle just by adding weight to the bar each week. Of course, the added effect of more muscle will stimulate your metabolism to increase hunger, but that’s what we’re going for, after all.

After reading Mark Dugdale’s off-season diet, I thought I would write about what my current diet in the off-season is like as well. I’m currently 275 pounds and would like to get up to 285 pounds. It’s been over two years since the last time I made the cut down to 231, and I have to say I don’t miss it at all. The competition is much tougher as a heavyweight, but I got into this sport to be as big and as strong as possible.

Food high in protein isolated on white

belchonock © 123rf.com

I would like to think I eat fairly close to a bodybuilder with mostly “clean” foods, so here is what a typical training day meal looks like:

Meal 1

  • 3 extra large cage-free eggs
  • 1 handful of spinach
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • ¼ cup cheddar cheese
  • 2 packets of cream of wheat (I prefer cream of wheat in the morning as it’s easier for me to eat instead of oatmeal.)
  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 2 slices of Ezekiel bread with butter

Meal 2

Shake, 1.5 hours before training:

  • 2 scoops protein powder
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 banana
  • 16 oz whole milk

Meal 3

Intra-workout drink using:

  • 2 scoops Biotest’s Plasma
  • 10 grams of creatine monohydrate

I plan on adding an additional 50 grams of carbs from cyclic dextrin starting this week to get in more calories.

Over the years, I’ve developed a very sensitive stomach. I know many people like to use Gatorade mixed with whey protein. I have to add orange Gatorade mixed with vanilla whey, which does taste great. However, for me, I feel like it doesn’t digest well, which makes it very uncomfortable to train.


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Plasma is very easy on my stomach. I can drink the whole half-gallon over the course of my training and be hungry right after I’m finished. If you are trying to pack on the pounds, then you want to be hungry as much as possible.

Meal 4

  • 10 oz lean ground beef 90/10 (usually bison)
  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 1 cup green veggies (broccoli, asparagus, etc)

Meal 5

Shake:

  • 2 scoops protein powder
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 banana
  • 16 oz whole milk

Meal 6

  • 10 oz lean ground beef or salmon, once or twice a week
  • 1.5 cups jasmine rice
  • 1 cup green veggies

Meal 7

  • ¾ cup cottage cheese
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 2 slices Ezekiel bread

As you can see, this is a good amount of food. Seven meals a day is tough to add to, so I’m first going to add more carbs to my intra-workout drink as I stated. The change to whole milk in my shakes was also recent, so hoping to add a few more pounds slowly. Once I stop gaining weight from there, the next step will be to increase portion size.

Over the years as I have gained weight, I’ve found it easier and easier to maintain my new bigger size. For example, the first time I broke 250, I thought I couldn’t eat any more than I already do. After taking some time maintaining where I was, it was easier to increase my calories once my body adjusted to it. Pushing to get to 260 was the same with so much food I had to force down every day, but it got easier.

Now that I’m in the 270s, I feel it’s fairly easy to maintain but difficult to add calories in. I’m sure once my body adjusts to the weight gain, it will become easier adding food.

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