Now that my leaning out phase is over, it’s time to do what I do best and that’s eat! I took two days off completely and didn’t count a single macro, and to be quite honest, I don’t know how people do that. Maybe you get used to it but I literally felt like death and I have concluded that as a younger man, I could get away with murder and my body would bounce back. Now a stack of pancakes will give me IBS and fits with my GI for two days. Which is why I decided to do this article going over the top five things I do to maximize my time to grow. So, without further ado here are my tips to help you grow this off-season:
1. Having a plan that builds progressively over time
This concept sounds like a no-brainer, but what I have noticed is that people either don’t eat enough to maintain a lean look or jump straight to 5,000 calories and just stay there. Just because you’re gaining weight doesn’t mean it is quality weight. What happens when you plateau? Trust me, you will because as we all know weight gain is not a linear progression. Setting up a plan to follow will allow you to stay on course and to make smart adjustments when needed.
The key concept here is you have to gain weight; you have to get a little fat but you don’t have to be gross. A small surplus of 200-300 calories over maintenance has been shown through the literature to be the proper number of calories to give you the proper rate of weight gain of one to two percent per month.
2. Nutrient timing
The magical words “nutrient timing”, specifically around workouts, plays a huge role in dieting in order to keep energy levels high for training and to help preserve muscle mass while cutting. It’s also a great way to add calories to a bulk that will help aid in muscle protein synthesis and more importantly prevent muscle breakdown. If you time the bulk of your carbs 60 to 70 percent prior to, during, and after training, not only will it help build muscle, but you’ll recover faster so you can train more often. High-volume training and high-volume calories will only lead to big time gains.
Nutrient timing of carbs is also great in context of daily manipulation as well. One of the biggest deterrents of progress in the offseason is becoming insulin resistant. If we can delay this by keeping carbs minimal on rest days and timed around training on workout days, you will be able to extend your gain phase even longer. Now if you are very active, lower carbs on rest days can really affect your recovery, so I would suggest keeping carbs higher if you have an active job, but still lower than your training days. The real thing we want here is a higher calorie day and lower calorie day to keep your body sensitive.
3. Train in a progressive overload manner in the 6 to 12 rep range
The goal is to add size here so we must train in a hypertrophic rep range, but keeping in mind that if we drift way too far in the rep range and shoot for 12 to 20 reps, the carryover to our powerlifting strength won’t be there.
If we can focus on getting really strong week to week in that lower hypertrophy rep range, the carryover to our one rep max will be higher. Progressive overload can be tracked in a lot of ways, but I think for the strength athlete focusing on increasing load and reps and not sets will be much more advantageous. The more sets, from what I have seen, tear up the body more and will have you with more aches and pains going into a meet prep than when you left. Without adding sets, that means you have to get the absolutely most out of every set because you don’t have a lot so the training intensity, which in this case means pushing closer to failure so needs to be cranked up.
4. Eat foods that you enjoy and that sit well with your stomach
You’ll be eating a lot of food to grow so making sure you are able to digest the food and not have issues that can really derail your progress. If you can’t digest and process what you're eating, your appetite will fade really fast. This means finding foods that don’t have as much volume to them and have more density, meaning more calories per bite.
Foods that are more processed can be of great help here, things like bagels, cereals, pop tarts, and muffins can play a pivotal role in helping get those calories down. This is also a time to be more relaxed and sociable. So dinner dates, movie dates with snacks, etc. are all great ways to get more palatable food down as long as they sit well with you. On top of that, just being able to relax and not stress can help you stay in a parasympathetic state which is the rest and digest state. This will not only help you eat more food, but can play a huge role in recovery.
5. Rest and more rest
This can’t be emphasized enough! This means you need to prioritize sleep and be shooting for 8 to10 hours in bed every night and most importantly, get into a consistent sleep schedule. Studies show going to bed and waking up at the same time day will make you fall asleep faster and have deeper sleep than if it was inconsistent. Plus, it gets your body on a proper circadian rhythm which has a ton of benefits, but the major one is your body's systems just function better.
More rest also means training with less volume and less frequency. I know this may seem counterintuitive, but we grow outside of the gym and we tear down muscles in the gym, so getting the most out of every workout is paramount. Equally, so is being able to relax and rest when you are not in the gym. If you train chest three times a week for 22 sets, try reducing it to twice a week at 15 working sets and I promise you will grow and get a lot stronger. Don’t be afraid to rest and relax.
This list is not to be the end all be all of muscle gains, but these are going to be the most vital and give you the most bang for your buck. If you are really looking to add size or go up a weight class, you have to be on point and follow these five steps. It is not the time to coast; it is a time to make some huge improvements and is the most important part of your training cycle.