In my last post I proposed a theory that all the recent hype about “metabolic capacity” is really just a bunch of bodybuilders mislabeling work capacity. Reverse dieting –gradually increasing your caloric intake over time — is effective because as your intake goes up, so does your output. When you have a bit more fuel to work with, you can train harder and thus burn more calories. Pretty simple, right?
Yeah, it’s a nice theory, but theories are pretty pointless unless they can be applied to the real world. Lucky for you, I have been testing this theory out on myself for the past few months. If you were wondering how to plan an offseason that will transform your body from a cute little 1.4L Toyota with penny-saving MPGs into a powerful V8 Vette with a thirst for premium fuel, I have some tips for you.
There are 3 basic rules to follow in the offseason if you want to develop some gangster work capacity. None of them are quick or easy, but all of them are possible.
1. Get uncomfortable.
Improving requires challenging yourself, pushing past your comfort zone, and doing shit you’d really rather not do. This means forcing yourself to exit your comfort zone, not just in terms of “the burn”, which as a bodybuilder you should be used to by now, but also in terms of what you consider “training”. For example, as a powerlifter I was fairly notorious for avoiding cardio. If you told me 6 months ago that I would be waking up at 5am to go running, I’d ask you what you’ve been smoking. But here I am today, running at least 2 miles every day in order to build greater endurance and bigger calves. It sucked at first, but now I actually enjoy it and look forward to doing it.
2x Figure Olympia winner Erin Stern incorporates a lot of speed & agiity training into her workouts:
If your training protocol has been strictly limited to a few machines in the gym, this is the time to expand your horizons. Try new training methods. If you are used to doing steady state cardio, do sprints and interval training. If you usually stick to the 10-20 rep range, do a linear program that forces you to go heavier. Get out of the gym and do things like flip tires, drag a sled, or play soccer. Challenge aspects of your athleticism that you haven’t used in a long time. Learn from the example of Pro figure competitor Hyla Conrad, who has taken up ballet in her offseason. Choosing something new and challenging to focus on will not only challenge your body in new ways and recruit muscles you forgot you had, but will also fight the post-competition depression that everyone inevitably experiences.
Life just isn’t quite the same after the results are announced and the euphoria of placing and looking shredded doesn’t last forever. Give yourself something to look forward to — success in an athletic arena that isn’t bodyfat percentage and bicep peaks. Your metabolism will thank you.
2. Write shit down.
The only really awesome part about cutting for a show is watching your body change week to week (and trust me, it is AWESOME). Unfortunately, you aren’t going to stay shredded in the offseason. After being super focused on daily improvements in your physique, it is going to be a huge mindf*ck to see that physique regress into a fit, but not quite stage lean body. The best way to combat this is to track your progress in other ways. This requires keeping a log or journal of your accomplishments in the gym, and far too few bodybuilders write shit down. Go for some rep maxes, build some strength in the offseason, and try to run faster, longer, and harder.
Focusing on the progress you are making in terms of your athleticism is not only a great distraction from the sad but inevitable departure of your lovely sick pack abs, but it also forces you to perpetually increase your training intensity. Squatting 5 reps at 185lbs one week and 200lbs the next is a quantifiable improvement in work capacity. It requires more calories to do more work. Ergo, tracking your workouts means watching your capacity and metabolic output grow before your very eyes.
3. Stick to your nutrition plan
This is not the time to try the keto diet (assuming there is ever a time to try the keto diet). This is also not the time to eat anything and everything you’ve been craving during prep just because you’re “offseason” or “fueling your growth”. Suddenly adding a ton of calories to your diet is a great way to grow, but not in the direction you intended. You will put on fat mass very quickly right after a show because your body is in a depleted state. Enjoy your post-competition celebration meal (as long as it is not really 3 meals rolled into one), but avoid 3 weeks of celebrating with cake and cheez-its. If you don’t have a nutrition plan for post-competition, it’s really difficult to continue being disciplined with your diet without the pressure of the stage. So HAVE A PLAN and STICK TO IT.
Of course, every body is different, but a good place to start is by adjusting your carbohydrate intake. Typically carbs will be depleted leading up to a show, so adjusting the proportion of your calories that come from carbohydrates, while eating roughly the same number of calories you were eating pre-show , can allow your body to return to a more stable hormonal state without gaining much weight, since carbohydrates are responsible for a lot of hormonal regulation. My personal experience is that working up to eating 50% of my calories in carbohydrates is effective (when I added more I gained weight), but you might be comfortable with more depending on your training regimen.
If you are adequately challenging yourself in training, you can also start adding calories to your diet without adding too much bodyfat. Most of this is trial and error — every time you adjust your nutrition, you need to make note of how your body responds (See Rule #2) and whether you are comfortable with that response. What I suggest (since it’s worked fairly well for me) is adding calories during the pre workout window (1-2 hrs before training) for a few weeks, observing how it impacts your training, then continue by increasing your portion sizes at other mealtimes until you have reached a weight and bodyfat percentage that allows you to feel comfortable in your own skin, but also lets you eat enough and have plenty of energy.
That’s about it, folks. I want to emphasize that this approach is really just based on my experience. I’m not saying this is THE ONLY WAY to approach the offseason, but as far as I can tell, it’s pretty much in line with what a lot of other coaches are recommending. Good luck!