Note: Always consult your physician before starting any diet or exercise program, nothing in this article should be interpreted as dietary prescription or medical advice. I am a fitness enthusiast and am simply sharing what has worked for me.
For most competitive bodybuilders, the “off-season” is the time between shows. They use this time to try to gain lean muscle and improve on weaknesses. Most of us are not competitive bodybuilders, however, so the “off-season” ends up falling in the colder months for many people, including us here in Wisconsin. Either way, if you are trying to pack on some solid muscle mass over the next 3-6 months, read on.
First Things First - Diet
YES, lifting weights is an effective stimulus to trigger muscle growth. However, like a crew trying to build a house with no bricks, you have to supply the right building blocks to your body - then your training will dictate where those building blocks are “sent” to repair muscle damaged during weight lifting.
So, the single most important factor to your success in packing on the mass is your diet. Simply put, you need to eat more calories than your body burns. Furthermore, the quality, timing, and nutrient density of those calories will determine the quality of the progress you can make, as well as how fast you can make it.
Basal Metabolic Rate
This is a common question. A good way to start is to determine someone’s BMR or basal metabolic rate. This is the amount of calories this body burns in a sedentary state. Basically, how many calories would they burn sitting on their ass all day?
To find out, go here:
On the right, there is a chart corresponding to different activity levels. Depending on a person’s daily activity level, the basal metabolic rate will be higher or lower.
Now, this number is a “break even point”. If a person eats less calories than this, they will lose weight (assuming the quality of the calories being consumed is not complete trash). If they eat more calories than this, they will gain weight (again there are other factors, but the point is that there needs to be a caloric surplus for the body to have the energy and resources to build new muscle tissue).
A common strategy is to simply add 500 calories to this number. Lets say the BMR of a person was 3000 calories. They would simply add 500, to 3500, and start her for their daily caloric intake.
If It Fits Your What?
Bare with me here, we’re going to do some math.
For bodybuilders, there are many opinions on what the most “optimal” blend of macronutrients or “macros” is. For building muscle, a common breakdown is called “40/40/20”
This means that 40% of calories come from protein, 40% from carbohydrates, and 20% from fat.
So, for our 3500 calories per day it would look like:
3500 * .40 = 1400 calories from Protein
3500 * .40 = 1400 calories from Carbohydrates
3500 * .20 = 700 calories from Fat
Remember, a calorie is simply the unit of measurement of the heat energy produced by the body in breaking down food.
1g of Protein = 4 Calories
1g of Carbohydrates = 4 Calories
1g of Fat = 9 Calories
So, that brings us to:
1400 calories / 4 = 350g Protein
1400 calories / 4 = 350g Carbs
700 calories / 9 = 78g Fat
Divide these numbers by the number of meals you eat each day, and you have the target goal for each meal.
What are the best foods for gaining muscle?
The less processed, the better.
Here are some of the best muscle gaining foods:
Hormone Free Chicken
Cage Free Eggs
Wild Caught Salmon
Whole Milk or Greek Yogurt
White Jasmine Rice
Grass Fed Butter
I enjoy finding meals that I can cook easily and enjoy eating, and eat them consistently. Experiment with what works for you and get into a groove.
Training for Mass
As said before, the primary factor influencing the gains you make will be your nutrition. However, to get the most out of your off-season, you have to stimulate the body to grow.
For gaining mass quickly, a full body split can’t be beat, however many people will prefer and stick with a traditional “bro split”. Especially if you’re busy, 3x a week full body training is all that you need to stimulate muscle growth.
Stick with the big, multi-joint compound movements that induce the maximum possible hormonal and growth response from your body.
Best Exercises for Mass:
The most important part of whatever training program you use, is simply that every day that you train, that you push yourself harder than you did yesterday. Add weight, rest less, do it blindfolded - the key to progress is to consistently challenge yourself.
Another very important factor in muscle growth is the “negative” or eccentric portion of the lift. It is a proven fact that you will build a significant amount more muscle by focusing on the “stretch” portion of the lift rather than the lift itself. What I do is go explosive on the way up, and stretch on the way down. Check the ego at the door and focus on time under tension, a hard contraction at the top, and a long steady stretch on the way down.
Supplements for Mass Gain
There are a few supplements you can take that will give you an advantage in gaining muscle.
The first and most obvious are “mass gainers”.
Mass gainers are food supplements that provide extra nutrients to help you reach your daily calorie and macronutritional goals.
They are great for ectomorphic body types, or those who have a hard time gaining. For those who easily put on fat, powdered mass gainers are not recommended.
With mass gainers, nutrient timing is of utmost importance. The two best times to take mass gainer are when your body is most insulin sensitive and ready to SLAM nutrients into the muscle cell. These two times are first thing in the morning after you wake up, and directly after intense training.
For those looking for leaner mass gains, check out ourprotein powder supplements.
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As always, feel free to reach out firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this article, diet, training, or supplements in general and we will answer you as soon as we can.