The goal of any bodybuilding is to quite literally build their body by building as much lean muscle mass as possible. Bodybuilding, strength training, and resistance training have all been popular for many decades now yet the art of building lean muscle mass is far from simple to understand and in reality it is incredibly complex, yet thoroughly interesting at the same time. Typically, most bodybuilders will go through two stages: Bulking, and Cutting. When cutting down, bodybuilders basically diet down, step up their cardio, and attempt to lose as much body fat as possible, whilst still maintaining as much lean muscle mass as they can. Some bodybuilders will diet down and cut for a competition, others will diet for photo shoots or public appearances, some will simply cut to get in shape for a summer holiday so they can look great on the beach, whilst others will simply do it to get ready for the summer at home perhaps. If you compare a pro bodybuilder that in “on season” and dieting down for a contest, they will be lean, they’ll have a six pack, their body fat percentages will be in single digits, and they’ll have veins bulging out of their skin with every muscle on their body clearly visible. Now, in order for them to build these muscles that they’re now able to display, they need to have “bulked” during the off-season, which is what we’ll be looking at here. When bulking, the idea is to build as much muscle mass and size as possible, and although a crucial process of any bodybuilding regime, many bodybuilders still get things very wrong during the off-season. Here’s a look at how.
They’re too scared of gaining fat
First off, if you’re serious about increasing your muscle mass and size during the next off-season, you must mentally prepare yourself for the fact that your body fat percentages will increase, and you will not be anywhere as lean as you were back in the summer or when you last stepped on stage. In order to build muscle mass, you need to consume more calories than you’re able to burn, so that means that if your daily macros put you in a deficit of even 10 calories, you simply will not grow or make any real progress. Many bodybuilders are scared of gaining too much fat and struggle with the idea of losing their abs and definition. Whilst it may be mentally tough on them, consuming more calories than they’re able to burn off is essential if they wish to increase their muscle mass.
They gain too much fat
Just to complicate things further, some bodybuilders will use the off-season as an excuse to binge eat and “dirty bulk” as they call it, by consuming vast quantities of unhealthy processed foods to ramp up their calories. The occasional cheat meal is perfectly fine during the off-season, but a cheat meal a day is not. Not only is this unhealthy as much of the processed junk food they consume is full of unhealthy fats, salt, sugar, and other artificial chemicals and additives, but it is also harmful to their physiques because gaining too much fat too quickly can lead to stretch marks, it can lead to loose skin, and above all, it will make dieting down and cutting that much harder as they will have so much more fat to lose as a result.
They don’t eat enough healthy produce
Again, as mentioned, many bodybuilders will use the off-season as an excuse to binge eat and consume junk food which is extremely unhealthy. Instead, what they should be doing is bulking in a healthy manner, by consuming large quantities of fresh and healthy produce instead. Typical meals should include foods such as brown rice, grilled wild salmon and spinach, or chicken breast, sweet potato, and broccoli perhaps. The proteins should be lean and healthy, the fats should be from healthy sources, the carbs should mainly be from complex sources, and each meal should include a serving of fresh fruits or vegetables as they will provide the body with vital nutrients.
They stay clear of carbohydrates
Bodybuilders have a weird relationship with carbohydrates, some love them, whilst others fear them. When dieting and losing fat, reducing carbohydrate consumption is a very effective way of helping to burn stubborn body fat, yet the problem is that during the off-season, bodybuilders still tend to stay clear of carbohydrates when in reality these macronutrients can be just as beneficial for building muscle as protein is. They’re vital, both in complex form and simple form. Simple carbohydrates for example, such as the sugars found naturally in fresh fruit or fruit juice, help to spike insulin levels which can help to shuttle glycogen, amino acids, and other nutrients into the muscles immediately following a workout, which increases the rate of recovery and improves protein synthesis. Complex carbohydrates however, are ideal early on in the day as they supply the body with a sustained release of energy that is released over the course of several hours. Typical examples of complex carbohydrates include rice, potato, sweet potato, oatmeal, and wholemeal pasta.
They don’t do cardio
Many bodybuilders will justify their staying away from cardio by saying that they “don’t want to lose muscle mass and size” as there is a common myth floating around that cardio burns muscle. In reality, in order for cardio to burn muscle, the activity would need to be carried out at a high intensity for a number of hours before the body entered a catabolic (muscle wasting) state. What cardio does do however, is help to keep body fat levels under control, as well as helping to strengthen the respiratory, circulatory, immune, and cardiovascular systems, making it extremely healthy and beneficial. A typical steady state 30 minute cardio session will work incredibly well as part of any bulking program, so ideally cardio should be included at least three times per week when bulking. Cardio not only helps to burn fat, it also increases the metabolism so in the future you’re able to burn fat more easily, and will consequently enjoy more energy levels as a result.