Fitness Competitors Nutrition: Off-Season

Let’s analyze the most important points about the nutrition of the “Off Season” fitness competitors where you want to increase muscle mass…


What is it

Off season is the period in where a fitness athlete changes the focus of training and focuses on gaining muscle mass while minimizing fat gain , so that when the next phase of the season ends it with a body composition better than the last competitive cycle.

In reality the off season does not necessarily imply the need to increase muscle mass, we can find similar cases like that of Kim Angel who due to competitive standards of its category, cannot gain more muscle mass without changing the competitive mode.

Kim Angel

Figur to I. Kim Angel on the platform.

Similarly, the off season includes the period from the end of the competitions until a phase of the season restarts (dieting / cutting / preparation), but I preferred to separate the post-competitive period in another article to discuss as a focus on “recovery”.

Characteristics of this stage

Traditionally, bodybuilders of the 80s and 90s they planned off-season phases such as “clean” and ad libitum eating periods.

A moment of the season in which they shifted the focus of training towards heavier work systems centered on the constant increase in the external load managed ; followed by very aggressive preparations (“on-season”).


Figure II. Lee Priest, famous for his drastic changes of image between volume and definition.

Currently the trend has drastically changed due to the commercial interests that are the basis of athletes and that condition them to be all year round is a physical point that allows them to attend a fitness event as guests and pose in front of consumers to generate spectacle.

Nowadays there is no longer any bulking between famous competitors.


Figure III. Sadik Hadzovic, one of the few Classic Physique who makes preparations where he is basically covered.

Today we know that what has been done in the last century was far from adequate.

Since obtaining such amounts of body mass has resulted in a very high fat mass, since the ability to synthesize lean mass is very limited and we cannot overcome it even if we force the body to metabolize more energy, as it will accumulate it in the form of fat that there are no known limits.

Getting started

First, it should be started once the weight post-competition stabilizes .

Once the weight stabilizes against a healthy energy intake > 45kcal / kg of lean mass / day , we should be and about 10-11% body fat is a good place to start.

For this it is advisable to follow the approach that I intend to pass on to you in the post-race recovery article.

Initial fat percentage

It is recommended to start this phase with a low percentage of fat possible , since the increase in the volume and density of adipocytes (fat cells) increases the expression of the enzyme 5-alpha-aromatase which alters the balance between sex hormones. / p>


Figure IV. Graphical representation of the simplified mechanism of aromatization and HPTA inhibition by negative feedback.

That is, the fatter you are , the more you will have a less favorable hormone profile for muscle mass gain.

Therefore, everyone recommends not exceeding 15% body fat.

It is not very clear to me where the exact data comes from , but the truth is that, according to the data to my knowledge, there is no limit as such from which you will not gain muscle mass.

So in any case, especially if you are a beginner, I recommend you to do an “off-season” that allows you to gain enough muscle mass so that after a definition you are competitive; reaches 18, 20 to 22% body fat.

Mini-definitions by volume

In order to maximize the volume phase and make the more efficient process, mini-cuts can be used strategically, abusing them delays the process, so they should be considered as a specific tool and not generalized.

Before writing in the comments, no, I am not recommending anyone to gain weight, I just recommend extending the volume time as needed, maintaining constant and efficient body weight gain regardless of whether you have 12 or 18% body fat. / p>

The point from which body fat negatively affects the hormonal environment is not determined or by 15%, in fact the associations that exist solidly are observed in obese (Fui et al., 2014).

How long should an off season last

The length of the off season is variable and will depend on the starting point and physical objectives for the competitive category , that is:

It is not the same to weigh 75kg on the platform and want to go out in the next competition with 90; return to the same weight class with a better point.

One of the competitors can take a short period of 2-3 months off season and start preparations and another can be 3 years in the off season without competing.

Once this is clarified, we need to know at what speed it is effective to gain weight to maximize muscle mass gain and minimize fat mass gain.

How much weight you gain per week

In the narrative review by Iraki et al., (2019) it is recommended that you gain approximately 0.25-0.5% of body weight per week.

more experienced athletes and those with more muscular development should focus on gaining weight in the low range of the fork, while beginners can focus on the 0.5% increase.

Ex: Beginner in training with loads weighing 60kg -> You can consider a preparation where you gain ~ 300g per week.

Sure, you can gain more, but we know that from one point, which is not possible to determine since you have to take into account a large number of individual variables, the fat mass gain increases while the lean mass gain does not happen at the same pace.

What is the limit of muscle mass gain

A group of elite athletes underwent two diets, one of 47.8kcal / kg and the other of 39.52kcal / kg and although the first group consumed more protein (2.4 versus 1.7gr / kg), the increase in muscle mass was not statistically significant compared to the other group, while that of fat did.

That is, they have gained a little more muscle mass, but their percentage of fat has increased dramatically.

So the “mimangiotutto” type bulking not a good idea particularly in bodybuilders, due to the dysregulation of the (an-) orexigenic hormones they present.

The group that gained 0.2% of body weight minimized their fat gains and maximized lean mass gains compared to the 0.47% gaining group who gained weight, as shown in the graph.



The amount of protein we need to consume to maximize muscle mass gains differs slightly from what we need to maintain muscle mass ng> in a period of energy deficit.

If you are interested in this concept, I recommend that you read the article on nutrition on-season, in which I will give you details on protein consumption (such as post-workout proteins or those to be consumed before going to sleep), in fact I will not repeat them here as they are common in both phases.

We know that the recommendations of 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight established by the IoM are not sufficient for active people seeking hypertrophy .


What is the limit for proteins

In a very good study conducted by Bray et al. (2013) it was shown that 8 weeks of high-calorie diet produced different effects on muscle mass depending on the amount of protein consumed , in young active subjects.

It would have been perfect if he had also planned the workout, as not having done so is a factor that increases the risk of the trend.

Grafico 2

Figure VI. Changes in body composition after 8 weeks of dieting with 3 variable amounts of protein.

The group that consumed 228g of protein per day (HIGH) gained more lean mass and less fat (not statistically significantly) than the group who consumed 139g per day (NORMAL), and this in turn more than the group who consumed 47g per day (LOW) who gained more fat than the rest of the groups and lost muscle mass.

Consuming less than one gram of protein per kg of surplus energy worsens body composition; while higher protein intake (1.7gr / kg) maximized gains and 3gr / kg provided no substantial benefit.

Protein recommendations

This is in line with studies such as that of Morton et al. (2017) which establishes an average intake of 1.6g of protein * kg of body weight to maximize protein synthesis.

For bodybuilders it is It was shown that the maximum efficiency of protein consumption by IAAO was 1.7-2.2gr / kg. (Bandegan et al. 2017).

Y Schoenfeld et to the. (2018) recommends consuming:

0.4-0.55gr / kg / intake * 4 daily intake.

So, this is my recommendation in volume, to get a consumption of 1.6-2.2gr /kg.


These are the least studied nutrients on their effects on body composition in athletes seeking to improve their image.

We know that some fatty acids are essential for normal cognitive and visual development, that they exert cardio-protective effects and we need to ingest through the diet to avoid pathologies due to their lack.

We are talking about the polyunsaturated acids of the omega 3 and omega 6 series.

A volume bodybuilder who performs a flexible, rich and varied diet in the choice of quality foods (with meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, seeds, unrefined vegetable oils …) has the recommended intakes of essential nutrients covered , so in general, fats are given little attention.


Recommendations on fats

In general, it is recommended that you not reduce intakes below 0.5g / kg of body weight ; Being in the off season wouldn’t even make sense, so the recommendation is:

Consume about 1gr / kg of body weight ; if you are a man you can benefit from slightly higher intakes and if you are woman , slightly lower.

Try to make fat occupy between 10-25% of your total daily calorie (Roberts et al., 2020).


They are the key energy nutrient for maintaining good performance in high intensity athletes.

Contrary to what it might seem at the beginning, bodybuilding is not a sport that requires a high consumption of carbohydrates to prevent exhaustion, due to the type of training that is done as often as it does.

We know there is no difference in performance in 15 sets of 15RMs in the lower body between a group that consumed 7.7g / kg and 0.37g / kg (Mitchell et al., 1997), although they were not performed in the study and biopsies to check muscle glycogen concentrations

The results are heterogeneous when we refer to this nutrient: studies like the one above see no difference in performance, but others like Leveritt and Abernethy (1999) do they do.


Carbohydrate Recommendations

My recommendation is that with something you will have to fill the calories , right?

Make sure you consume enough carbohydrates so that muscle glycogen concentrations do not drop below 70mmol / kg as at these concentrations it also decreases the ability to exert force (Murray & Rosenbloom, 2018), a diet of 9.8gr / kg / day fills up to 93% of depleted glycogen.

Taking into account the constant filling ratio presented by the human organism:

  • If you run an F1 it is likely that with 2gr / kg / day you have enough.
  • If you run an F2, maybe you will benefit from consuming more, about 4-5gr/kg.

In general it is preferable that most of the energy comes from carbohydrates if you do not suffer from glucose metabolism disorders …

So a good general recommendation is to keep your intake between 3-7gr / kg / day.

Keto diet by volume

If you follow a low carbohydrate diet , although presumably there are (theoretical) mechanisms that postulate that it will negatively affect your gain in muscle mass, in reality these are not clearly observed (Paoli et al., 2019).


Figure VII. Summary of studies evaluating the effects of the ketogenic diet on body composition by analyzing bias factors.

It’s a fully viable option, make sure you consume 30-90 g of fructose per day to avoid the negative metabolic impact of a ketogenic diet by reducing glycogen concentrations in the liver.


The recommended supplements are the same as I proposed in the seasonal diet article, as they are the same as recommending Roberts et al. (2020) and Iraki et al. (2019) based on the recommendations of the IOC and ISSN.

There are many supplements that can positively affect body composition, but they are very specific and to know if they fit your scenario or not you already have many articles on the blog that talk about each of them individually.


Those that are generally recommended to everyone without having to take into account individual characteristics are:

Supplements Doses When
Protein powder As needed.
Carbohydrate powder As needed.
Creatine 0.1gr / kg body weight / day . At any time of day.
Caffeine -6 mg / kg based on CYP1A2 and ADORA2A. 3gr / day (8-10g excellent).
Beta-Alanin a 4-6gr / day. Chronic consumption by dividing into 2-4 intakes during the day
Citrulline Malate > 3gr / day (8-10gr excellent) 3gr / day (8-10g excellent).


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