It’s easy to get carried away cramming in the calories while beach/competition season is still months away. While it’s important to add mass during the off-season, many bodybuilders lose their focus in the freedom of not having to follow a super-strict exercise and diet regimen, making mistakes in the process that will cost them progress when competition season rolls around again.
Below is a list of 10 mistakes to steer clear of in order to bulk up the right way.
1) Not Setting Goals for Improvement
Just because we’re not cutting for a competition just around the corner doesn’t mean we can cut corners when it comes to our approach to bodybuilding during the off-season. It’s important to have a plan, and focus on identifying weak areas/muscles in order to make improvements in the areas that need it most. The bulking season is the perfect time to ask coaches, judges and other bodybuilders about areas of improvement instead of avoiding them.
2) Not Setting Meal Goals
Bulking up right means making sure that your body gets the nutrients it needs when it needs them. Skipping meals and then eating more later to make up for losing a meal means your muscles are starving for a period of time, followed by an excess of calories that confuse your metabolism. To avoid your body burning muscle for fuel, make sure you eat (and eat well!) every two to three hours, even if you’re not feeling super hungry. Have high-quality snacks nearby to make sure you keep that hard-earned muscle.
3) Eating too Little
The off-season means that it’s time to add mass and lose your competition form – that’s just the way it goes, and it’s the only way to come back better than ever next year. It is impossible to add bulk while maintaining the ultrasvelte look, which can be disappointing to some bodybuilders after they spent all of that time and effort on their competition physique. Adding a little bit of fat is normal and recommended, and it means that you’re consuming enough to add muscle and avoid burning it for fuel – just make sure you’re eating high-quality food, which leads us to #4…
4) Eating Badly
Calories are important, but make sure it’s not all junk! You are what you eat, and if all you eat is junk food, fast food and sweets, you won’t be able to build the high-quality muscles you’ll need to impress during the competition season. Ensure that the fats and proteins that you choose are high-quality and pure (nuts, healthy oils, lean meats) and not refined sugars and heavily-processed food. Not only will you reach your mass goals faster, but you’ll feel better about yourself. You’ll be getting out of your body what you put in… Excellence.
5) Avoiding Cardio Exercise
Cardio is great for burning excess fat away… And also for keeping your appetite nice and high. Even though you’re trying to add mass rather than cut it, you need to be able to eat to bulk up, and that means hunger! It’s important to strike a balance between cardio and calorie intake and find that sweet spot where you’re hungry for healthy energy sources, but not burning the muscles that you’ve slaved away on. Cardio also boosts your endurance during your bulk-up phase, enabling you to work out longer and harder to see results faster. 3 20-minute cardiovascular activity sessions are recommended each week to maximize appetite, endurance and muscle-fueling.
6) Overdoing Cardio Exercise
The flip side of #5 is #6 – too much cardio. Off-season means making that transition over to muscle-building workouts, and you won’t be able to build muscle if you burn too much of the energy that you’re putting in to feed them. You need some cardio, but save it for competition prep to cut quickly.
7) Avoiding Carbs
Yes, your muscles are made of protein – but your muscles need carbs for fuel! They are an essential part of a bulking diet, providing a source of energy that facilitates protein synthesis and optimizes metabolism. Eating a sufficient amount of high-quality carbs will bring you the mass-adding results you’re looking for, faster. Eat them early in the day to go strong all day long.
Seeing that little number go up indicates our success, and it’s gratifying to see a tangible measurement of our hard work. But can you imagine weighing yourself every hour? Some bodybuilders do this, and will even eat and weigh just to see that addictive little increase. Check the mirror periodically to make sure your increases are comprised mostly of muscle vs. body fat, or you’re going to have to work extra hard during the cutting phase to prep for that competition.
9) Relying on Machines
Machines are great for finishing up a workout, since they target very specific groups and don’t rely heavily on range of motion, but don’t go too crazy and use up all of your energy at the machines before first investing in the classic bulk-adding free-weight exercises – curls, rows, squats, dead lifts and presses.
10) Overdoing Your Workouts
Muscles take time to build, which means… Time! If you work out constantly without letting your muscles heal after breaking them down, they’ll just get increasingly broken down, no matter what else you’re doing right. Not only will you not see progress, but you won’t get any stronger. If you’re pushing yourself hard enough, each muscle group needs a few days to heal before you work it out again.