For a natural bodybuilder, the pre-contest is the roughest phase of all of the year's bodybuilding. Your main goal is to lose body fat. But the secondary goal – and sometimes the more important goal – is to maintain most of your muscle mass while dieting down. We've all heard horror stories of the bodybuilders who cruise through the off-season at a fairly solid 250, but end up a very scrawny 198 when the show day rolls around. They simply over-diet, or allow catabolism to eat up too much of their muscle. Of course every effort is made to ensure this does not happen. And one of the best ways you go do this is to have a pretty decent amount of muscle on your frame to start with. This involves adding a decent amount of mass in the off-season. Let's examine some ways to do that!
In the off-season, if you wish to add lean muscle mass, you simply have to be eating more calories. If you look the same as you did the previous off-season, it's because you're not eating enough. Bump your daily caloric intake up by 500 to 750 calories, and notice the difference. Remember that it's okay to wear a little extra body fat in the off-season, as long as you never grow past 20%.
Bump up the protein
Most guys you see in the gym – yes, most naturals – eat a maximum of 1 grams of protein per 1 pound of bodyweight. It is way beyond what the Food & Drug Administration requires, and it's a 'comfortable' level. Most bodybuilders have no problem downing 3 protein shakes per day and three meals with good protein sources. However, if you want to stop looking like a 200-pound man eating 200 grams of protein, and if you want to truly give the muscles every possible opportunity to grow, you're going to need to increase your protein. You'll urinate away anything you do not need, but you sure will not miss out on any potential growth!
Increase your fat
This does not mean you should spend your day consuming unhealthy fast food. But it does mean you should allow yourself to consume more healthy fats from sources like beef, eggs, and natural peanut butter. Also, 2-3 fish oil caplets should be taken with each of your big meals. Fat is required for muscle growth!
One of the biggest mistakes young bodybuilders do in the course of making gains is to be too active in their daily lives. They work one or two jobs, head to class, participate in some pickup basketball, go dancing at the club, then play some Wii when they get home. While these activities are fun and should not be halted if you truly enjoy them, you should be aware of the fact that you are limiting your gains by being so physically active. Re-evaluate your goals and determine if the 90 minutes of pleasure you derive from playing pickup basketball is worth more to you than the extra 3 to 5 pounds of muscle it is preventing you from gaining. Bodybuilding allows you to gain more pleasure form you life – but sometimes being too active with pleasures of live can limit your bodybuilding success!