“Off Season Planning”
By IFPA Pro and Contest Prep Coach
Joe Franco

For many of us who compete or go through cycles of getting lean, we rely on the “off season” time frame to make progress. It is this time period in and out of the gym where we hope to develop a new and improved physique. With some planning this can certainly help you achieve the desired look and improvements.


First off, and let us get it out of the way, I have never been nor will be a fan of the typical bulk diet. To me it’s a lazy way and excuse to eat whatever you want and not to care about your body weight. Sure, you may gain some muscle but the ratio of muscle gain to fat gain is not worth it. If you gain too much body fat too fast, your metabolism can slow down during those months of bulking. So when you start your next fat loss plan, it will become that much more difficult to lose the extra fat you put on because of the slowed metabolism. In addition, the heavier you are simply puts more stress on the body and then it makes it very hard to get the furnace going again. Let’s face it, the key to any prep or fat lose plan is to retain the muscle that you have earned during the offseason. And if you find yourself in sub max caloric levels for too long during the fat loss phase, you will burn muscle tissue also. Therefore you want to make the fat loss phase less stressful on the body by not gaining too much fat!!! So putting it together you want a healthy metabolism during the off season and not to let it get out of control.

With bulking out of the way, how much weight gain is acceptable? The first goal is to find a maintenance level for your calories and then to slowly increase them if your metabolism allows it. For example, you just finished your contest and now you are ready to increase your calories. I would suggest too add 50 to 100 calories every one to two weeks as long as you are not gaining too fast. This will allow the body to adjust nicely and accordingly since it was slowed down during your last fat loss phase. The problem many face it going overboard and eating too much too soon. I am not going to go into all the science as that is for another article. But when the metabolism is slowed down, which is normal after a fat loss phase, it can’t handle excessive calories thus it will be stored as fat.

As for adding in calories, I will use myself as an example after this past years fat loss phase. I was down to 151 pounds at one point and very close to looking stage ready. My calories at the end ranged from 1700 to 2000 depending on the day. I will add that my metabolism was slowing down. How did I know? I was getting tired, performance in the gym was suffering and I knew that changes needed to be made for me to continue. But I was happy with the way I looked and reached a goal. So instead of saying, “ok I am done so let’s pig out”, I planned and slowly added in calories. Here is an actual breakdown that I followed for the first month.



Week One: 100 calories added
Week Two: 50 calories added
Week Three: did not add
Week Four: 100 calories added

If I have to give a limit on body weight gain, I favor the 8 to 12 percent range above your last contest body weight. This of course varies per person for the fact of our varying genetics. Now, this is not set in stone because I will then refer to performance in the gym. What I mean by this is how you are feeling in and out of the gym and if you are having strength gains. If so, that is a great indicator that your current body weight is just fine. Because gaining weight/fat is not a straight correlation of gaining muscle. What I will tell my clients or suggest is that you want to be heavy enough to feel good and that your progress in the gym will not be prohibitive. Therefore, it’s just enough calories to get the job done. Now I am not saying you can’t increase your calories, because I do favor slowly adding them in. Why? Because the next time you diet for your show or cut phase, it will be easier to start at a higher caloric intake with a healthier metabolism. For me, this is the most optimal way since staying too lean year round is not a good idea either.

All in all, having a plan during the offseason is just as or more important than the fat loss phase. Remember, each day counts towards the goals of reaching your desired physique!