Are you new to bodybuilding competitions? Are you confused as to what “Off Season” and “Show Season” “Prep” “Peak Week” is all about? My goal with this post is to give you very basics for a better understanding of your competition strategies.
aka: Grow season, bulking,
Many athletes say there is NO Off Season. I also believe that. I am an athlete all year round. Off season is typically classified as the time you are not prepping/cutting for a show. Perhaps you have finished your show season and it’s time to make improvements to your physique.
Depending on who your coach is, you will have plan of action. Good coaches will give you a post competition plan to reverse you out of your show diet.
Don’t be like me. I went to OFF SEASON with epic binges and gained much of what I lost in prep!
My own fault. Don’t do that! Follow your plan just like you did in your prep!
Get some gains! It’s a good thing!
Building muscle/getting gains: To gain muscle/strength/glutes you must be in a surplus of calories. Getting a big ol booty means you need to eat. So yes, your off season is time to grow and eat well. You cannot build muscle in a caloric deficit! Science.
Off season for my clients isn’t to make them super fluffy but I want them to eat more than they were during their prep so we can continue to build and create a better package. Many competitors eat so little for fear of getting bulky. Reversing helps your body adjust to more food slowly. Many people are able to reverse their way back up to their maintenance/bulking macros without gaining massive weight. If you are afraid of 3-5 pounds in your off season, that’s going to be hard! Mentally, post show, many competitors can’t fathom anything but a show body. I totally understand that! Competition lean and off season are two different things.
Why can’t I just stay on my show diet for my off season?
Competitors who live on very little macros to stay show lean can face a couple possible scenarios.
Restrict Binge is very common: Long term restriction can lead to binges and that is incredibly hard on your physique and your mental state!
Not healthy! To get stage ready, many of us have to really cut macros. For healthy bodies, we should not exist on that little food! Health is #1 priority for my clients! This is not a lifestyle plan!
Lack of gains: No surplus is means you can’t improve your physique by adding muscle or fixing lagging muscles. In a deficit, especially a competition diet, you are struggling to keep the muscle you have. That is why we love off season because we can eat more, PR more, get muscle gains!
I want to do lots of shows so I can stay in prep/low macros.
Many athletes fall into this pattern. I’ve watched them chase trophies but they don’t improve their physique. Being on low macros for a long time is hard on your body and you will not get the gains you want. Take your off season. Aim for longevity in the sport.
Setting the pace for your next prep. If you are eating on a competition diet for your entire off season, you are going to have a hard time when you try to do a 12 week prep. What will you do if you are already living low calorie, low carb and doing massive cardio? How will you cut again? You will have nothing to do but take away more food and do more cardio. This is NOT a good strategy!
How long is off season? Off season lasts as long as you like, until you have a plan for your next show season. Some people do a year off season to really grow. Some people do several shows a year. It depends on you and what your physique goals are.
I don’t want a long off season, I want to cut again for summer.
You must get back to normal calories and lift! If you turn around and start cutting again.. you are doing yourself an injustice. You won’t have time to grow at all.
I don’t want to get fat
So much gets lost on a real off season physique because people who are not on a results driven eating plan ‘say they are bulking’. I can’t speak for every competitor but I do macros for myself and my clients based on muscle growth, or cutting. I don’t ditch my entire plan for 8 months then try to cut in 12 weeks. I still want to make sure I get the right amount of protein, carbs, fats and fiber while I build. There is more freedom in my off season macros than my prep macros.
For that reason, I say if you are eating whole pizzas by yourself and calling it a ‘cheat’ day, you aren’t really focused on a goal. That’s my opinion.
Ugh. How fat am I going to get? I have no idea. The goal is to keep competitors 10 pounds from stage weight. Stage weight and “pool” weight are not at all the same thing. I have some competitors who stay lean on bulking macros. To gain muscle, you must eat consistently in a surplus of calories. Consistently.
I don’t want to be fat in the summer, my show is in the fall.
No one ‘wants’ to be fat or fluffy or chubby. The focus has to be on muscle gains. Lifting heavy, eating. This is the stuff memes are made of.
You may need to reassess your goals. “Whatever it takes except when I decide I don’t like what I have to do” isn’t going to get you the physique you want.
We pretty much eat all the time.
When I train clients in off season, we have to build glutes!
We ALL have to work on that. I promise you, judges will score you and you will see “work on glutes”. It is what makes a winning physique. You must eat to grow. If you are worried about your pants fitting, you need to get stretchy ones or leggings. It’s the official uniform of the off season competitor. Growing your booty means, of course your old pants won’t fit.
You are trading up for a peachy booty.
But.. my friends say I look bulky and I’m too big? Friends rarely understand competitive bodybuilding lifestyle. If you are choosing to be a competitive body builder (yes, bikini is bodybuilding), you are going to find yourself defending your choices. It’s a sad truth of the competitor lifestyle.
Again: To build muscle you must eat in a surplus of calories consistently.
That is science.
PREP TIME/ GO TIME
tick tok….time to get lean
Show season: If a competitor has a timeframe or actual show date, they will plan for their show season or prep. Normal prep is 12 weeks. I have done longer preps with slower cuts and I have clients who do shorter preps because they are already very lean. Your coach will help you decide when to start your actual prep. I have vowed to never be more than 10 pounds over stage weight again. Having done Flex (macro counting) for so long, I am very aware now of how my body drops fat and where my struggles are, I am better off being a slow loser and hanging on to as much muscle as I can.
FYI: Cutting: To lose body fat, you must be in a caloric deficit consistently. No muscle growth is happening. We are trying to keep as much muscle as you can during this time. That means, everything you already built in grow season will now be revealed.
Being in a caloric deficit means either eating less or burning more. Sometimes we do both.
What happens in prep?
You will be focused on leaning and you will lift heavy 5-6 days a week.. Your coach will check in with you at their discretion and make changes to your diet plan/macros and workouts. You may have more cardio. Depending on your coaches style, you may very little food, and two a day cardio sessions to get you stage ready. Ask your coach about their prep style before you hire them! I have so many clients who can’t wait to get into prep, but I gotta say.. I do not love it. Having done IIFYM for several years now, I have perfected my prep though and it’s actually very good. Our team has created so much variety in our food and we all do a truly flexible prep so the cut is no where near as bad as it was on a bro plan. That being said, the last few weeks for me are very lean macros so it’s extremely challenging. No matter what..
You have to be focused and push through.
The final week before you compete is called peak week. First of all.. despite what all the guru coaches say.. it’s not voodoo. You should be ready to go before you start your peak week. If you are not lean enough.. peak week isn’t the hail mary time. I’m just telling you the truth.
How your coach does peak week is up to them. You may have the mystical coaches who have you manipulate sodium, drink distilled water then spring then eat red peppers and then have fish because it thins the skin. Magic!!! Or you may have a coach who understand that every client is different and peak week looks different to each athlete.
Things you might see and be prepared for
Water loading: You can flush out a lot of water when you drink a lot of water. The goal is to have you on stage nice and dry. You will drink more water in peak than you are drinking now.
Extra cardio: some of us have extra cardio and 2 a days. We are simply trying to burn more calories. Some of our clients have no cardio in peak week.
Workouts: workouts might be tougher if you are on low macros. You are tired. You are hungry.
Here is a hack for you. FUEL your workouts for peak week and eat volume food the rest of the day. The workouts are super important. I don’t need as many carbs in peak because I stick close to home. I’m literally at my desk and going pee for the whole week.
Fasted cardio doesn’t really mean anything. The science just isn’t there. If you are trying to lift fasted, you are not getting your best workout. That’s my gift to you. Fuel your workouts and eat less during the day if you are on lower macros.
Dem feelings: Things that are normal. freezing cold, Crying, not sleeping, worry, peeing, crying, screaming, hormones hormones, girllll hormones… crabby, pissed off, hungry, depressed, sassy, can’t lift anything, worried, bossy, diva, stomach distended, feeling bloated, not looking bloated but swearing you are, hate everyone, super emotional, love everyone, thinking you look terrible, thinking you look bomb,
telling everyone you can’t poop, no one can poop, bloated, crying, did i miss anything????
“Could I be wearing anymore clothes?”
My coach looked me straight in the eye and said, “If you binge again, I won’t let you get on stage”. One derail made my body a mess. I hope you don’t do that. Prep is stressful enough. Take it seriously because you are in a body building competition. If you don’t think it matters, don’t compete.
I have to say though, that being on bro prep had me binging like crazy. I have gone over 6 months without a binge on my IIFYM prep. My cut was 24 weeks! I ate what I wanted so I did not feel the urge to binge. No matter how your nutrition is set though, you have to understand that a sudden surplus is hard on the physique.
DON’T START PREP ON LOW MACROS:
I wrote about this above but I am telling you that you are not doing your body any favors if you are already eating very little. I refuse to prep someone who is not eating. Let me tell you about one client. We got her at 1100 calories and reverser dieted her up to 400 carbs a day. She is lean AF on that. She has more muscle and she never even had to taper calories in prep. She went to stage on 400 carbs. Oh.. she’s an outlier right? Nope. She took the time to fine tune her macros. Remember she was living on 1100 for months.
Another client finished her show at 1300 then reversed up to 1800 for 8 weeks. She never dropped lower than 1800 calories and was ripped on stage for her next show. We take every client as an individual case. We have to know that they look better with more food!! Don’t fall for the starving to get to stage myth. Take the time to get with a coach who will work with your body!!
IG IS DECEIVING: Many of the fantastic awesome pros you follow on IG and FB diet down for photo shoots and shows.
Some of them have enough content to never publish pictures of themselves in their off season. You may benefit from following girls like
Caitlin documents her journey to stage realistically! Look to people who are honest and feel free to ground yourself form IG if it is interfering with your postive energy.
Overall..I want you to know.. both seasons are critical.
There is plenty of reason to follow a solid off season protocol so your show season and competitions go well. The work that is done in the off season will show on stage.