Building Lean Muscle, Part 9: Tips and Tricks for Off-Season Muscle Building

For many athletes, now is your off-season. And if you're looking to make the most of your off-season by gaining lean muscle mass and coming back strong in the fall, you need to have an arsenal of smart tips and nutrition tricks up your sleeve. So many athletes attempt to gain weight in the off-season, only to come back next year at pretty much the same weight they ended the season -- or worse: having gained only bodyfat.

To make sure this isn't your story, it is critical to get a proper muscle-gaining diet in place as soon as possible. Let's go over some tips and tricks that will help you build muscle this off-season.

1. Maximize Your Post-Workout Food Window

Muscle tissue is damaged during a tough training session and needs protein (amino acids) to repair and build new muscle, making post-workout nutrition important for lean muscle gain.

Muscle tissue is damaged during a tough training session and needs protein (amino acids) to repair and build new muscle, making post-workout nutrition important for lean muscle gain.

When working out during the off-season, you must optimize your window for proper nutrition after each and every workout. The hour or so post-workout is when your body is primed and ready to build muscle tissue, as it repairs the damage from the workout session just performed. As it repairs that damage, it goes on to develop new lean muscle mass.

This means you will want to flood your cells both with protein, which supplies the building blocks for new muscle growth, and carbohydrates, which supply the glucose your body needs to generate that new muscle tissue. Many research studies confirm that 20 grams of protein post-workout is a safe goal to shoot for (too much protein will not yield any additional benefits), and recommend refueling carbohydrates in a 1 gram carbs/kg body weight portion size (for a 150-lb athlete, that's about 68 grams of carbs). Consuming protein and carbohydrates together, directly after a training session, will lead to safe muscle gain.

If only pizza grew on trees, and wasn't usually made from highly refined and processed foods!

If only pizza grew on trees, and wasn't usually made from highly refined and processed foods!

2. Avoid Processed Foods

Next, and this almost goes without saying, you should be avoiding processed foods in your diet. Some people think that in order to build muscle quickly, the more food they get into their bodies, the better...but this isn't quite the case.

While you definitely do want to take in more calories, you will want those calories to be of high quality. Otherwise, your chances of gaining excess bodyfat increase — not to mention your body won't feel as healthy. Stick to natural and wholesome foods in order to yield the best possible results. Aim to get the majority of your calories from high-quality, non-processed foods and you will see (and feel) the difference.



Nuts, seeds, and dried fruits are great examples of calorie-dense foods that are still high in quality.

Nuts, seeds, and dried fruits are great examples of calorie-dense foods that are still high in quality.

3. Stick to Calorie-Dense Foods

You also need to make sure that you are consuming calorie-dense foods when constructing your off-season muscle-building diet. This means foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds, oils, avocado, coconut/coconut milk, fatty varieties of fish, lean red meats, dry oats, pastas, bagels, and dried fruits should become pantry staples during your off-season.

This does not, however, give you the go-ahead to consume low-quality calorie-dense foods, like processed snacks and desserts. Because although your body needs more calories to work with when trying to build lean muscle tissue, you still need these calories to be high in quality so that you do not risk gaining excess bodyfat along with muscle. The more quality calorie-dense foods you can incorporate into your diet, the greater your chances of seeing tangible results.

An example of Sunday meal planning for the week ahead, from NutraCarina.

An example of Sunday meal planning for the week ahead, from NutraCarina.

4. Always Be Prepared

Finally, the last tip in making the most of your off-season diet is to always be prepared. Take the time to plan out the meals you'll be consuming on your diet for muscle gaining every Sunday, so there is never a question during the week what you will be eating. By planning ahead, you reduce your chances of choosing a low-quality food source mid-week that could derail your diet.

Tracking your calories will also help you gain muscle, as you will be able to troubleshoot your diet if you aren't seeing muscle growth at the rate you desire. If you know exactly how many calories you're consuming, you can then simply add more calories to the mix to step it up a bit.

Then, make sure that you never leave home without some form of a high-calorie snack, so no matter what your day throws at you, you will always have nourishment when you need it. Trail mix, beef jerky, pop-top canned tuna, protein powder, and whole-wheat cereal are all portable sources of high-quality, calorie-dense foods that you can carry around with you all day.

Keep these simple and effective tips and tricks in mind as you begin training for your next season. By taking the time now, during your off-season, to build muscle in the weight room and the kitchen, you will reap the rewards on the field come next season.


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Mike Bewley, MA, CSCS, C-SPN, USAW-I is a guest contributor to the Volt blog. He is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Clemson University, a specalist in sports nutrition, and the founder of online nutrition platform NutraCarina.