The "offseason" marks a time of year for athletes to work on certain aspects of their game. Football players hit the gym to add strength and size. Basketball players work on improving their shot and their hops. Baseball pitchers hone their curveball while fielders focus on executing a 5-4-3 double play.
For bodybuilders, it's a different story. The offseason is quite simply about gaining bulk.
It's fitting that the time of year—namely, winter—corresponds with wearing more clothing. That's because much of that mass gain is marbled—equal parts muscle and fat. Whether you compete or not, putting on considerable size (and strength) is oftentimes marked by the month on the calendar. Not so surprisingly, when the weather turns warmer, our thoughts turn to ripping up all that new mass. That's when diets start to tighten up, cardio becomes mandatory, and workouts emphasize the beach muscles a bit more heavily.
The fact is, today's bodybuilder takes a completely different approach to gaining size in the offseason than they did a decade or two ago.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. We're still in the midst of winter, and despite what the groundhog may have said last month, we've got a ways to go. But times have changed, and nowhere is that more obvious than in how lifters approach their offseason bulking cycle. The fact is, today's bodybuilder takes a completely different approach to gaining size in the offseason than they did a decade or two ago.
That has ramifications far beyond the extra 5-10 pounds you may see on your physique a year from now; it also impacts your health, food choices, strategies for dieting down, and most importantly, how you look—not just in 12 months, but for the 52 weeks in between.
The difference can be summed up in your nutritional approach to gaining mass: a clean bulk versus what's called a dirty bulk. We've enlisted Craig Stevenson, vice president of marketing at iSatori, to help explain the difference and how bodybuilders today have completely overhauled their approach to gaining mass in the offseason.
THE DIRTY BULK
The science of offseason bulking was never really a science at all until recently, according to Stevenson. "I think it goes back to the '70s and '80s, when it was thought that the more calories [consumed] the merrier, " he says. "Some called it the See-Food Diet—you eat anything and everything you see. It was thought you had to have that surplus of calories to be in an anabolic state. To an extent, that was true."
The focus on the dirty bulk, says Stevenson, was simply on consuming as much food as possible, rather than on the quality of the nutrients. That meant that no food was off-limits.
"But at what expense?" he asks. "We're not just talking about looks here, but health. Many of these bodybuilders were technically obese. Body fat levels shot up, as did blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease for many of them. High-sugar diets sowed the seeds for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, and joints were under greater stress. In short, the body's physiology was being affected in an extreme manner.