Making mass gains while staying cut is a lot better for you. I'm not sure where this myth came from that you have to bulk up in the off-season to gain muscle size and then diet severely prior to a competition in order to get in contest shape. Its origins lie in the dustbin of history. And that's exactly where this so-called scientific technique belongs. Modern bodybuilding science recognizes that major swings in caloric intake and bodyfat composition are not only not going to help you, but they can actually be harmful to your long-term health and muscle mass development.
The body thrives on continuity. It yearns for a balanced, sustainable lifestyle that will provide it with the things it needs at the times and in the amounts that it needs them. Constant changes in food intake, sleep, activity patterns and even stress levels can throw it off-guard and slow muscle growth. This doesn't mean that you have to do the exact same thing every day, which would get boring fairly quickly. Rather, you need to think long-term about your bodybuilding goals and fashion an activity regimen that will stimulate your body to produce the best gains that it has to offer.
There's no question that staying cut year-round requires sacrifice; however, the way I see it, it's actually less total sacrifice than what you'd make if you engaged in excesses most of the year and then paid dearly for them in the precontest period. You need to look for the greatest balance in total sacrifice and avoid the counterproductive roller coaster of traditional yo-yo diets. After all, the real competition, in a sense, is life. So why not look your best all the time instead of just around contest time? Not only is it possible to do this, but also your body will actually respond better to this reasonable approach to training and nutrition.
You get the best results when you work with your body, not when you try to force it into growth through macrochanges in your daily regimen. Your body can be your friend. Coax it gently into growth, and it will deliver everything you want and then some.
While many bodybuilders tend to eat too much in the off-season (however they justify it), there are also many who are afraid to eat enough. Their fear of getting fat is so great that they deprive their bodies of the nutrients they need for solid muscle growth. They may not eat enough protein or carbohydrates, and as a result their sports performances are nowhere near their potentials.
To make sure that you're getting what your body needs. Favor a diet that's moderately high in protein (up to one gram a day per pound of lean body mass) and reasonably low in fat (but not fat free). Since your body always needs adequate levels of the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, you should follow these guidelines year round and limit your precontest changes to carbohydrate intake only.
There are many positive benefits to taking in a level of carbohydrates that meets but does not exceed your needs. Since you're eating enough carbs, your muscles will have the highest possible amount of stored glycogen and will look full and pumped. They'll be stronger too, so you can force out that extra rep or go up on the amount of weight you lift.
Adequate carbohydrate intake will also make your veins stand out, giving you that vigorous, athletic look that is so desirable. Take in too few carbs, and your veins will be flat. Take in too many, and the excess will be stored as fat that will eventually cover your veins. Athletes who stay cut year-round learn to tell whether they need carbs just by noting whether their veins are full or not. Try it. If your veins go flat, it's time to eat some healthy food. If they start permanently disappearing, however, then you're overdoing it a bit in the carbohydrate department and it's time to cut back.
If you're constantly on some major yo-yo diet, you'll never be able to fine-tune your body the way a person who's always cut can. So learn to find the right level of interaction between your food intake and your exercise regimen. As a general rule, it's best to eat a bit more and do aerobics than to try to achieve a shredded physique through diet alone. That's good advice year-round, not just when you're preparing for a contest. Sure, it will take some experimentation to determine the exact amount of carbohydrates you need for your metabolism and activity patterns, but experimentation is a requirement for progress. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, because everyone makes them. Learn from your experiments, and build on this knowledge to achieve your goals. The confidence you gain from your successes will boost your workout intensity and push you to year-round muscle gains.
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