Up until recently, the idea of simultaneously being in contest prep and off-season seemed like a far-fetched fantasy. Typically, off-season and contest prep are viewed as two distinct phases. During the off-season, the objective is to swiftly rebuild lean muscle mass and enhance metabolic capacity while minimizing excess body fat. Eventually, the goal is to surpass previous levels of muscle mass and continue building even more.
This is the way it has “always been done.”
However, that is no longer the case. It is entirely feasible to achieve both contest prep and off-season goals simultaneously. In fact, I firmly believe that this should be the aim for everyone.
The next logical question would be, “What changes have you made to achieve both contest prep and off-season goals simultaneously?”
If you’ve been following us for some time, you may be familiar with the Five Phases of Contest Prep, which is the framework we use to prepare our clients. For those who are new to this concept, I’ll provide a brief explanation of how it works. To illustrate, let’s consider the case of Diana Lagunas, a first-year competitor and Team USA Physique Bikini Competitor.
Once Diana surpassed her set-point in the Set-Point Phase, she reached her lowest calorie intake of the off-season three months before her last competition of the 2021 season. At that point, she was consuming 1190 calories per day and weighed 108 lbs. Approximately one week later, we transitioned Diana into the Metabolic Building Phase and began increasing her calorie intake. Interestingly, as we added more calories, her weight decreased. When we raised her intake to 1520 calories per day, Diana reached a new low weight of 105 lbs. That equates to an additional 330 calories per day while losing an additional 3 lbs.
At this stage, Diana was about six weeks out from the competition and it was time for her to transition into the Fine-Tuning Phase. Since fat loss was no longer a concern and her conditioning was on point, calories were allocated for hunger and energy purposes, as well as to make subtle adjustments to her physique as the competition drew closer. At times, we decreased her calorie intake slightly, while at other times we increased it. The main objective during this phase was to “fine-tune” Diana’s physique to meet the judging criteria and local trend. Prior to the beginning of Peak Week, Diana maintained her weight while consuming 1770 calories per day. By the day of the competition, she weighed in at a fuller, yet much leaner 109 lbs.
Over the course of those three months, we managed to increase Diana’s calorie intake by 580 calories while only gaining 1 lb in weight (as shown in the image on the left). Notably, her muscles became visibly harder, her strength improved significantly, and her Metabolic Factor increased from 11.01 to 16.2. By the end of her prep, Diana had won an Overall Title, four 1st place finishes, a 2nd, and a 3rd place.
It’s worth noting that this was Diana’s first year competing, making her success even more impressive.
Since adopting this concept two years ago, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in class wins, overall titles, pro cards, and pro wins among our clients. Additionally, their off-seasons have become more efficient and effective, resulting in easier preps in the future and greater success overall.
The ultimate objective of following the 5 Phases of Contest Prep is to get our clients to the fourth phase, the Metabolic Building Phase, around four to six weeks before their scheduled competition. This is achieved through the third Phase, the Set-Point phase, which is designed to break through the competitor’s set-point a couple of months out.
Once our clients enter the Metabolic Building Phase, the process of reverse dieting into the show begins. If executed correctly, this also marks the start of the off-season period.
During this stage, our primary focus is on regaining lost muscle fullness and lean muscle mass that may have been lost during the earlier “dieting” phases of the prep. This is achieved by gradually increasing calorie intake, which can also lead to continued fat loss at an accelerated rate. As calorie intake increases, clients typically experience improvements in strength, energy levels, and metabolic capacity, which help support the building of additional lean muscle mass. With enough time and consistent effort, it’s possible to make significant gains in muscle mass before the end of the contest prep.
Indeed, this approach to contest prep may sound unconventional, but it does allow for a highly efficient off-season period where clients can simultaneously build muscle and lose fat. This approach can be highly effective, allowing competitors to make significant progress in their physique goals throughout the year.
To tie both off-season and contest prep together, I will use our wellness competitor, Amanda Wright (pictured right) as a case study.
Amanda, a second-year wellness client, achieved a remarkable feat by placing among the top five at the NPC Universe Pro Qualifier. During her off-season, she weighed 142 lbs. However, once she started prep, the weight started coming off as she managed to shed 22 lbs.
While undergoing the Set-Point Phase of contest prep, she experienced a plateau and remained stuck at the same weight for nearly two weeks. Rather than reacting impulsively and drastically cutting calories, which could potentially decrease her Metabolic Rate, we maintained a steady and calculated approach, making minor adjustments and allowing sufficient time for observation. After about four weeks of being at a standstill, she finally broke through her Set Point, and fat loss recommenced at a more rapid pace. Following two weeks of careful monitoring and further adjustments, she transitioned into the Metabolic Building Phase, during which we gradually increased her caloric intake.
Throughout the next eight weeks leading up to peak week, we gradually decreased her steady state cardio, limiting it to just 15 minutes per day. Meanwhile, we steadily increased her caloric intake from 1139 calories per day when she weighed 125 lbs. to 2145 calories per day as her weight DROPPED to 121 lbs. These adjustments resulted in a remarkable 4 lbs weight loss and an impressive Metabolic Factor of 17.6, exceeding our threshold of 15 to start Contest Prep by 2.6 points.
Thanks to these adjustments, she completed her preparation while still being in the off-season range. Moreover, her physical, physiological, and mental condition remained sound and stable throughout the process. She was able to manage her hunger, which played a vital role in preventing a severe rebound effect that could lead to uncontrollable weight gain after the competition. As a result, she experienced gradual and reasonable weight increases, and her muscles gained density, giving her a more prominent and well-defined physique while also improving her strength.
As she progressed, we placed a greater emphasis on strength adaptations, focusing on pushing her limits and setting new personal records on a weekly basis. We continued to increase her caloric intake while keeping her rate of weight gain within the desired range.
Fast forward three months into the off-season, and the rate of calorie increases began to slow down considerably. As previously mentioned, her Metabolic Factor exceeded our contest prep threshold by 2.6 points, giving us the flexibility to either maintain her caloric intake or increase it as necessary. As we shifted our programming focus from improving her metabolic capacity to enhancing hypertrophy adaptations, we were able to adjust her food intake based on her hunger levels and optimal performance in the gym. At this point, her Metabolic Rate was no longer a primary concern as that goal was already achieved before her previous preparation came to an end.
Currently, just three months post-competition, she maintains a stable weight of approximately 127 lbs. while consuming 2328 calories per day. This is a difference of fewer than 100 calories compared to her highest calorie level in her previous off-season. However, she is now 14 lbs. lighter and has gained noticeable muscle mass, with an impressive Metabolic Factor of 18.33. At this point, our primary focus is on balancing her physique to meet the requirements of her division. All other aspects of her preparation have been successfully addressed, just a little over three months post contest prep.
It is rare for individuals to experience such significant improvements over the course of an entire off-season. However, our client, much like many others we work with, has achieved remarkable progress just three months into her off-season. This progress began two months before her last competition ended, and she continues to make strides towards her goals.
Achieving off-season progress while still in contest prep is no longer just a far-fetched dream; it is now a reality. By successfully implementing the Five Phases of Contest Prep and 5 Phase of Off-Season, anyone can make significant progress towards their off-season goals.
Plan ahead, and plan wisely!
UPDATE: Amanda went on to win her IFBB Pro Card the next year!!!!