The guy behind the counter gave me a surprised looked when I walked into the nutrition shop. "Still competing? When does your off-season start?". The nutritional off-season he was referring to is great for his business. But contrary to the average male customer, I have no intention of buying a weight gainer and pre-ordering a fat burner any time soon.
Professional and aspiring bodybuilders attempt to increase their muscle mass by increasing their calorie intake by any means necessary during off-season. When a competition comes around in the distant future, their intention is to burn off the excess fat while holding on to as much muscle mass as possible. This has proven to be an effective strategy for muscle growth and even a more effective excuse for obesity.
I'm a regular desk worker pushing forty and not a professional bodybuilder. But I gave bulking and cutting a thought. Seemed like a legitimate way to conveniently exchange low self-esteem with an eating disorder. Just kidding.
Firstly, would a 10% increase of body weight translate into a 10% increase in my bench press? Most likely. Pasture raised organic chicken or waffle potato covered Chick-fil-A? Doesn't matter. The weight increase can be lean body mass or not, the bench press will improve. But straight talk: I'm not going to get fat just to impress my male gym buddies.
Second thought: Would a 10% increase of body weight translate into a 10% faster sprint time? Most likely not. Even if it's just pure muscle, my tendons and ligaments would be screaming for mercy. Already at my current body weight of 88kg, my achilles have a lot to carry. Side note: Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world, is 185cm tall and weighs 79kg. Compared to him I'm currently bulking.
The weight classes for the classic (read: drug tested) bodybuilding competitions give us a hint of what body weight young, devoted athletes can expect to reach with a low body fat. The maximum allowed body weight for contestants of 180 cm up to 190 cm is their height in centimeters minus 96. So if you are 185cm tall, you are allowed to weigh 89 kg. That would mean 10kg extra for Gatlin. How did they come up with this number? It's simple: The bodybuilding federations have to attract enough competitors and they have seen that a low body fat is still obtainable for natural athletes at that weight.
With this in mind, it should not come as a surprise that it's difficult to have ripped six-pack abs if you weigh over 100kg. Clean bulk all you want but you are destined to lose definition. The perceived muscle size depends on your body fat, but also on the illusion created by the thickest and thinnest parts of your body. So you actually might look better with a higher body fat percentage than you think. This is especially true for women.
But before you take another bite in your whole grain doughnut, note that there are consequences with tampering with your body weight. Skin elasticity, the biggest issue for aging bodybuilders, might not be a concern for an athlete in their twenties. But no fat loss success story has escaped this caveat. Rapid weight gain and weight loss is a stretch.
It's time to shift the focus from building muscle mass to maintaining muscle mass and body weight. You are likely heavy enough. Forget bulking. Frequent resistance exercise and regular feedings containing sufficient amount of leucine will protect your muscle mass. An increase of a couple of hundred grams of muscle each year will add up. Besides, this is a valid excuse to cut down on all the damned chewing that goes along with eating boat loads of unprocessed foods.
Third and final thought: Why am I still debating this? I'm just going to buy the HMB supplement from the nutrition shop.
Learn more about speed and strength training by downloading the Outdoor Edition Training Guide. Also, be on the look out for the Fit Businessman book by Eric Snaell.