– Is there an optimal bodyfat range for growth and performance? If so, why?
In short, yes. This is something that is going to be individual for everyone and dependant on the individuals circumstances.
So for a primer on the bodyfat set point theory, basically it’s a range of bodyfat that your body feels ‘comfortable’ in. There is no calculator that can be universally used and this range is very individual to the person. Your body has built in survival mechanisms to stay within this range such as fluctuations in RMR in order to match food intake as well as the thermic effect of eating and the thermic effect of activity. Quick example, lets say you went on a starvation diet, your body would sense the rapid conservation of energy and pull its met rate back significantly. On the flip side lets say you decided to stuff your guts out. In this case your body would do the opposite and up regulate fat oxidation and expenditure as well as your TEF increases simply due to the increase in food consumption.
To use somatotypes as an example, it’s not uncommon to see an individual with ectomorphic metabolic tendencies walk around happily at 5% and often these individuals will also have to consume large amounts of calories to for them to simply feel ‘good’ and to add lean tissue. On the other end of the spectrum you have endomorphs who will feel like utter garbage when they bring their bodyfat down to lower levels and i’ve seen people who would be no lower than 10% and are complaining about how crap they feel.
Back to your question about what is optimal for growth and performance. Well look at it this way, if you’re sitting say 10lbs under your ‘happy weight’ and don’t feel real good at that weight, then your body is going to be using a lot of the fuel you throw at it simply for survival (kind of like still being in a deficit), so making any appreciable gains in lean tissue is unlikely as your body has higher priorities. With that said, and without trying to put a number on something that is impossible to do so, i’ve found that most people start to do well around the 10lb over stage weight mark.
Something else to consider is how heavy you want to get and where you are with your training age. For an individual who is relatively young and has a lot of untapped growth, then you can let your bodyweight get a LITTLE higher in the offseason, since it isn’t unlikely for this group of people to add enormous amounts of lean tissue relatively quickly. A little bit of added ‘cushion’ can also go a long way in the leverage department and add good chunks of weight to your lifts.
A point to note is that getting too heavy also has a lot of draw backs. Adding a lot of fat will hinder insulin sensitivity which accompanies a lack of target cell response to insulin (not something we want as bodybuilders).
The obvious drawback to getting too heavy is having to diet all the fat off. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but we’re looking at whats most beneficial and personally I think staying within certain bodyweight limits isn’t such a bad idea, and again, this limit will vary on the individual.
– What should I be focusing on in the gym during the offseason?
In one word, progression.
Look at yourself like any other athlete and make performance with the weights a focus. How to do that is going to be dependent on where the athlete is in their offseason. For an athlete who is sitting comfortable at their bodyweight and making small increases in scale weight then I think alternating periods of strength/hypertrophy focused sessions is a safe way to add new muscle.
I personally found volume to be something that I responded very well to and I would go as long as I could in terms of progressing my main lifts while running a more hypertrophy focused routine and when I would stall out I would move to something a little more strength based and increase my capacity for when I move back to the hypertrophy blocks. In saying that I never got away from incorporating both strength and hypertrophy into my training, rather I just changed my focus. Daily or weekly undulating periodisation is something more athletes should be trying and it is an effective way and ‘covering all bases’ for lack of a better term. By undulating your workouts you can efficiently move through all dynamics of training without detraining certain ones as is seen quite often with linear progressions.
The offseason is a time you can really have a little more wiggle room to play around with training. Try higher frequency, see how you respond to varying rep ranges etc and keep an eye on recovery! Believe it or not doing a bunch of sprints the day before a leg session will hinder recovery and that is especially true if you haven’t worked your food intake up to a healthy level.