Muscle Hacking & Contest Prep Advice from Renowned Bodybuilding Coach Austin Stout

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Renowned bodybuilding coach Austin Stout shares some of his favourite contest prep secrets with our loyal reader, drawing on massive experience in prepping athletes for the sport he loves.

1)   What is the ideal amount of time for a contest prep?

Ideally I like the idea of no time frames. This allows the person to prep at a pace that is right for their body/situation. However, not everyone will have this luxury if they are competing at the national or pro levels since there are limited shows.

In general, the longer the better in case unforeseen obstacles arise that set things back. This will all depend on the body comp starting point for that person. If they are someone that does well losing .5-1.5lbs per week then estimate the amount of fat and base it that way. For good measure, tack on a couple extra weeks for cushion. I would much rather be able to dial things in smoothly without stress at the end rather than rush it to the last minute.

A long prep may even allow for things like reset weeks to bring calories up and improve metabolic health before getting back into a deficit.

The takeaway is that more time tends to allow wiggle room for any circumstance and take the psychological stress of the “gun to the head” approach off the person. Unless of course they thrive on that.

2)   When should somebody introduce cardio into contest prep?

First off, I feel that it’s important to understand what type of deficit the person responds best too. On paper someone can create the same deficit through either nutrition, cardio or a combination of both. In a perfect world, it would work the same regardless. However, this simply isn’t the truth when applied.

Some folks tend to adapt and downregulate more quickly with nutrition cut vs cardio or vice versa. Knowing these tendencies allows for the right timing. Some may need to introduce it right away and others may not need much at all.

3) What is the optimal meal frequency for muscle growth/protein synthesis?

Most of the newer research tells us that meal frequency isn’t nearly as important as we once thought assuming the person is getting in the proper calories/macros.

When I am looking at meal frequency, I want to take into consideration a couple primary factors for each person.

-Schedule: What frequency is most practical, enjoyable and stress free in terms of adherence.

-Digestion: Some folks simply digest meals quicker than others (meal composition matters of course). These people may do better with higher meal frequency. Others have far too much overlap in digestion from meals to eat higher meal frequency.

In terms of protein synthesis, we don’t need to eat 6-8 times per day to maximize this. It seems that the research settles around the 3ish meal per day mark depending on the context. We do not need to eat every 2-3 hours to ensure MPS is fully stimulated. Though it certainly won’t hurt to eat more meals each day if that suits you.

3)   What calorie surplus should I eat at to gain muscle when bulking?

For most people, a massive surplus isn’t needed. Being just over baseline (whatever that is for that person) is enough to grow. We can only add new muscle tissue so quick so being massively over our maintenance calories will likely just result in more fat gain, loss of insulin sensitivity etc.

Eat enough over maintenance to keep things going but not so much that you are gaining more fat than muscle! Finding that sweet spot may take some trial and error.

4)   How important is flexibility/mobility work for bodybuilders?

It can be extremely important for some and not so much for others. We want to be able to perform an exercise properly through the entire ROM. Some people need zero extra mobility/flexibility work to accomplish this and others may need a lot.

I tend to prescribe this work on an as needed basis based on the idea above. We do not want to be hypermobile so doing mobility work when we don’t need it can do more harm than good.

5)   Calf Training: What’s the best way to get them to grow fast?

Full disclosure here, this is my worst body part! Mainly because I have very high insertions genetically. Many folks with poor calves have the same issue. There may be muscle there but visually they don’t have the same pop that a lower insertion has.

With that said, I have found that calves grow well with higher total workload. They are constantly beat up day to day with walking and indirectly when training other muscles. Therefore, overload will take some extra work above and beyond this.

If your calves grow slowly then train them OFTEN. In fact, assuming you can recover from it, train them everyday you are in the gym with various rep ranges, loads and tempos.

6)   What are your favourite training techniques to shock muscle into new growth?

This might not be the type of “technique” most are thinking of but tracking progress. People throw the kitchen sink at their training with every intensity technique in the book and a mash-up of 10 different training methodologies.

The problem is the have no benchmark of progress. Whether that is getting stronger, adding volume or a combination of things.

Keep training progressive in some way, shape or form!

7) What is the most overlooked supplement for pro bodybuilders?

Supplements that keep all body systems functioning optimally! We cannot expect to drive a square peg into a round hole. Inevitably to gain the type of muscle needed to be a pro bodybuilder, it’s not always going to be the poster child for health. The better someone can keep each body system functioning the better.

What a person needs in terms of health supplementation should depend on need. This can be evaluated through lab work, past health history, pre disposition etc.

Many health supplements are what I would consider preventative as well and are great to have working in the background. ProjectAD Liver+ and Heart + for example, can be used by anyone looking to optimize organ and cardiovascular health.

Others may have spotless lab work but have a hard time managing digestion. Again, supplementation is based on need. In any case, managing any and all health imbalances through nutrition, lifestyle AND supplementation will lead to a better physique. If you want to gain maximal muscle, you need to cover your bases.


Armed with your new knowledge, go out and attack progress like never before! Austin is one of the most respected in the game, so take the time to assimilate his info and go and apply it to your own training and nutritional regime to get results.

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