Everything you need to do in your GAA off season

  • By Brian Keane


Its coming into the short, dark evenings of winter; and unless you are fortunate enough to be contesting the All Ireland series, your football, ladies’ football, hurling or camogie championship season has finished and you are just rounding off the last few games of the league. It’s now time to set your sights on next year and finally switch your focus away from the pitch and back towards the gym.

“WHAT you do in the off season determines HOW you do in the in season”

The number #1 mistake I see GAA players make in the off-season is ‘not being sure what their goals are’.

One of the questions from my Lean Body Program questionnaire is ‘which goals describes you best’ – this obviously helps me find what version of the program (there’s about 20 variations in all) that will work towards your goals but also allow you to get really clear on what you are looking to get out of your off season. For example, I’ll put some of them below as they might help you focus on what your goals are in the off-season.

  1. I want to get bigger and improve performance
  2. I want to get leaner and improve performance
  3. I am want to lose a lot of body fat and improve performance
  4. I want to tone up and improve performance
  5. I want to get gain a lot of muscle and improve performance
  6. I am happy with how I look but I want to improve performance

After you have determined your goals; the next thing you want to do is base your training, nutrition and supplements around those goals.

For example, if you are looking to build muscle and improve performance, you will be eating in a calorie surplus (eat more calories than you are burning) in order to build more muscle. Also, you may be supplementing with the likes creatine and beta alanine whilst your program will be based around hypertrophy (for muscle size) and metabolic/strength and conditioning (to improve performance).

The opposite is true then if fat loss is your goal, you will go into a calorie deficit (eat less calories than you are burning); your supplements choices will be different; for example green tea extract to boost metabolism, l-carnitiine tartarte to shuttle fat into mitochondria to be burnt as fuel whilst you will probably have a higher focus on the metabolic conditioning section of your training.

Overlapping your goals with your entire program is probably the single biggest contributing factor to improving your performance and getting in the shape you want as opposed to actually hindering your performance and still being no closer to your physique goals.

For anyone following me a while, you know that I completely ruined my body doing a bodybuilding program in the height of football career- granted, I looked good but my performance was the worst its ever been and I felt like I was getting injured every time I played a game.

To be completely honest, I designed my Lean Body Program with the ’19 year old’ me in mind, it’s for the guy or girl who want to look great and play great. When I started training first (or even 4 or 5 years in), I didn’t realise the importance of training correctly for sport (and that you could look amazing if you did it right); I didn’t know how to eat properly for a leaner physique; I had no idea how to use supplements to make me a more athletic and massively speed up my recovery and I thought recovery meant ‘stretching after training’.  Looking back now, I realise how far off I was, but at the time, I didn’t know any better.

Back then my training consisted of purely bodybuilding style workouts (time under tension, hypertrophy etc.) and steady state cardio. My diet was chicken and rice or pasta (because I thought that’s what athletes eat) and my supplements were mixture of fat burners, weight gainer (I know, ill get to that tomorrow) and every other supplement that had a fitness model or bodybuilder on the cover of their advertising campaign.

Just to give you an idea of my off season now, my primary goals are to build a little bit of muscle, stay relatively lean and improve my core strength and glute firing so I am faster for next season.

My program is based on hypertrophy (to build muscle) at the start of workouts, strength/conditioning and core in the middle (to improve core strength and glute firing) and metabolic conditioning (to stay lean) at the end.

Nutritionally, my calories are between 3,000 and 3,500 (I don’t count them strictly but have a good idea of intake) and are from a variety of clean ‘real’ food. For example, oats, sweet potato, loads of green veg, turkey, chicken, grass fed butter etc.

My supplements are currently health/energy based (some I’m experimenting with for my GAA Program, check out my snapchat briank019 where I post them if you want to follow it first hand), but the main ones are: green tea extract, l-carnitine tartate, BCAA’s and protein which links up with my goals to stay relatively lean whilst adding some quality muscle.


As mentioned above, the key is linking your nutrition with your goals. Once you have decided on your goals (I want to get bigger, stronger, lose more body fat, get abs, tone up, drop a dress size etc.); you then align your nutrition with that.


During college, the biggest nutritional mistake I made was eating a ‘fitness model’ diet whilst playing top-level GAA. Even though I went to University in London, I actually made my undergraduate college selection on which team was the highest ranking at the time.

After my leaving cert, my choices were either Science in NUIG or Business in Sligo IT. In the previous year, Sligo had just won the Sigerson Cup, so I decided to go there. That isn’t a word of a lie, that’s how the decision was made; when I sat down to decide where I was going to spend the next four years of my life, it wasn’t based on the course, what I enjoyed doing or for the want of a new location; the won the college championships the year before; so I choose Sligo (when I joke in videos saying I don’t do things by halves, this is probably one of those examples).

I remember making the Fresher’s team where I played alongside Colm Boyle and Tom Parsons who went on to become fantastic players for the Mayo senior team but for the first time in memory, my performances were starting to suffer. First I put it down to over training, I was playing on several successful teams and playing or training six or seven days a week. But I had done this ever since the age of 15 (I made my senior club debut at 16, there was no ‘cap’ back then), so was I officially ‘burnt out’?

The reality was, my nutrition and my training were really misaligned. In my hopes of getting abs and biceps for college nights out (the reason most guys join the gym), I would regularly eat just vegetables and meat (normally chicken or white fish); not realising that if I fuelled my body correctly, I could have abs AND get leaner, stronger whilst perform better.

As I mentioned yesterday, I created the Lean Body GAA program with my college self in mind. In truth, at 28, its helping me now more than ever but I would have given anything to have that edge back then when football was my entire life.


This is assuming that looking and performing better are your primary goals; if you don’t care how you look, then these tips wont support you as much (although they can improve your performance all the same). Every version of my Lean Body Program different so if you are a hurler looking to bulk up and get significantly stronger, your nutrition is going to look very different to that of a footballer looking to get leaner, lose body fat and tone up. However, there are some things that come across all versions of the program; so I’ll share them below in the hopes that they will help you going forward.

CARB CYCLING: Before I took a two year break from football to concentrate on competing, I had been using this ‘carb cycling’ method. Carb cycling is when you manipulate your intake of carbs so that they’re higher around harder training sessions and lower on rest days. The year I won the All Ireland Club Championships, I had implemented carb cycling that entire season. The Year I won my Fitness Model Pro Card at the Miami Pro and competed in the Bodybuilding Worlds in Las Vegas, I used the same system. This can give you an idea of how effective carb cycling is when performance and aesthetics are your primary goals.

Why does it work?

One word: flexibility. If fat loss and performance is your primary goal, carb cycling can keep your metabolism firing as it avoids metabolic stalling (i.e. it slows down) whilst keeping you fuelled for harder sessions (keeping performance optimal).

If muscle building is your goal, it can help keep glycogen stores fuller so your body uses the majority of the amino acid intake (the protein you consume) to repair and build new muscle tissue. It can also keep you more insulin sensitive than ‘high carb only’ diet meaning you get a better ‘bang for your buck’ on the high carb days. If your goal is to build muscle and lose body fat, you manipulate the numbers (alongside fats and protein) and do both together!

For example, during the season, I have my high carb days the day before and the day of big games. This is to keep glycogen stores full; note: you never want to tap into fat stores during a game (this is what happened to me during my first college season); it’s a terrible energy source and will affect your performance. In my off-season then, I keep my high carb days around my leg workouts.

EAT QUALITY FOOD: If you have been following, watching or reading me a while, you know that I’m pretty anti processed food. Its not so much the actual processing that I’m against, it’s the fact that most quality nutrients are removed from processed foods and replaced with preservatives, additives, sweeteners and sugars extend its shelf life. Food, by its nature is designed to be consumed, not to sit on a shelf for months.

If you treat your body like a well-oiled machine (as most top performing inter county players do), then it will perform like a well-oiled machine. What happens when you put poor quality oil into a machine? It breaks down and stops working as well.

The truth is, you can literally have your cake and eat it too (figuratively, not literally, cake is highly processed.. joke). Regardless whether you are looking to build muscle, lose body fat or become the top player for your club (or an amalgamation of these goals) – eating quality foods are your building blocks. Stick with quality carbohydrate sources (brown rice, sweet potato, oats etc.), lean protein sources (chicken, fish, whey protein) and nutritious fats (oily fish, nuts, oils) and you will give yourself a massive edge over your competition.

The final piece of the nutritional jigsaw is supplements. If you have your training on point, you nutrition in alignment with your goals, then your supplements can take you from 90% to 100%.


Supplements do work incredibly well for GAA players; I talked on my Podcast (Brian Keane Fitness Podcast Ep3: GAA and a Lean Body) about how supplements can help speed up recovery, improve immune support (so you don’t get sick) and can help make you stronger, faster. However, they will NOT replace the fundamentals of a good training and nutritional program; you can take the best supplements in the world but if you miss the other two, you’re going to get very minimal improvement (but a significantly lighter wallet or purse).

As discussed above, your training program should focused on improving performance incorporating hypertrophy, strength and metabolic conditioning alongside a good nutritional plan based on carb cycling and eating real food. Once you have both of these in place, the right supplements can move you to the next level.

Again, the supplement list from my Lean Body Program varies depending on each person’s goals; for example, a female camogie player looking to lose body fat is going to have very different supplement requirements to a male footballer looking to put on muscle. However, there are some supplements that work regardless of goals (they will speed up recovery and help with fat loss or muscle building when linked up with the correct nutritional plan at the right dosages).

Before I get in to what supplements work, there are two points I want to touch on. As I was fooled into spending loads of cash from the age of 19-23 (money I didn’t really have in college or my first few years of teaching)- I feel at least one other person will benefit from me quashing these misconceptions so I will link them below. 1) You need a fat burner to get lean or ripped and 2) you need a weight gainer to get muscular and jacked (and worse you need both to get muscular AND ripped.).

In episode 7 of the Brian Keane Fitness Podcast (out on Monday- 24th of October 2016) titled ‘EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS’ – I talk about how I was fooled (for years) about buying every supplement that pictured my favourite fitness models or bodybuilders; my thought was ‘well if I use that supplement, ill look like them’ – so month after month, id scrape the last bit of money together and go and buy the new ‘silver bullet’ supplement (you know the one that turns you into a cover model in 6 weeks).

Month after month, the changes would be so minimal (and the cost so maximum) that I got very disheartened and started to do my own research on supplements. 6 years later, I’m actually a bigger fan of supplements now than I was even in college, the difference is now I know WHAT ones to use and HOW to use them.

I’ve saved hundreds and probably thousands at this stage by focusing on using the fundamental supplements that work and avoid the latest ‘fat burner ripped fuel sliced abs 6000’ or ‘muscular enhancer weight gainer 5million’. Now that you have some of my background (if that story resonated, comment below because you are not the only one who’s been fooled by it, I know I certainly was)- Ill put my Supplement Golden Rules For GAA Players:

AVOID OVER THE COUNTER FAT BURNERS! To really hedge my point, I have to say that fat burners 100% work in the short term (the short term being the operative term).

A good over the counter fat burner will give you more energy and possibly reduce your appetite. Most over the counter fat burners run of your beta 2 receptor (for example caffeine runs off the beta 2 receptor which helps you burn body fat) – but as anyone who drinks 3 cups of coffee a day can attest to, you build up a tolerance.. and quickly. So even though that fat burner was helping to give you energy (and the caffeine was initially helping to release fat from the cells), once your beta 2 receptors becomes down regulated (i.e. caffeine tolerance), the fat burner will largely stop working meaning you are spending money on very expensive coffee or wasting it all together.

My biggest issue with fat burners is probably the known ‘rebound’ that they cause in most people. It’s not uncommon to lose a bit of weight using a fat burner but to keep it off when you stop using it is another matter completely.

Most fat burners have time released stimulants (to give you consistent energy in place of food)- this is great while you are taking them, you have more energy, don’t need food to function and are more alert through the day.

I remember taking a fat burner in college (BSN Atro Phex which has since been banned) and I went to the gym for two hours (twice) and played three hours of 7 a side soccer in the evening.. on an apple. I woke up the next day with can only be described as ‘hit by a bus’ syndrome. I never questioned where the energy came from (I had trained nearly 7 hours the previous day on about 100kcals) but it gives you an idea of the strength of some of the over the counter fat burners (I bought them in a local health store when I was buying my porridge!). I spent the rest of the week like a zombie; Alas, Isaac Newton was right ‘what goes up, must come down’.

Because fat burners send your body into a consistent state of ‘fight or flight’ – your entire recovery and hormonal system are jeopardised. If you have ever used a fat burner and got up to the go the toilet in the middle of the night only to be wide awake as soon as you climb back into your bed; its because of this ‘fight or flight response.

When you wake, your body spikes cortisol (which is actually the natural way to wake up) but with the presence of excess stimulants in your system and over workings of your adrenals; this process is massively heightened i.e. its 3am, you wake and your body thinks its ready to start the day.

So what causes the rebound? There are two main reasons that generally cause the rebound:

1) ENERGY CRASH AND CRAP FOOD: When you stop taking your fat burner, you come out of a state of fight or flight (which was giving you consistent, albeit ‘fake’ energy) leaving you with an incredible drop or low. What do you tend to reach for when energy is at an all time low? You got it: food. And it’s normally not broccoli, porridge or chicken either; when that ultimate energy low hits us, its sugars, chocolate, biscuits, cakes or other stimulant drinks that we reach for. From a basic calories in, calories out (taking hormonal responses out of it, as they have also been affected) leads to = rebound.

2) YOUR APPETITE COMES BACK HARD! Most fat burners (the good ones anyways) normally include a strong ‘appetite suppressant’ – and they do as the name suggest, they suppress your appetite.

That’s fine while you are taking them, but think about what happens you come off them? Your appetite has been supressed for 6-8 weeks? I like to think of it like pulling back a rubber band, the harder and longer you pull it back (appetite suppressed), the further it rebounds back.

48 hours after the Atro Phex/7 hours of training on only an apple situation that I mentioned above, I was utterly ravenous! I must have consumed 10,000 – 12,000kcals two days later. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that if I was trying to lose body fat, one day on 100kcals and another on a 12,000kcals probably isn’t going to support me all that much.

This is what over the counter fat burners can do; just because you can buy it in a local shop (most aren’t FDA approved anyway), doesn’t make it good or safe for you. I can go to any fast food shop and buy cheeseburgers every day, that doesn’t make it good for me. We have an availability bias in our brain (its one of the 25 cognitive bias that we evolved) and we think that because its available, it must be ‘okay’ – remember not too long ago, you could buy opium on the open market (and heroin is derived form the morphine alkaloid found in opium) so don’t ever use something just because you can buy it over the counter.

I know all of this from first hand experience. I must have experimented with every fat burner on the market from 19-23 and had all the positive and negative effects that came with them. One of my favourite ever quotes is ‘smart peole learn from their mistakes, really smart people learn from other peoples mistakes’.

The key to losing fat is to find a good nutritional plan based around your goals alongside a training program that’s syncs up with it. There are fat burners like green tea extract and l-carnitine that wont mess you up mentally, physically or philologically but I promise you, if you lose fat the right way, you will lose it and keep it off!


I talked above about how fat burners will completely mess up your system.

That was originally for this GAA topic that I’m covering this week but it kind of took on a life of its own as I was writing so I posted it as a stand-alone piece.

For GAA players, its all about recovery; there are some great GAA supplements like creatine that will help make you stronger in the gym which can have a direct impact for strength on the pitch and beta alanine which can help buffer lactic acid so you don’t get that massive build up during training, gym sessions or games but the truth, the difference between the good and the great is their ability to recover between sessions.

The better you recover, the higher level of output you can put out each time. Think about it this way, who would rather play against- the person who trains on the pitch twice a week and plays the game at weekend or the person who does that plus another 3 or 4 gym sessions focused on firing their glutes to make them faster, metabolic conditioning to make them aerobically fitter and core work to break through tackles more effectively. I know which one I’d prefer to play against.

The reality is, when following the right program, effort = results – we see it time and time again at inter county levels; the top players are rarely the ones with the most natural talent – they are the ones that put in the most work and recover better than everyone else. Assuming you read Tuesdays post on nutrition and are following those strategies, your supplements have the ability to enhance recovery to the point physically moving to the next level.


Nutrition is always going to be number here, you want to replace glycogen stores (carb stores) as soon as you finish any intense session so that you are not running on empty (fat stores) in the following days session. The two supplements you want to add to your post workout regimen (pitch and gym) are a good absorbable whey protein and BCAA’s.

Again, depending on each persons gaols, their supplement requirements will be different – for example in my Lean Body Program, if muscle building is the primary goal, I add creatine and better alanine pre and/or post workout – but the two recovery supplements that are in all versions of my plan are whey protein and BCAA’s so I’ll explain them below.


The food that I think has the most complementary affect on your body is protein; carbohydrates are great for athletes and keep glycogen stores full but nothing comes close to helping you add muscle, lose fat and repair from workouts like protein.

In every variation of the program, protein is consistent in each meal (it’s the building blocks of muscle) and as whey protein is absorbed at a must faster rate, it can be timed to flood your muscle with amino acids to speed up recovery post workout. Whey is a complete protein (it has all the essential amino acids that your body cannot make itself) but its real stand out is its natural level of BCAA’s. If you have listened to any of the first three episodes of my podcast, you see that BCAA’s features in the fat loss, muscle building and GAA episode. It really the king of all supplements.


The major mistake I see with GAA players is they keep their BCAA’s doses too low i.e. they only use the BCAA’s that’s naturally occurring in whey protein. If you want to double or even treble your muscular recovery; start supplementing with BCAA’s before and after you train ON TOP of your whey protein.

A large percentage of dietary amino acids are oxidized and wasted even before reaching the circulatory system. The exceptions to this pattern are the BCAA’s; over 80 per cent of dietary content of leucine, valine and isoleucine (the three ingredients of branch chain amino acids) reaches circulation. Whey protein is so naturally high in BCAAs’, that’s why it works so well but adding another 5-10g (depending on bodyweight) pre and post workout can double or even treble your muscular recovery.

How to use them: Adding 5-10g of BCAA’s to your pre, intra or post workout (all at once or split over the three) can work wonders for recovery. Personally I always have 3-5g of BCAA’s first thing in the morning too

Assuming you have your training and nutrition in alignment with your goals, speeding up your recovery is going to have a massive impact on your performance (in the gym and on the pitch) so make sure to have the right plans in place.

“Greatness is about doing the right things day after day” Ray Lewis – NFL player


This week I talked about how fat burners work on your body but I have one other massive pet peeve with supplements and that’s weight gainers. The next episode of my podcast ‘EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS’ (out Monday), explains the origin of my supplement pet peeves in greater detail so listen for that on Monday if you think it will support you.

To hedge my point, weight gainers definitely serve a purpose if you’re looking to add size, the message is pretty good; you need more calories than you consume to add more size. This is true.

But to get it from weight gainers is the single biggest waist of my money that you can spend. Most weight gainers have 12-20 servings (normally 500-1000kcal of protein and malto dextrin or some other cheap or low quality carbohyrate) – and retail at 50 plus.

As someone who has been in the fitness industry for a long time; I’m telling you now, that the 50 tub you are buying cost around 4 to make at scale (that’s some mark up by the way) – if you bought those ingredients separately, you would save yourself an absolute fortune (although, I actually don’t like those ingredients to begin with, so see my alternative weight gaining shake from my online program further down).

The reality is, that money has been pumped back into signing physically impressive bodybuilders to use for the marketing of the product so you think ‘if I use this, I’ll look like him’ –we’ve all been fooled (I certainly have been in the past).

We have what’s called an associated bias in our brain, its one of the 25 cognitive bias in the brain that we evolved over time. In this instance, it basically means we associate the way we want to look with the product the person is representing. This association bias has been used in marketing for years from perfumes and aftershave to diet drinks and supplements. It happens at the unconscious level (hence cognitive bias) so we don’t even realise we’re making the association. Now that I’ve mentioned it, have a look at the ads on TV or billboards on the street. That marketing associative bias is everywhere; and once you see it, you cant unsee it in everything.

Personally I’m not a big fan on the ingredients used in most weight gaining shakes, even though, like fat burners, they do work; I prefer to use cleaner ingredients. For one, they will absorb more slowly (drip feeding your body with calories and amino acids, which is what you want) and cost a tenth of the price. I’ll put one of my recipes for a weight gainer shake from my GAA plan below to give you an idea.

100g oats

4 tablespoons of natural peanut butter

1 tablespoon of coconut oil

2 scoops of whey protein

Calories: 1,000kcal

This shake has around 1,000kcals – you have two of them a day (the same recommendation as most weight gainers), then you are already at 2,000kcals before you have a had any of your meals. If you really want to ‘bulk up’ – save your money and use it to buy real food. Just add this shake (its my personal ‘easy bulk up shake’) and alongside a good nutritional plan, you will get yourself into a calorie surplus very quickly.


Smart people learn from their mistakes, really smart people learn from other people’s mistakes. I trained incorrectly for years, I underrate the wrong foods and I spent a fortune on supplements that didn’t work. Learn from my mistakes and go be the best version of a GAA player that you can possibly be.

Hopefully this supported you massively, you want to know more about my Lean Body GAA Program which is based around your specific goals in your off season, email me on brian@briankeanefitness.com and I can send you over all the information and you can see if it is what you are looking for. Thanks for reading 🙂


Brian Keane Fitness Podcast

Brian is a qualified personal trainer, sports nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach.

He is the best selling author of the book The Fitness Mindset and currently travels the world as a professional speaker. He also hosts the #1 podcast The Brian Keane Podcast.

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