There is a common misconception amongst the general population of gym-goers that the only way to gain strength and increase size us to be in some sort of “bulking” phase. And that cutting means you need to sacrifice strength and size in order to achieve a more aesthetic physique. This is not necessarily true.
Luckily for you I’m writing this at the beginning of beach season so I can save some of you strength athletes from the dreaded summer bulk. Let’s start simple and with something we can all agree on. Being in an overall caloric deficit for a long period of time will cause weight loss and being in a caloric surplus for a long period of time will cause weight gain.
The type of weight loss or gain that occurs can be manipulated by the type and intensity of exercise you choose as well as where your calories come from i.e. macronutrient distribution. Now this is the part where we lose some people so let’s return to the idea of a long cut. In this situation you are in an OVERALL caloric deficit. What is overlooked is the fact that during this time you will be cycling between both catabolic and anabolic stages over and over again.
For simplicity sake let’s pretend you start your day at maintenance level energy balance; you haven’t expended any energy or taken anything in, you walk to the kitchen and eat a meal, but you still haven’t expended much energy – you are now effectively and temporarily in a caloric surplus. Next you go to the gym and expend more calories than you took in at breakfast and now you are now in a caloric deficit. This can occur many times per day and if you’re cutting all it means is that you are in a caloric deficit for more of the day than you are in a caloric surplus. The end result is weight loss, but you had many opportunities to build lean mass as you were in an anabolic state multiple times
Our bodies are not programmed with an “on and off” switch for anabolism (building) and catabolism (breakdown), but rather our bodies go through anabolism and catabolism repeatedly throughout the day.
If you’re still not buying it let’s use an example most of us can relate to. I’m sure everyone had an overweight friend or acquaintance in high school who decided to start hitting the gym. They lost a significant amount of weight over a long period of time due to being in an overall caloric deficit and eventually, once they got lean enough, they revealed the muscular physique they had been building the entire time they were cutting.
If your goal is solely to gain lean mass and you’re already satisfied with the amount of body fat you have the a slight overall caloric surplus is optimal, but this isn’t the case for most people. For those who wish to lose body fat don’t be deterred by the idea of losing strength or muscle mass as you can build lean mass effectively in a caloric deficit if you have BOTH a permissive diet AND an effective training program. Just remember you cannot have one without the other and expect desired result.