As a strength athlete we are always chasing performance or at least we should be. Sometimes we get a wild hair up our butts and we chase after aesthetics, thinking that will yield to a better performance on the platform. Although I agree with the notion that leaner more muscled physique will usually produce the best lifter on the platform it does require quite the long term commitment to get there. This quest for both strength and aesthetics is important to understand and has only been pushed to the forefront over the past 6-8 years. in years past we would see a lot of big dudes but with guts and not the greatest physique but man were they strong for that time. Now we see guys like Larry Williams, Dan Green, Kevin Oak, and Steve Gentili pushing the aspect of why not have both and the records have fallen due to it. Is it because the genetics are better, maybe the drugs have improved, or maybe these guys understand the importance of maximizing the most amount of lean tissue to fit into a weight class will yield the best results.
So now comes the question of this article should I try to gain weight or cut down and the answer is it depends. I will say that a lot of people are hurting their true potential by constantly trying to drop a weight class to be more competitive. If you are always in a calorie deficit trying to get to a small weight class when exactly are you taking the time to occur lean body tissue?? The answer is never because in order to add muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus unless you are new to drugs or a complete newbie to training beyond that the likely hood of gaining muscle is slim to none. This is extremely important to note, stop trying to drop a weight class to be more competitive at a local meet!!! You are hindering your ultimate progress and not allowing your body to lay down the groundwork of a solid foundation.
So should you cut or gain, the answer if you have to ask is you should try to drop excess body fat first, not because you are trying to drop down a weight class, this is only to set yourself up for better growth potential. The more body fat you have the more likely you are to add more body fat while gaining over lean tissue and the reason behind that is your body is not as efficient at utilizing the nutrients when you have excess fat. Typically people who have more fat have higher insulin resistance which means if carbs are high you will be more likely to store more fat and your body doesn’t signal and release hormones like it should. So by dropping some pounds and getting closer to 12% body fat for males and 20% for females you are putting yourself in a better place to grow lean tissue. A good rule of thumb when cutting as a strength athlete is if you are starting to feel like your performance is suffering end the cut and start a slow reverse diet. This also brings me to a good point when it comes to a cut don’t go all out from the get-go. First I would get your diet in order and ride that out as long as you can and once you plateau I would add in a bit of conditioning nothing crazy just 2x a week. The main point is to not go to extremes right away that will shorten your cut and make it not nearly as effective. Approach the cut with the mindset that this is setting you up for a better and stronger physique and to not worry about chasing numbers during this but instead be more focused on just training really hard and using different training modalities.
Gaining weight also needs to adhere to certain guidelines, you don’t want to gain bad weight but keep in mind if you are in a calorie surplus you will get fatter that is inevitable, but the ability to add good quality muscle is a lot and I mean a lot harder than losing fat so we can learn to accept a little fat gain for the gain of lean tissue. You can only gain weight for so long without having some negative side effects. The biggest telltale that your weight gain is coming to an end is when you start to notice the fat to muscle ratio gain is skewing more towards fat and a lot less towards muscle. You will also lose those pumps in the gym and you’ll just start to feel kinda sluggish. This is a sign that you are not partitioning nutrients effectively and that your insulin has lost its sensitivity. The best way to advance the weight gain process is to slowly reverse diet out of a cut and to not go apeshit crazy and gain 20lbs in a week, your lower back will thank me later. At first, when gaining I would look to increase your overall protein intake by 10% give or take, here is an interesting study on a high protein diet https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-19
After letting your body adjust to that for 5-7 days I would then increase carbohydrates but only around your workout so looking to increase calories 250-350 cals per 2 weeks is a good approach. Obviously, if you add calories and you are still losing weight keep adding them in but do it in segments of every 5-7 days. This phase sucks and is a bitch to stick to because you will be starving but if you can ride it out for 1-2 months your gaining phase can last 6-8 months instead of 4-5 months.
If you do get sloppy and can only add weight for 3-4 months before you come to the conclusion that you are just getting fatter, but you are also not near your weight gain goal. I would highly recommend a mini diet for 4-6 weeks and then jumping right back into the smart approach this time of weight gain to learn more about mini cuts check out my article https://tmnutrition.net/2015/07/mini-diets-pros-vs-cons