Nutrition Q&A

Nutrition Q&A: Effects on Performance from Weight Gain and Loss

The rate of the bulk or cut may impact performance, especially if either is too rapid/aggressive. Either direction too fast has a potentially negative impact on overall performance. Being too far in a deficit will impact performance for obvious reasons, but bulking has some lesser considered consequences.

Question from Andres

I’ve been curious about what performance you’d expect from someone at a particular bodyweight when they are on a cut vs. bulk. Example: I am dropping weight and currently weigh 200# vs. I am gaining weight and currently weigh 200#. Should each version of that person be able to lift nearly the same (assuming all else is equal)? Will one have a distinct strength advantage over the other?

Answer

Hmmm…this is an interesting one. Yes, let’s assume all factors have been equalized with the exception of caloric surplus or caloric deficit for simplicity. With regard to moving weight on the bar, I’d expect the person on a bulk to have a greater potential for absolute strength gains and more “gas in the tank”. Bodyweight exercises like chin-ups and dips may get harder with an increase in body weight. Unfortunately, there is no linear formula that equates a bulking phase with improved performance (strength) or cutting with decreased performance.

The rate of the bulk or cut may impact performance, especially if either is too rapid/aggressive. Either direction too fast has a potentially negative impact on overall performance. Being too far in a deficit will impact performance for obvious reasons, but bulking has some lesser considered consequences such as:

  1. Is weight gain impacting your sleep?
  2. Are you putting on “junk weight” that is not helping you?
  3. Are you carrying weight that makes you sluggish and stresses other systems in your body?
  4. Have you impacted your hormones to be less than optimal? (The same would be true in a cut that achieves very low levels of body fat. Body fat levels are highly linked to testosterone levels. Too much body fat or too little body fat will negatively impact testosterone levels.)

To optimize performance on a bulk or cut, ideally you would be in a slow surplus or deficit—one that allows you to adjust to your changing body and it’s changing mechanics due to a shift in body mass. This means eating no more than 20% above or below your caloric needs.

In both cases, the type of fuel that you put in your body will be important for performance. Food quality often gets thrown out with a bulk phase, but it’s essential to optimize performance and minimize inflammation.

Interestingly, I have seen people get stronger during a well-executed cut, and conversely, I have seen people struggle to add weight to the bar even when they are intentionally putting on weight. So, coming full circle, the answer to your question is that one does not have a distinct strength advantage over the other.

Question from Zach

Very similar to Andres’s question, I’m curious how much of a performance increase one can expect when they jump up ~10-15lbs in body weight, and what macros are increased to accomplish this weight gain if it justifies the performance increase (i.e., increasing bodyweight to hit a particular PR in the short term)

Answer

Following along the lines of the last question, there is no specific way to extrapolate a linear performance increase with an increase of body mass. However, a larger muscle will generate more force. So it’s safe to assume that gaining lean body mass will correlate with strength gains when consistent and effective training is implemented.

Assuming that adequate protein is being consumed, most of the additional calories to gain weight will come from carbs and fats as we utilize those for energy. The big picture, though, is that all of the macros (protein/carbs/fats) should increase to maintain balance in the diet. The foods that we eat during a bulk/growth phase should be the same foods that we eat during a cut or maintenance phase…only in larger quantities.

Genetics, age, gender, recovery, quality of nutrition, and training stimulus all impact the rate of potential lean gains. Some people can put on 15 lb. with the majority being quality weight, while others will put on more junk weight than muscle. This is why I don’t recommend aggressive weight gain to improve strength in most adult trainees.

The focus should be on performance first and fueling performance through adequate nutrition rather than gaining weight with the hope that strength improves. If you want to hit a PR, train to hit the PR and eat to support the training.


Coach Gillian Ward is Barbell Logic’s Director of Nutrition. She has spent a lifetime as a high-performing athlete, coach, and fitness and nutrition educator. If you have a question for Coach Gillian that you’d like to see answered in future issues of the Friday Five Newsletter, please fill out the form below.

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