Getting Stronger While Cutting?

Can you get stronger while cutting and losing weight?

That’s what today’s question from Nora is about:

Is it possible to get stronger while losing weight, that is, while you are in a caloric deficit?

I answer this question in the video below, but if you’d rather read, you can skip to the transcript below the video.

That is a great question, and the answer is: yes, absolutely!

Your strength is influenced by a ton of factors, but the three big ones are:

  1. Technique – how you position yourself and the barbell during the lift.
  2. Neuromuscular efficiency – how strong is the neural signal activating your muscles? How hard are your agonists, the working muscles, contracting, and can your antagonists relax?
  3. Muscle mass – the bigger your muscles, the more force they can produce.

Now, of these three, only your muscle mass is directly affected by a caloric deficit. Eating less calories than you need makes it harder to maintain or build muscle mass, and this will make it more difficult, but far from impossible, to increase your strength while cutting.

For newer lifters, it isn’t too uncommon to build muscle while in a caloric deficit. For intermediate or advanced lifters, maintaining your muscle mass during a cut is often a more realistic goal, and if you are able to train hard enough to actually increase your muscle mass while cutting, then that is just a bonus.

However, a caloric deficit might affect more things than just your muscle mass. It will decrease your general energy, motivation, and your body’s general adaptive capability. In other words: being in a caloric deficit makes it more difficult for you to train hard, and even if you do, your body won’t be able to adapt to the training stress as efficiently as if you would’ve been eating more.

However, for me personally, periods of dieting and weight loss often coincide with having extra high motivation for training. And since that means I’m training harder and better than I normally do, I’m often able to increase my strength in these periods despite the weight loss.

So, to summarize: if you are just starting out with training, then you can very likely increase your strength while being in a caloric deficit. The more advanced you are, the more difficult this becomes, and at a sufficiently advanced stage, just maintaining your strength while losing weight should be your goal. Relative to your body weight, that would still mean you’re improving.

Thanks for the question, and good luck with your training, Nora!

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