Cutting for the Strength Athlete

One of the best things I ever did was to learn to think of the value of exercise and NUTRITION beyond aesthetics.

Yes, we all want to be a bit leaner and look great naked – the vast majority of us would, anyway – but in a lot of cases being leaner does not equate to being stronger or performing better.

In fact, if you consider the methods used by bodybuilders to get ultra-lean, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that performance is not a huge priority, as weight training is a means to create symmetry and proportion. It’s there, alongside high protein intakes, to retain lean tissue when calorie availability is at it’s lowest.
Of course, some increases in strength are necessary to improve muscle density and create hypertrophy – but this only occurs when calorie intake (and carbohydrate intake) is higher and thus, the contest prep and fat loss period typically does not induce increases in strength.

Contrast this to a powerlifter, strongman or weightlifting contest and you’ll realise that the competition day is when the athlete needs to be at their STRONGEST. Leanness has nothing to do with their performance outside of the potential need to drop a specific amount of weight in order to compete in a weight class which might afford the athlete a better placing or chance of winning.

If you have more muscle and less bodyfat, you will be lighter than if you have muscle and a lot of bodyfat.

So it DOES make sense on a couple of levels to be leaner, but getting ultra-shredded is counter productive to strength on the day as the depletion of glycogen stores, accumulative fatigue and stress upon the nervous system will all reduce your capacity for a podium finish.

There are no prizes for best glutes, unless those glutes give you a massive squat or deadlift.

So ultimately, it does NOT pay to be shredded or to diet down with gusto to get into a lower weight category if it means you’ve sacrificed your strength. And this is why I love the approach that powerlifting takes;


PERFORMANCE FIRST,  Aesthetics last.


The beauty of this approach is that in order to perform optimally you need to allow for rest, recovery, adequate amounts of training loads that create adaptations but do NOT overwhelm the body, and adequate amounts of food which enable the athlete to function optimally.

THIS is the Directional Strength ethos:

Think, train, strive, eat and recover like an athlete…. and you’ll end up looking like one.


So if you are a strength and power athlete or you’re ready to shift your thinking towards one – how do you cut without sacrificing your strength? What’s the best approach to take? How do you structure your macros?  Let’s find out!

How do you cut without sacrificing performance?

Slow and strategic cutting is best, ideally done in the 2-3 months prior to your contest date or during an “off season” where you may be working with higher volumes and aiming for mass gain.

Yep I know, it may sound counter-intuitive to tell you to cut fat when you’re trying to build muscle, but it is entirely possible to get leaner and stronger at the same time.

It’s just a slow process, and it typically happens far slower than if you were just trying to drop bodyfat.

A slow fat loss process is best during a hypertrophy phase for a number of reasons;

– Your training is higher in volume at this point, creating a better metabolic and hormonal foundation for fat loss to occur.
– You will naturally be eating more (to cater for higher volumes without affecting recovery) and thus, have a greater amount of energy to use for muscle retention, and

– A small calorie deficit can still ensure that energy goes towards a positive nitrogen balance (muscle growth / retention) and glycogen (stored carbohydrates).

If you have a lot of bodyfat to lose (>25% women and 18% for men) you can create a more aggressive calorie deficit and still be consuming enough total protein and carbohydrates to optimise and build lean tissue.

Leaner athletes will need to keep the calorie deficit far smaller and be more consistent with tracking biofeedback (ie sleep quality and duration, digestion, stress etc).

Structuring your daily menu


It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway – the first and foremost macronutrient you need to be across is PROTEIN.

If you are not eating sufficient protein, you will not retain lean tissue in a calorie deficit and this will have a knock on affect for your strength.

Consuming 2.2g or more per kg of bodyweight in protein every day is a non negotiable. Protein should be split evenly between meals and ideally, over at least 4 daily feedings.

Even if you’re not a strength athlete and you’re just a guy or gal who goes to the local gym and wants to get stronger and leaner – make this the foundation of your diet.

As you get leaner / smaller and as the calorie deficit grows larger (this HAS TO HAPPEN) your protein needs go UP.

If you’re a long way out from your comp and you’re carrying a bit of fat, then your protein intake does not need to go higher than about 1.6g-2g per kg.

Fats are also an essential part of the diet however I feel they are a little less relevant to strength and performance than they are for aesthetics, so let’s start with carbohydratres.

Carbohydrate timing


Typically when setting up a diet, we set up fats first. But I personally find that in this context, setting up carbohydrates first is better simply because carbohydrates are going to help produce better protein synthesis and will provide a greater boon for the retention of lean tissue.
Fats are essential in the diet but we can often get the right balance and amount each day with intelligent food selection. It’s very rare to meet someone who doesn’t get their daily fat intake, but it’s very common to meet someone who eats the wrong kinds!
If you are cutting around the time I recommend (during a higher volume training period, away from comp) then I suggest keeping carbohydrates to during your workout and after your workout.

The higher the volume and frequency of your training (not intensity) the higher your carbohydrate needs will be. Most strength athletes require around 3 to 4g of carbohydrates per kg, per day however this can vary;

– if you’re a female
– if you’re lighter or leaner, and

– if you’re not as strong / advanced.

Obviously smaller, lighter females need far less than a heavyweight powerlifter however the benefits of carbohydrates around workouts will be the same for all; Better insulin sensitivity (enabling carbs to be used for recovery / glycogen repletion, allowing them fast passage to muscles to help spike protein synthesis), faster recovery and better blood flow to muscle tissue.

Keep the vast majority of your carbohydrates to the period during your workout and 4-6 hours after your workout.



Eat more fats at meals that are not around training, and consume a mixture of healthy, essential fatty acids. Keep your diet high in foods such as oily fish / Omega 3s and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, seeds and nuts.
Keeping trans fatty acids and saturated fats from fatty meats lower is great, but you don’t have to cut them out entirely. Small amounts of coconut oil and fats from meats like lamb, beef and other animal products can have a place in any strength athletes diet.



What if you need to cut in the last couple of weeks?


There is some hope.

If you set up your diet according to the guidelines above, you can be smart about how to drop calories in the final weeks.
You’ll have a relatively large pool of carbohydrates to reduce from, choose those farthest away from your training session and slowly reduce the quantities whilst keeping an eye on your performance.

Keep your protein intake as high as possible and exchange some of your carbohydrates (KEEP intra and post workout carbs as a minimum) for proteins.  As you get closer to your comp, you’ll be doing a “peaking” phase which naturally means a higher intensity (load) but a lower volume of training and more rest days.

You can use this to your advantage because you’ll need less carbohydrates anyway.
Just don’t bottom out your calories and try to starve the weight off, and you should come in lighter without much effort at all and without any affects upon peformance.

It’s also common sense to work on getting STRONG leading up to a comp than it is to work on being as light and lean as possible.

You’re not a jockey, you’re a beast.

Need some help?



I’ve coached strength and power athletes through this entire process, from the start of their off season to the day of their competition.

We’ve achieved some incredible performance results as well as seeing improvements to body composition and aesthetics because we were smart and strategic.

If you are a strength athlete or just a recreational strength lifter who wants to drop bodyfat and get stronger and you need an easy to follow nutrition guide that takes the guesswork out, get in touch.
Prices start from $165 per package.

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