I've been lifting for around 4 years. I've made many diet mistakes including not eating enough, dirty bulking to 20%+ body fat, cutting immediately after bulking without maintaining the weight, and dieting with large calorie deficits. But, I'm finally at the point where I feel like I have a solid plan.
At my strongest, I could 1RM bench 325, 1RM squat 315 (weak spot), and 1RM deadlift 475. This was over a year ago at 240lbs and 20% body fat (6'-0" tall) following a very dirty bulk where I went from 195-240 in 4 months. I liked the strength, but it was not impressive at my body weight. I looked bloated and didn't feel healthy. I started cutting slowly for the next year and ended up at 185lbs at 10% body fat which I've maintained lately. My lifts dropped 15-20% across the board. Now, I can only bench 285, squat 275, and deadlift 405. These lifts are nearly identical to where I was prior to dirty bulking, although I am 10lbs lighter and leaner. Regardless, the progress in 2 years was discouraging.
I started bulking this week at 3000 Cals daily and I plan to track my weight over the next 2-3 weeks to see how I respond. I want to limit my monthly weight gain to 5lbs to ensure I'm maintaining a caloric surplus without putting on too much fat. I will stop bulking once I hit 15% body fat, so I'd like to maximize the amount of time I can bulk before I reach this. I'm hoping I can make it until the end of the year which will give me 5 months of bulking. I will then maintain this weight for 2-3 months prior to doing any cutting.
Does this sound like an effective plan? Is there anything I should do differently? My goal is to make the same strength gains as I did while dirty bulking, but with much less excess fat. So, in the long run, I'll be able to cut back down to 10%, but be heavier and stronger than I am now. My goal over the next few years is 315 bench, 365 squat, and 495 deadlift all at under 10% body fat.
Am I being too optimistic for a natural lifter with average genetics? I definitely feel like I have room for improvement, but most of the guys I know who are natural are either strong or lean, but rarely both.