Weight loss can be achieved by reducing calorie intake, increasing physical activity, or both. Having a higher proportion of lean-mass-to-fat-mass translates into a more attractive physique and competitive advantage in sport [1-3].
Previous research suggests that high protein intakes enhance the retention of lean mass during weight loss, both with and without the inclusion of exercise [5-8]. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), or the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people, is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research done specifically with athletes consuming high protein diets during weight loss while performing intense exercise . A recent study investigated a similar scenario, however. The researchers looked at the effects of high (2.4g/kg/day – 3x the RDA) vs. low (1.2g/kg/day – still 1.5x the RDA) protein diets in 40 recreationally active young men on hypocaloric (i.e. weight-loss) diets while performing a combination of resistance exercise and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) 6 days per week for a month .
The high-protein diet group lost more fat mass and gained more lean mass than the low-protein diet group. The high-protein group lost an average of 4.8 kilograms (10.5 pounds) of fat mass while also gaining 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) of lean mass, whereas the low-protein group lost an average of 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds) of fat mass and did not gain any lean body mass. It’s interesting to note that both groups were actually on relatively high-protein diets in reference to the RDA of 0.8 g/kg/day.
ShakeBot Bottom Line
- Consuming a high-protein diet during weight loss can help maintain lean body mass, particularly when exercise is included [1-9].
- Shooting for protein intakes between 2.0 – 2.5 g/kg/day (that’s 140-175 grams for a 70kg or 155lb individual) may be most beneficial, based on the current body of research.
- Everybody is different – a personalized nutrition approach is optimal for all individuals investigating weight loss.
If you’re interested in weight loss, check out our post on how different weight loss rates can affect your performance.
Egan, B., 2016. Protein intake for athletes and active adults: Current concepts and controversies. Nutrition Bulletin, 41(3), pp.202-213.
Murphy, C.H., Hector, A.J. and Phillips, S.M., 2015. Considerations for protein intake in managing weight loss in athletes. European journal of sport science, 15(1), pp.21-28.
Sundgot-Borgen, J. and Garthe, I., 2011. Elite athletes in aesthetic and Olympic weight-class sports and the challenge of body weight and body compositions. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), pp.S101-S114.
Krieger, J.W., Sitren, H.S., Daniels, M.J. and Langkamp-Henken, B., 2006. Effects of variation in protein and carbohydrate intake on body mass and composition during energy restriction: a meta-regression. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 83(2), pp.260-274.
Helms, E.R., Zinn, C., Rowlands, D.S. and Brown, S.R., 2014. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes.
Wycherley, T.P., Moran, L.J., Clifton, P.M., Noakes, M. and Brinkworth, G.D., 2012. Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition, pp.ajcn-044321.
Mettler, S., Mitchell, N. and Tipton, K.D., 2010. Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 42(2), pp.326-37.
Josse, A.R., Atkinson, S.A., Tarnopolsky, M.A. and Phillips, S.M., 2011. Increased consumption of dairy foods and protein during diet-and exercise-induced weight loss promotes fat mass loss and lean mass gain in overweight and obese premenopausal women. The Journal of nutrition, 141(9), pp.1626-1634.
Longland, T.M., Oikawa, S.Y., Mitchell, C.J., Devries, M.C. and Phillips, S.M., 2016. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 103(3), pp.738-746.