Protein is very important when cutting. Thats why it’s important to know how much you need while cutting. When you’re losing weight, your body is eating itself. You want your body to eat away its fat, not it’s muscles. Getting enough protein ensures this happens.
How much do you need?
There’s no set definitive answer. But for 99.99% of you it will be 1.6g of protein per kg of bodyweight. If you want to go higher, up to 2.2g per kg, thats fine too, as everyone will have an amount that works best for them. But for most of you 1.6g per kg is enough.
If you’re obese aim for 1.6g of protein per kg of target bodyweight. Otherwise you’ll be eating way more than you need.
Split that protein intake into 0.4-0.5g per kg, per meal, 3-6 times a day.
So if you’re aiming to weight 85kg, that may look like a daily total of 136g go protein, split into 4 meals of 34g of protein.
The UK recommendation is 0.8g per kg. That’s the least to prevent protein deficient diseases. But for muscle and performance that is not going to cut it. When losing weight on that amount of protein, muscle loss does happen.
Why is protein important during a cut? Why it’s important to know how much protein while cutting
Our job during a cut is to manipulate the body and tell it where we want it to lose weight from. We are telling our body, don’t use our muscles, use all this fat instead.
When in a calorie deficit, whilst eating enough protein, with adequate resistance training. We are saying to our body. Hey our muscles are being used and refuelled, so you cant touch them. But our fat is not being used, so take that instead.
It’s arguable that protein is more important on a cut than it is during a bulk. I made a post explaining when looking to lose weight, we only want to lose fat. During a bulk losing muscle is not a risk. But during a cut losing muscle is something most people do when losing weight.
Most people when losing weight. Try to eat as little as possible. This is without any resistance training or considerations to protein intake.
This means their body ends up eating away at as much muscle as fat. This then ends up with the person ending up with that skinny fat look. Your body doesn’t care if eats eating its fat or muscle. When in a calorie deficit your body will eat at whatever it needs. This means it won’t hesitate to burn off your muscle if it needs to.
You also want the majority of your protein to be “complete” sources, which I explain in this article.
Other benefits of protein during a cut
Being in a calorie deficit can be difficult with the hunger. Eating adequate protein can help in other ways too.
Thermic effect of food
When you eat, the body burns calories when digesting it. It burns a different number of calories, for fat, carbohydrates and protein.
- Fat: 5-15%
- Carbohydrates: 5-15%
- Protein: 20-35%
In simple terms if you ate 600 calories of fat, you body would burn 30-90 calories. The same goes for carbohydrates.
For 600 calories of protein your body would burn 120 – 210 calories. It might not seem like much, but over a few months, those calories could add up to a few extra pounds of fat lost.
So if you want to eat a little more on your cut, go for protein, as more of it will be burned off.
Keeps you fuller for longer
The fancy term for this is “satiating“. Protein is known for keeping people fuller for longer. That’s why studies show those on higher protein diets. Tend to keep the weight off longer term and do better over all.
I won’t go too deep on it. But what we know as of now is, that eating more protein releases a hormone, that helps us keep full.
How does protein stop muscle from being lost?
When your body is taking less calories than it burns, it will take energy from fat, muscle and other parts of the body.
When you resistance train, you are breaking down your muscles. But you are signalling to your body that the muscles are being used and it needs protein to help repair it. So the protein you’ve consumed will then go to help repair and grow the muscles that have been used.
This tells the body that they are needed. So your body will eat it’s fat instead. That is why getting enough protein is important. Without it, the muscles can’t repair, so the body will use them for energy. hence why most people lose up to 25% of their muscle after a diet, leaving them worse off.
Final thoughts on knowing how much protein while cutting is needed
So now you know how much protein while cutting is needed. A lot of the old bodybuilding mags and forums say 1g per pound (2.2g per kg), that is fine. But for most of you that’s overkill. If you love protein or it helps with hunger then cool. Otherwise get at least 1.6g per kg and split it 3-6 times a day.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t get worked up on the timing of your protein intake around workouts. Don’t overthink when buying a protein powder. Nail the basics and you’ll be far better off than when you started. Il say it one more time. Now you know how much protein while cutting, get to it.
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.