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Doubling protein intake increases muscle gains during caloric restriction and reduces body fat

Researchers had a group of young, regularly active overweight men restrict their food intake by 40% for a period of 4 weeks.

One group consumed 116 grams of protein per day (1.2 grams per kilogram body weight), a level about 1.5 times the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). Another group consumed about twice that amount (245 grams/day), or 2.4 grams per kilogram body weight. The higher protein intake was achieved by providing participants with whey protein drinks. Both groups performed high-intensity training 6 days per week for 4 weeks.

As expected, both groups lost significant weight, however, the composition of weight loss was different. The moderate protein group saw virtually no change in lean body mass (0.2 pounds), whereas the high-protein group showed an increase of 2.6 pounds. Fat loss was also greater in the high-protein group (-10.6 vs -7.7 pounds).

Thus, higher protein intake—representing three times the RDA—was able to promote gains in muscle mass in response to a short-term but marked energy deficit combined with intense training.

Athletes, who need to cut weight over a period of several weeks, should consume more protein, especially from whey protein shakes, and eat a calorie-restricted diet. This higher protein, lower calorie diet is likely to result in better preservation of muscle mass and might even promote gains in muscle mass.

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