Today I’m going to talk about exactly how (and why) you should change your protein when you enter a dieting phase, as this is the cornerstone of your success and health during the process.
If you can understand why it’s so important to proactively change this macronutrient rather than just slash your calories, then you’ll be well-poised to achieve your goals and maintain optimal health and muscle.
Unfortunately, most people over-simplify fat loss to calories in calories out and fail to take this to the next step with layering in protein targets.
This means you can end up feeling hungry, tired, depleted and worse of all: losing your hard-earned muscle (leading to further negative outcomes like a reduction in your metabolic rate as well as reduced strength and function).
Calorie balance sets the stage, but protein is the star of the show
Firstly; to understand the why behind the change in protein requirements, you need to understand what happens in a calorie deficit.
Essentially, changes like the following happen which can significantly impact your metabolism and muscle growth:
1. Increased Energy Conservation: Your body is highly adaptable, and during a calorie deficit, it strives to conserve energy. This means your metabolism can slow down to some extent, as your body tries to become more efficient.
2. Decreased Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS): Calorie restriction can lead to a reduction in the rate of muscle protein synthesis (MPS). This means less muscle growth.
3. Increased Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB): The rate of muscle protein breakdown (MPB) can also be influenced. While the research on this is mixed, some studies suggest that calorie restriction might lead to an increase in muscle loss.
4. Decreased Anabolic Signalling: Reduced calorie intake can dampen intramuscular anabolic signalling, which means less muscle growth and slower recovery from gym.
5. Loss of Lean Body Mass: In a calorie deficit, some of the weight you lose comes from lean body mass, including muscle tissue. This can have detrimental effects on your overall physique, strength, and performance.
In light of these changes, it becomes essential to implement strategies to counteract the potential muscle loss and metabolic slowdown during calorie restriction.
For those of you reading this who are not in a calorie deficit phase, here are your general rules of thumb for everyday life:
1. Daily Protein: Aim to get around 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight each day. You can split this into 3 meals with about 0.53 grams per kilogram of protein each, or 4 meals with about 0.4 grams per kilogram each.
2. Meal Timing: Space out your protein-rich meals every 3-5 hours during the day to optimise muscle recovery and growth.
3. Before Sleep: Have protein 1-3 hours before bedtime. This could be at dinner (or later on if you eat dinner early) to provide valuable amino acids for muscle turnover while you sleep.
For Individuals in Energy Restriction (Trying to Lose Weight), this is how your recommendations change from above:
1. More Protein: You need more protein when you're cutting calories to maintain or build muscle. Try to get around 2.3-3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight each day. If you're new to exercise and have more body fat, aim for the lower end. If you're lean and experienced with resistance training, go for the higher end.
2. Resistance Exercise: Make sure you are doing resistance exercise to stimulate muscle protein synthesis - this will help you to maintain your muscle while you're losing weight.
3. Choose High-Quality Protein Sources: eat high-biological value protein sources that contain all of the essential amino acids to assist muscle growth. In terms of supplementation, choose high-quality proteins like whey, casein, or a mix of both.