Many of you reading this will understand the need for protein when bulking in order to maximise muscle growth, but how crucial is protein when you are cutting?
When cutting your primary goal should be to reduce body fat percentage while maintaining lean muscle mass. In order to burn fat you must consume fewer calories in a day than your body uses, this is called being in a calorie deficit. The body will then metabolise your body fat as a source of energy so that it can continue to function. However cutting is more complicated than simply eating less food. The problem being that in addition to burning fat for a source of energy your body will also look for other sources, namely protein. Unfortunately the first place that the body gets proteins from is the skeletal muscles. Muscle proteins are catabolised (broken down) into amino acids which can then be used to release energy. The effects aren’t catastrophic, you won’t wake up one morning without a bicep, but when you have spent many hard hours in the gym building lean muscle mass it is essential to maintain as much as possible. Catabolism can be delayed if proteins can be obtained more easily, specifically via ingested protein. It is therefore key to consume plenty of protein in order to preserve muscle mass.
A high protein diet has other advantages while dieting. Protein takes a long time to digest, in other words it is in your stomach for longer. Therefore after a high protein meal you feel full for longer, meaning you‘re less likely to be tempted to cheat on your diet. This is especially useful as you will be having less food than normal, so anything to reduce hunger is a bonus. In addition protein has the highest thermic effect of the macro nutrients. The thermic effect is the amount of calories that your body uses in order to digest the food. So while your high protein meal is keeping your hunger at bay, it is also burning more calories just by being digested. Although this effect is not huge, from experience a few extra calories seem like heaven when dieting.
So how much protein is needed when cutting? While dieting protein content should actually be higher than usual, this is to try and preserve as much lean mass as possible. 1.5g to 2.2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is a good guide. As you are consuming fewer total calories this means that the percentage of your calories obtained from protein will greatly increase. In order to reach this larger demand protein supplementation, as well as eating foods high in protein, is essential.