How Much Protein To Maintain Muscle While Losing Weight?
It’s been my experience you don’t need to worry about protein while you’re trying to cut.
I don’t because it’s way more fun to just eat whatever you want balance it and out with fasting. There is a lot of talk about keeping protein levels high when cutting and bulking and it makes sense. Of the three macros protein is hardest for your body to turn into energy and fat.
It makes sense if you eat more protein you’ll cut more fat or put on less fat while bulking.
The problem is that every time I’ve worried about protein I ate more and I spent more. Protein comes in at 4 calories per gram. If you’re trying to add in an extra 100 grams of protein beyond the normal amount you’re getting in your diet you’re going to clock in an extra 400 calories a day.
That’s not what you want to do if you’re trying to cut. Bulking is a different story but in my experience, your “One Thing” to worry about while cutting is making sure you’re eating under your daily calorie needs.
This is especially true if you’re eating junkier foods like burgers, restaurant food, and things of that nature. You’re going to get plenty of protein while cutting. Yes, it’ll be less than 1 gram per pound of body weight but show me the evidence that you have to cut at that level.
Read Brad Pilon’s “How Much Protein” for an indepth look at the science behind this. To preserve muscle mass during cuts it’s far more important to keep lifting weights than it is to worry about protein. You’ll lose muscle mass if you stop lifting, not if you cut your protein a bit.
I personally have dropped lots of fat many times in the past, most recently I dropped 15 pounds by watching my fat macros and doing some fasts. In the past I’ve lost up to 30 pounds just by using intermittent fasting which I’ll talk about in another article.
Can You Build Muscle In A Calorie Deficit?
I wouldn’t try it. I’ve never been able to make this work and yet again, I’ve really only gotten into lifting when I was in my 30s. It’s way easier and more fun to separate cutting and bulking into two different steps. This is also what you’ll here recommended from trainers and fitness gurus on the internet.
Separating the cut and the bulk is what I am experimenting with now as well. I read in Michael Matthew’s “Bigger, Leaner, Stronger” that you should do your cut first and get down to 10 – 15% body fat percentage (for men) and then you switch over to bulking.
This is also the advice given from Rusty Moore’s exercise routine though Rusty breaks it into three steps. The theory remains the same. Cut first and cut slowly giving your skin time to shrink as you cut. Then bulk up and watch your muscles grow and your skin shrink wrap around them.
Focusing on cutting has been immensely fun. I’m blown away by how easy it easy. Some days I’ve let loose and really gone overboard with 3,000 – 5,000 calorie days but I’ve balanced it out with timed intermittent fasting so my weekly calorie average stays at my goal levels.
To be honest, it’s been above my goal levels yet still I’m dropping fat.
It’s like when I experimenting with Rusty Moore’s High Carb Low Fat diet. I couldn’t get my fat down to 10% of daily calories but just trying, monitoring, and moving in that direction caused me to lose 4 pounds of fat in a month that I hadn’t been able to lose for the 5 months prior.
How Many Grams Of Protein A Day Is Too Much?
This is a weird question to tackle but it’s something I’ve seen asked. I wouldn’t worry about how many grams of protein at all while you’re cutting. Just focus on eating and balancing calories with a schedule of intermittent fasting that works for you to average your weekly calories. We’ll talk about calorie goals further down the article and I’ll recommend a macro/calorie calculator I use for myself.
But to answer the question, any amount of protein that puts you over your calorie goals is too much. Focus on fasting, not on eating. You’re in a cut.
Can Eating Too Much Protein Hurt The Kidneys?
To be honest this is a worry of mine. It goes along with the worry that eating too much protein combined with lifting weights regularly could increase your IGF-1 levels and may inadvertently increase your risk for cancer.
I have a whole other article on working out, IGF-1, and increased cancer risk from working out where we tip toe into some of the research. It’s not something body building forums cover much. I’d like to see a Nurses Study but done on body builders and have it survey them for mortality rates, cancer rates, kidney issues, and heart disease issues.
Just because you lift doesn’t mean the exercise will help you. There is a real concern that over eating protein and always keeping your body in a growth state could have long term damaging effects.
Again, this is a bit beyond the scope of this article. The question was added here mainly to keep you focused on cutting and not worrying about protein.
We’re in the process of hiring a doctor with a research background to help us better dive through the research on building muscle and cancer risk. Stay tuned!
Can You Lose Body Fat And Gain Muscle At The Same Time?
This is very similar to the question asked above about building muscle in a calorie deficit. I have been somewhat able to do this in my 30s but it was on accident. I was primarily focused on losing weight but I also happened to be climbing a lot, about 2 – 3 times a week.
I lost weight like I’ve done in the past but I also started putting on muscle. Enough that I started getting compliments at work. I was the typical skinny fat to bigger biceps story.
It’s said by many this is easier to do when you are younger and harder to do when you are older. For me personally, I like to just lift heavy even while cutting but leave my main focus on cutting.
If I gain muscle, great, it’s a nice side benefit but I’m not counting on it. Again, I’m a big fan of Rusty Moore’s shrink wrap technique – cut first and shrink skin then bulk out afterwards and let that skin shrink wrap around your muscles for an awesome effect.
Can You Build Muscle While Fasting?
Absolutely, but this is a strange question. Fasting is not a withering away activity. None of us could keep it up long enough for that. You would have to fast for more than 3 weeks (no food, no juice, just water) and you’d have to stop lifting for muscle loss to occur.
Instead I lift while I’m fasting and only fast for a day at a time at most. There are tons of others who fast for 2-3 days, lift, and still gain muscle.
So very much yes, you can build muscle while fasting. Fasting is just part of the diet, it’s not a secret to bigger muscles or a drain that causes them to fade away.
Should I Use a Macro Calculator?
Yes you should. As I mentioned above I got a lot out of watching my fat macros and trying to minimize them. I lost 4 lbs in a month even though I completely failed to hit my fat macro targets. There is definitely a benefit to being aware of your macros. Just don’t focus on protein so much yet in the cutting stage. If you want to focus, focus on fat.
Here’s a great macro calculator from Michael Matthews that I have used personally with great success. It also estimates your basal metabolic rate, which is where I would put most of my focus while cutting.
I know Michael would disagree with my stance on protein here and that’s OK. It works great for him to worry about protein. It doesn’t for me. I just end up eating too much and stalling out. To each their own.
Also, there’s a bit of shortcut with macro calculators. I stand by them 100% to help calculate your basal metabolic rate. That’s way too much math to do on the side. But for protein, the classic advice, seems to be stick to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
That’s what Arnold Swarzenneger recommended, it’s essentially what Michael Matthews recommended, and it’s a bit more than what Brad Pilon recommends but it’s a rough rule of thumb for what to shoot for during bulking.
Again, I have a whole article that begins to dive in to whether or not that is too much protein and could elicit increased cancer risk. But that’s for a future article on the bulking phase.
Plus I’ll be putting these numbers to the test during my own bulking phase to come shortly. For a sneak peak into my strategy, I’ll be using plant proteins instead of whey.
Yes sir, I’ve read the China Study and I’m a follower of the rats. Rats on plant protein turned off their cancer growth. Rats on whey didn’t. I’m not a pure vegan but I heavily lean in the direction of eating lots of whole foods, beans, veggies, and fruits and so does this blog.
And so, expect in future blog posts for us to dive deeper into this question, How Much Protein?, and whether or not a macro calculator is really necessary for your goals.