In my opinion, the first thing anyone looking to lose weight or pack on muscle should be doing is sorting out a minimum amount of protein intake daily. Yeah that’s right – if you want to get leaner, you NEED to pay attention to getting in enough protein before worrying about anything else.
Think about this for a second – muscle is the most energetically expensive tissue (aside from the brain – so keep reading) in the body to maintain. So more muscle = more energy used = the more food you can eat without getting fat. Adequate protein intake allows retention of muscle mass, especially when in a caloric deficit (ie you’re eating less to lose weight).
Not to blow my own horn, but my level of muscle mass in the past allows me to eat around 3500 calories a day and keep a 6 pack. Let me tell you, it’s way easier to manage portion sizes when you don’t have to worry about every little thing that goes into your pie hole pushing you over your measly 1800 calorie a day allowance.
In my experience, women are particularly prone to eating too little protein. If this is you, pay attention to the following research: at the University of Illinois, Layman et al compared the current RDA 0.8g/kgbw to 1.6g/kgbw. Compared to the RDA group, higher protein group lost more fat and retained more lean body mass. In addition, their blood lipids and blood markers for glucose improved to a greater extent. The same researchers later repeated this research, adding exercise conditions to account for the potential confounder. The outcome was similar.
A calorie deficit requires greater protein intake to retain lean body mass. One study supporting this comes from Mettler et al, who found that 2.3g/kg prevented LBM loss in athletes far better than 1.0g/kg. Even the higher protein group still lost a significant amount of lean mass in this study, however, which indicates that depending on your degree of training and the size of your calorie deficit, even higher protein intakes might be ideal. This is certainly anecdotally pursued by bodybuilders dieting for contests.
So it seems the old broscience recommendation of 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight is pretty much spot on for most people - and this is actually really close to my blanket recommendation of 2g/kg of bodyweight for people without any specific context.
Higher protein intakes can even improve sleep (hint: sleep is #1 -> blog post on this coming next week) and enhance immune function... in other words your recovery goes through the roof in many different ways if you eat enough protein!
If you want to work out how much protein you should be eating and what types – start with focusing on animal protein sources like lean meats, and eat them in at least a couple of meals a day.
Of course, there are many contextual factors that need to be taken into account when designing a solid nutrition plan, so protein needs are variable within and between individuals.