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09/05/2020

Can Protein Help Preserve Muscle Mass While Losing Weight?

Losing weight is a bit of a tricky process, for several reasons. First of all, it's hard. But, the real challenge is making sure that you lose the right kind of weight.

 

When you start cutting – and burning – lots of calories, there's a very real concern that some of your muscle could also be turned on while all that fat is being used up.

 

So, how do you stop that? Can protein powder help to preserve muscle mass while you're losing weight?

 

What Happens During Weight Loss

 

To really understand how to preserve muscle mass, we first need to be very clear on what puts all that lean tissue at risk. As mentioned at the outset, cutting calories in an effort to lose weight makes your body start looking for energy from other sources.

 

After all, you're purposely restricting the amount of energy that you're taking in while simultaneously increasing how much you're using. Of course, you'll start to burn more fat at this point. But your body is generally pretty hesitant to give up its precious fat stores.

 

So, it will also start converting amino acids – which should be contributing to muscle and tissue growth - into glucose for fuel. Those amino acids might come from your blood stream.

 

Or, more worryingly, they might be taken directly from your muscle tissue.

 

How Protein Powder Helps

 

But, what does any of this matter? Because knowing why muscle is at risk helps to explain how to protect it.

 

If your body is looking for amino acids, simply providing it with more than you would normally need will ensure that there is enough to support both muscle health and energy production.

 

This was illustrated by a 2012 study in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism, had 130 overweight adults follow one of two diets for a year. Both diets were extremely low calorie.

 

Scoops of protein powders next to a blender bottle

 

One, however, was low protein and the other was high. At the end of the study, both groups lost roughly the same amount of total weight.

 

The high protein group, though, lost significantly more fat than their low protein counterparts. This, by extension, means that the high protein diet managed to preserve lean mass while the subjects lost body fat.

 

How Much Protein Do You Need?

 

But how much protein powder do you need to take get this effect?

 

The study noted above used 1.6g per kilogram of body weight, which is about the standard held throughout most of the research into this subject.

 

If you're operating in pounds (and don't want to do the extra math) this would amount to about 0.7g per pound of body weight.