Should you eat more protein in the cut?

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If you want to build muscle, you need to eat enough protein: about 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight daily. That is about twice the recommended protein intake for non-athletes. But what about the cut, when you want to maintain muscle and lose fat? Do you have to eat even more protein, as is often claimed?

The key points: 

1.   To build or maintain muscle mass, you eat more proteins than normal: in the bulk 1.6-2.2 g/kg/d, in the cut 1.8-2.7 g/kg/d and in the recomp 1.6-2.2 g/kg/d.

2.   In the cut, the lower your fat percentage, the higher the protein intake, with a ceiling of 2.7 g/kg/d.

3.   Never eat more protein in the cut than is strictly necessary; you need other macronutrients, especially carbohydrates, just as much.

PROTEIN IN THE CUT

In thcut you maintain a calorie deficit for a longer period of time , which usually means that you cannot build muscle mass for a while. After all, a calorie surplus is needed for build-up, the bulk, except when you strive for body recomposition.

That does not alter the fact that you should also keep your protein intake high in the cut. This is to protect your muscle mass: the proteins you ingest increase muscle protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown.

But should you eat even more protein in the cut than in the bulk, where 1.6 g/kg/d is the norm? An overview of scientific studies suggests so: ideally you eat about 1.8 g/kg/d i ] in the cut . This is because on the one hand muscle protein synthesis is lower and on the other hand muscle breakdown is greater, which requires greater compensation of proteins. However, all this is still somewhat speculative, acknowledges coach Eric Helms xi ] .

NEED EXTRA PROTEIN?

At the moment 1.8 g/kg/d is not too bad compared to the advice you sometimes hear, namely to eat 2 to 3 g/kg/d in the event of an energy deficiency. However, such advice only applies to (competition) bodybuilders who are already very lean and still want to reduce their fat percentage further.

Indeed, the muscle-protecting role of proteins may become more important as your fat percentage decreases. Very lean bodybuilders may have a greater degree of muscle protein breakdown, according to Eric Helms, because they are more likely to use proteins for energy xi ] . That is why they should aim a little higher with their protein intake: 2-2.5 g/kg/d vi ] . But Helms acknowledges that more research is needed to substantiate this hypothesis xi ] .

Helms’ colleague Jeff Nippard advises, based on all the available research, that you should eat 1.8 to 2.7 g/kg/d of protein in the cut. With a high fat percentage you can suffice with 1.8 g/kg/d, with a low fat percentage you tend more towards the top of this margin xiii ] .

DON’T EAT MORE PROTEIN THAN YOU NEED

The optimal protein intake in the cut has been a point of discussion for a long time. So why not ‘just’ sit nice and high (2 g/kg/d or more), so that you are 101% sure that your body has enough protein? A plausible thought, but we advise you not to eat more protein during the cut than is strictly necessary.

First of all, you should know that eating too much protein does nothing for muscle growth or maintenance. Also in the bulk it makes no sense to eat, for example, 3 g/kg/d. Although it can’t hurt, it certainly won’t give you extra muscle growth. I wish it was true!

Secondly, not only proteins, but also carbohydrates are crucial in the cut. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for strength training and strength training is necessary in the cut to maintain muscle mass. It is therefore a shame to cut back on carbohydrates more than necessary. In addition, you also need a small amount of fats, roughly 0.6-1 g/kg/d ii ] , among other things to keep your hormones up to scratch.

Not only we, simple web editors, but also renowned coaches such as Eric Helms and Cliff Wilson advise not to eat more protein in the cut than is strictly necessary iii ] [ iv ] . And coach Jeff Nippard aptly calls protein intake during an energy deficit a ‘balancing act’ xii ] :

In a calorie deficit, you need enough protein to spare muscle, but not so much that carbs or fats are displaced. xii ]

CONCLUSION AND ADVICE

As a bodybuilder you need a lot of protein, whether you are bulking, cutting or recompensing. The guidelines according to the latest insights:

  • bulk: 1.6-2.2 g/kg/d
  • cut: 1.8-2.7 g/kg/d
  • recomp: 1.6-2.2 g/kg/d

Do not eat more protein in the cut than is strictly necessary. After all, this is unnecessarily at the expense of your carbohydrate intake, which you definitely need during the cut to maintain your training performance.

Last updated on April 21, 2022.

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