For many athletes, maintaining a specific body weight is a demand of their sport. Other athletes are judged on physical appearance.
In either case, athletes often cut calories in an attempt to lose body weight. However, when calories are reduced, it raises the probability that muscle will be lost as well.
Consuming adequate protein is important for athletes when they are maintaining or gaining weight, but recent research indicates protein is even more important when calories are being slashed to lose weight. Researchers from the United Kingdom examined how the protein content of a calorically reduced diet affected changes in lean body mass. The subjects were resistance-trained athletes with normal body weight. After a controlled feeding period, these athletes were prescribed a diet that consisted of 60 percent of their caloric needs for two weeks. One diet contained a typical amount of protein and served as the control group, whereas the other consumed a high protein diet. Protein was 15 percent of total energy (1 gram protein per kilogram body weight) in the control diet and 35 percent energy (2.3 g protein per kilogram body weight) in the high protein group.
The result? Both groups lost the same fat mass. However, the control group lost significantly more lean mass. After just two weeks, lean mass decreased over 3 pounds, but lean mass was nearly preserved on the high protein diet. These findings highlight the importance of consuming adequate protein during low calories diets to preserve lean mass in young healthy athletes.
. Mettler S, Mitchell N, Tipton KD. Increased protein intake reduces lean body
mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Feb;42(2):326-37.