Protein Intake When Cutting: The 4 Benefits Of A Lower Intake


-How high should my protein intake per day be when cutting?

-Are 2 grams of protein per kg of bw per day enough to get ripped? Or should I eat 3 grams per kg of bw per day?

These are questions I get a lot. So I decided to do some research to find out how much protein one should eat when cutting. To my surprise here’s what I learned:

How high should your protein intake be when cutting? An optimal protein intake when cutting lies between 1.8-2.9 grams per kg (0.8-1.3 grams per lb) of body weight per day. Unless you’re looking to compete in a bodybuilding or physique show at an extremely low body fat percentage, it’s beneficial to keep the protein intake at the lower end of this span.

In this post I’ll explain why a high protein intake is overrated when cutting unless you’re looking to get extremelly lean. And I’ll also show you the 4 awesome benefits that comes with keeping your protein intake at the lower end which would be between 1.8-2 grams per kg (0.8-1 gram per lb) of body weight per day.

Let’s go!

Why a High Protein Intake When Cutting is Overrated

There’s two main reasons why a high protein intake is recommended during a cut:

  1. To prevent muscle loss
  2. To improve satiation

According to Dr. Eric Helms, who’s done extensive research on protein intake for caloric restricted lean athletes, the optimal protein intake per day are between 1.8-2.9 grams per kilogram or 0.8-1.3 grams per pound of body weight.

However, the protein intake has been highly exaggerated in the fitness industry, even higher numbers than the top range of Eric’s findings are very common.

The belief is that; since protein (amino acids) are the building blocks of muscle, a higher protein intake during a cut, must also mean better muscle retention.

This simply isn’t true…

First of all, eating protein doesn’t stimulate muscle growth, training does. Amino acids just allow the growth to take place after training has stimulated it.

Secondly, higher intakes of protein only help with satiation up to a point. Eventually as you raise proteins – carbs and fats must come down to still maintain a caloric deficit. And if carbs and fats come down too much, so does satiation.

And finally, by utilizing intermittent fasting (which I highly recommend), you require even less total protein to cover both the muscle loss and satiation problem following a calorie deficit.

Why Utilizing Intermittent Fasting Allows For a Lower Protein Intake When Cutting

It’s commonly believed that when we’re not eating i.e. fasting, muscle gets turned over to glucose in order to fuel the body, this however isn’t true. Physiological studies on fasting has concluded that protein is not “burnt” for glucose.

In fact, it’s quite the contrary, short term fasting has been shown to improve muscle retention, via increased levels of growth hormone in the body as we’re fasting. And this reduces the amount of protein you need in a caloric deficit.

Furthermore, by utilizing intermittent fasting satiation is no longer going to be a problem, especially with these 8 tricks. When you’re eating 2-3 huge meals during the second part of the day, you can achieve the same level of fullness on less total protein.

With smaller meals on the other hand, like 6 meals every 3 hours, having 30-40 grams of protein in each meal is more or less required to maximize satiety on a cut, which quickly adds up to 180-240 g of protein per day.

So, the protein intake per day that I recommend are at the lowest end of Eric Helms observations, which are:

  • 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, or
  • 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day.

Setting your numbers at the lowest scientifically recommended intake when utilizing intermittent fasting is smart. This will allow you to preserve muscle mass and also feel completely satiated on a cut, while allowing you take advantage of the following benefits:

The 4 Amazing Benefits That Comes With Having a Lower Protein Intake When Cutting

Okay, so there are four major benefits of using a lower protein intake when dieting for fat loss:

  1. Higher testosterone levels
  2. Better training performance
  3. Tastier meals
  4. Improved well being

Let’s look at these one by one:

Benefit 1 – Higher Testosterone Levels With a Lower Protein Intake

A calorie deficit combined with a very low body fat percentage will always reduce testosterone levels to some extent. That’s been well established by research.

(Note: The better you set up your calorie deficit the less risk you’ll have of lowered T)

But, what a lot of people don’t know is that the macronutrient profile of the food you eat also plays a huge role in regulating your hormonal balance.

Each of the macronutrients supports the endocrine system and an overall healthy functioning of the body. And the current research shows that:

1. Low carb diets are bad for testosterone levels.

In this study they found that, and I quote the paper:

“Testosterone concentrations in seven normal men were consistently higher after ten days on a high carbohydrate diet (468 +/- 34 ng/dl) than during a high protein diet (371 +/- 23 ng/dl) and were accompanied by parallel changes in sex hormone binding globulin”

This study as well as many others show that low carb diets reduces testosterone in men.

2. Low fat diets are bad for testosterone levels.

In this study they first had males eating a diet where 40 % of the energy came from fat. This diet was then replaced for a 6 week period by a diet containing 25% of energy from fat instead.

A few days after they switched diets, they observed a great reduction in serum testosterone levels for all males in the study.

Just as with carbs, having a low fat intake has been shown not only in this study, but many others to reduce testosterone in men.

3. High protein diets are bad for testosterone levels.

Protein intake doesn’t reduce T levels in and of itself. Protein actually plays a role in testosterone production.

But an increase in protein intake will always accompany a decrease in carb and fat intake (which are the two most important macros for endocrine support), especially when cutting.

This simply means that a high intake of protein ruins the hormonal balance indirectly.

By eating a more balanced intake of protein, fats, and carbs you’ll achieve higher testosterone levels and an overall healthier functioning of the body.

No wonders mom always told me to “Just eat a plain regular homemade diet”

Benefit 2 – Better Training Performance With a Lower Protein Intake

By having a lower protein intake your carbs can be higher. And a higher carb intake has been shown repeatedly by research to improve strength training performance in the gym.

In fact, multiple studies show that fatigue and lower performance are associated with low carbohydrate diets that cause glycogen depletion. Studies also show that low levels may cause overtraining.

And this is especially true when you’re in a calorie deficit trying to lean down to get ripped as well, because a calorie deficit is also a recovery deficit.

Having decent amounts of carbs in your diet is imperative when it comes to strength training performance when cutting. Your performance in the gym is more important than your protein intake for to fat loss.

And making sure that you’re able to make progress in your training will keep, and even allow you to build muscle while you’re cutting down to a low body fat percentage.

Benefit 3 – Tastier Meals With a Lower Protein Intake

Don’t you agree that protein without fats and carbs are boring as hell?

Just think about it; How enjoyable would it be eating only chicken breast without any sauce, cheese, oil, or a side of carbs such as rice, pasta and potatoes for example?

Not very enjoyable in my opinion…

The meals we define as delicious actually contains a balanced intake of all the macros, such as: burgers, pizza, and various pasta dishes etc.

The more protein you include in your diet, the harder it’ll be to have these kinds of meals. Simply because you max out on your carbs and fats before you hit your protein intake.

Want inspiration for tasty and satisfying fat loss meals? Check out this post.

Benefit 4 – Improved Well Being With a Lower Protein Intake

One of the biggest benefit of having more carbs and fat are that both of them improves your well-being. And if you feel good on a cut, it’s much more likely you will stick to it. Not only that you’ll also be able to easier maintain a lifestyle that you enjoy, while getting lean and muscular in the process as well.

Studies shows that ingesting a moderate dose of (low fiber) carbohydrates, have mood elevating effects, and actually reduce our sense of hunger and food consumption.

This has to do with increased levels of serotonin in the brain, following an alteration in the plasma tryptophan ratio which takes place after a moderate intake of carbs.

Supposedly this affect which amino acids get through the blood brain barrier. And with a higher intake of carbs as opposed to protein, more tryptophan and serotonin crosses into the brain. Which results in less food focus and increased well-being.

Same goes with fat. Having a decent intake of healthy fats in your diet make you feel more satisfied after a meal, reducing hunger and thus promoting weight loss.

You see, by utilizing intermittent fasting and having bigger meals, a lower protein intake will improve your health, performance and enjoyment when cutting, without impairing muscle retention.

Recommended Macro Split

Okay so the macro split that will help you achieve these benefits, while also preserving your muscle mass when cutting are the following:

  • 25-30% protein, 30-35% fat and 35-40% carbs

Compared to most fitness recommendations, protein is about 10 % lower. As I mentioned earlier, protein should be consumed at the minimum level required for muscle support in training (unless of course you’re looking to get stage shredded for a bodybuilding or physique show.)

Then the remainder of the diet should consist of carbs and fat in order to improve testosterone levels and training performance, and to also get tastier meals and improved well-being.

What’s Next?

Getting your protein intake set up correctly is very importnat for fat loss, and as you’ve learned in this post, setting your protein intake slightly lower than what’s commonly recommended can significantly improve your results and well-being when cutting.

Now, there’s still a lot more that goes into successfully building a lean and muscular physique than just the protein intake though.

For example, your calorie intake is the important factor. And there are also various other dieting strategies that’ll help you stick to your calorie deficit and protein intake for a prolonged period of time (which is required to see great reuslts). Not only that, having a well set up training program is cruicial for muscle maintenance when you’re cutting as well.

To get all of these things set up correctly I recommend that you get your hands on a high quality course. This is what I did in the beginning of my fitness journey and it’s the number one reason I was able to undergo my physique transformation sooner rather than later.

Having access to a step by step course and just following it to the T is the only real “shortcut” to building a ripped physique. You basically take what someone else learned over a time course of five to ten years and bring it down to a one, two or three year process depending on your goal and starting point.

Do yourself a favor and don’t wait ten years to build the physique of your dreams, get your hands on a guide and you’ll get there a LOT quicker. I use and recommend the Kinobody and Think Eat Lift courses, you can read more why I do so here!

What do you think about eating a lower protein to get these benefits? Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments.

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

6 thoughts on “Protein Intake When Cutting: The 4 Benefits Of A Lower Intake

  1. I’m intrigued that you would call 2.3 – 3.1 g/kg LBM lower protein. The conclusion of Helms’ paper summarising his masters research is “Protein needs for energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes are likely 2.3-3.1g/kg of FFM scaled upwards with the severity of caloric restriction and leanness.” This is where talking in percentages can be confusing as you get into a larger calorie deficit.

    1. Yes, and taking in 2.3 g/kg of LBM is a rather low protein intake during a cut compared to what’s often recommended. The larger the calorie deficit and the more lean one become, the higher in protein one also need to go to maintain muscle and feel well etc.

  2. Hey Niklas. Your articles are seriously the best anywhere. They go in depth and skip all the bs. Question though, those recommended macros are only if you’re cutting and strength training right? You always hear about eating low carbs, high fat and high protein on rest days and high carb, low fat and moderate protein on training days. Is this the way to go about it? Thank you

    1. Hey Ulysses,

      Thanks a lot for your kind words! Yea that’s pretty much correct. These macros are when cutting and strength training.

      Regarding the low carbs, high fat and high protein on rest days and high carb, low fat and moderate protein on training days information out there. Those macros would lead to optimal results at the cost of having to be VERY in control over your diet. If you want the absolute best results then altering your macros on rest/training days are smart. However, if you want more freedom in your lfie and still want to see 90% results then I recommend only tracking calories and protein and just let fat and carbs end up pretty much where they do depending on your choice of food 🙂

  3. I agree with you about protein, people over-do it on the cut and 25-30% is good since thats the maximum amount that your body can acutally use. however when i tried that low a carb intake, my insulin was too low and it caused muscle loss to increase. i got best results at 53% carb,27% protein,20% fat, dorian yates ratio.

    1. Yea, macros are usually very individual based, i.e. people do best on different macro ranges 🙂

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