How Much Protein Should You Eat When Cutting?

In this article, we will address the query “How Much Protein Should You Eat When Cutting?” In addition, we will briefly explore relevant information regarding protein during a cutting phase training; finally, we will discuss the best sources of protein and the importance of other nutrients in your diet.

How Much Protein Should You Eat When Cutting?

If you are on a cutting phase, your protein intake should be between 1.8 and 2.7 g/kg; depending on your requirements and exercise intensity, you may need as much as 3 g/kg (1).

A cutting diet is a popular way to call a diet for reducing fat mass but maintaining (or increasing) muscle mass; however, a “cutting diet” is not recognized among the scientific community, it is just a high protein diet (1).

Are There Possible Health Risks of Eating Too Much Protein?

The impact of eating an excessive amount of protein is a topic of debate among nutrition scientists; there is evidence demonstrating that eating as much as 3 g/kg a day of protein is safe in a 12-month period (2).

However, to the best of our knowledge, there are no studies to support the safety of high protein intake (>3 g/kg) for a longer time than 12 months. Moreover, if you already have a kidney disease, you should stick to a moderate or low protein intake (0.6-0.8 g/kg) (2,3).

When you eat proteins, they are metabolized and processed to break them down into amino acids. Amino acids should be reabsorbed in the kidney when it filters your blood. If you have a lot of amino acids to filter, your filtration rate will increase and can cause damage to the kidney cells (3).

Moreover, the metabolism of amino acids can produce toxic metabolites such as ammonia, and if not filtered and excreted, ammonia could damage the liver cells (4).

What is the Role of Protein During Cutting Phases?

Protein is essential during a “cutting” phase to stimulate protein synthesis and avoid muscle loss. The aim of a “cutting phase” is to reduce fat mass but maintain or increase muscle mass; to achieve this goal it is important to reach (1):

  • A negative energy balance to allow your body to lose weight and fat mass.
  • A neutral or positive protein balance to avoid muscle loss.

Protein balance refers to the equilibrium between muscle protein breakdown (caused by exercise or fasting) and muscle protein synthesis; in this sense (1,2):

  • A negative protein balance will promote more muscle breakdown, resulting in muscle mass loss.
  • A positive or neutral balance will help increase or maintain your muscle mass.

After exercise, your muscles get stressed and your body will need amino acids, obtained from proteins, to start muscles’ protein synthesis (or muscle repair). Therefore, protein intake is essential to achieve a neutral or positive protein balance (2).

What are the Factors Influencing Protein Requirements While Cutting?

The main factors that determine your protein requirements during cutting phase are (2):

  • Body composition: percentage of muscle and fat mass.
  • Exercise or training type, duration, and intensity.
  • Height, sex, and age.

What are Protein-Rich Foods Suitable for Cutting Diets?

The best options as protein-rich food sources for cutting diets are those with high protein quantity and quality, but with low fat content. In the following list you can find some examples of foods matching these characteristics (5):

  • Skim milk and plain Greek yogurt.
  • Lean meats: chicken breast and skinless chicken, skinless turkey, fish, lean beef (e.g., sirloin), lean pork.
  • Egg whites.
  • White fish.

In this case, vegetable proteins are not the best option. Vegetable proteins are not high quality proteins because cereals and legumes, the main vegetable protein sources, lack Lysine and Methionine, respectively (6).

To obtain a high-quality or complete protein with vegetable sources, you need to combine both cereals and legumes; unfortunately, this will add some extra calories to your diet which could make it difficult to reach that calorie deficit (1,6).

Therefore, cereals and legumes could be used as a complement for your protein while cutting, but not as the main protein sources; furthermore, cereals and legumes could be your source of carbohydrates, fiber, and minerals (6).

How to Balance Protein Intake with Other Nutritional Needs?

It is important to keep in mind that protein is not everything when it comes to a healthy and body recomposition. You will also need other nutrients like carbs, fats, and micronutrients, since all of them are essential; just keep eating all food groups in your diet, don’t exclude anyone (7).

Normally, it is recommended to eat around 3-5 g of carbohydrates per kg of weight, while fats should provide you with around 15 to 20 % of all your daily calories (7). 

Since your requirements are determined by your lifestyle and goals, it is highly recommended to ask for professional advice from a nutrition specialist. A nutrition specialist will adjust all your macronutrients’ intake to achieve your goals.

You will also need micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. For example, B vitamins are essential to ensure a correct metabolism of all your macronutrients; while minerals like zinc promote muscle growth and development (8).

What is the Best Protein Timing and Distribution for Optimal Results?

Timing and distribution are two essential factors that help you to get the maximum benefits for your goals. It is recommended to distribute your protein across your three principal meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner; ensuring an intake of 30 g per meal (1).

If you have remaining protein after distributing 30 g per meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner), you can eat small loads of protein (6-8 g) in your snacks or after your training (1).

On the other hand, the best times for eating protein are at breakfast, and 45 minutes after exercise (9,10). 

When you wake up, your stress hormones like cortisol are high, and if not regulated, cortisol can induce muscle breakdown, which is the opposite of your goal (9).

Eating protein and carbs in your breakfast will counter cortisol and stop the muscle breakdown caused by this hormone (9).

The 45-minute period after exercise is known as the anabolic window, and your organism is very sensible to all nutrients you ingest during this time. If you eat protein within the anabolic window, you will increase the muscle synthesis in your body (10).

You can learn more about the Anabolic Window in this link.


In this article, we addressed the query “How Much Protein Should You Eat When Cutting?” In addition, we briefly explored relevant information regarding protein during a cutting phase training; finally, we discussed the best sources of protein and the importance of other nutrients in your diet.


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