Is More Protein Always Better in Body Recomposition?

If 1.6 g/kg of protein is great, then bumping it up to 3 g/kg, or maybe even 6 g/kg is even better during body recomposition, right? Let’s see.

Girl picking up barbell plates in a cross fit gym

Body recomposition: the delicate art of losing fat and building muscle at the same. Anyone who’s ever tried it will know it's not for the faint-hearted.

There are many variables to manipulate—diet (e.g., calorie intake, macronutrient split, and meal timing) and training-related (e.g., training frequency, rest periods, and session intensity). Failure to account for something results in 3 unwanted scenarios: 1) you pack on more fat, 2) you lose hard-earned muscle mass, and 3) you end up looking the same.

Unfortunate, right? A handful of fitness enthusiasts and professionals thought so, too—and they racked their brains for a “shortcut” of sorts that’ll guarantee body recomposition success.

Here’s what they proposed: an extremely high protein intake (hello, protein shakes!)

So, two questions. First, how high are we talking about, exactly? And second, does it work? Well, keep reading to find out.

A brief recap on body recomp

Before that, though, let’s have everyone on the same page on what body recomposition is, who it’s for, and how someone could go about recomp-ing:

1️⃣ What is body recomp: Put simply, body recomposition refers to the process of improving your proportion of lean body mass to fat mass (i.e., increasing muscle mass relative to fat mass).

2️⃣ Who is body recomp for: Body recomposition is frequently observed in untrained or detrained individuals and those with plenty of fat mass. That said, this doesn’t mean body recomposition is impossible for trained or lean individuals—it’s just that it may be more challenging for them to achieve.

3️⃣ How to body recomp: In general, three things need to happen for someone to successfully body recomp. The first is an effective resistance training program, the second a small calorie deficit, and the third a high protein intake (anywhere between 1.6 g to 2.2 g of protein per kg) within this calorie intake budget.

Learn more about the details on body recomposition here:

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More protein = better recomposition results?

Alright. Now, what’s all this talk about an increased protein intake “guaranteeing” body recomposition success? We can trace it all back to the following two studies:

  1. 2015 study: Here, the researchers randomly assigned participants into two groups. The first maintained their protein intake at 2.6 g/kg daily (i.e., “normal protein group”), while the other bumped it up to 3.3 g/kg daily (i.e., “higher protein group”). After eight weeks, both the normal and higher protein groups gained equivalent amounts of fat-free mass. Notably, the higher protein group lost more fat mass despite reporting higher calorie intake daily (roughly 500 calories).
  2. 2014 study: Per the 2015 study mentioned above, the researchers randomly assigned participants into two groups. Only, the control group consumed 1.8 g/kg daily of protein, while the high protein group consumed a whopping 4.4 g/kg daily. The results? After eight weeks, there were no significant body composition differences between the two groups, despite self-reported calorie intake being nearly 800 calories higher daily (what!) in the high protein group.

Do you now see what the hype is all about?

Just taking the studies’ findings at face value, it’d appear that the higher protein groups managed to put on equivalent lean body mass and lose more body fat despite a higher calorie intake daily.

Eat more calories and end up with a better physique—if that isn’t a “shortcut” to successful body recomposition, what is?

If it’s too good to be true …

You know the saying: if it's too good to be true, it probably is. And that’s precisely the case when talking about this “shortcut” to “guaranteed” body recomposition.

💡
See, the thing about the studies above is that they involve self-reported numbers, which are prone to errors for two reasons: 1) participants may have been new to dietary tracking (and let's be honest—tracking calories can get tricky), and 2) significantly increasing protein consumption is difficult (simply because of how satiating it is).

A solution to avoiding these self-reported errors is looking toward tightly controlled overfeeding studies with varying protein intakes. Note: “tightly controlled” means participants eat every morsel of food under the researchers’ watchful eyes.

Take, for instance, this 2012 study.

The participants were divided into three groups of varying protein intake levels. A crucial thing to note is all of them were assigned a 40% energy surplus:

  1. Group 1: 0.7 g/kg daily (“low protein group”)
  2. Group 2: 1.8 g/kg daily (“moderate protein group”)
  3. Group 3: 3.0 g/kg daily (“high protein group”)
Here are the results after eight weeks:

👉 Both the moderate and high protein groups gained more lean body mass than the low protein group, with no significant difference between them (!)

👉 All three groups gained very similar amounts of fat mass

This, in turn, provides proof for what we've long suspected: that there isn't any benefit to consuming more protein beyond what's necessary (i.e., 1.6 g/kg to 2.2 g/kg daily) and that overall energy balance determines fat mass.

In other words: protein still counts toward your calorie consumption; overeat, and you'll still put on weight.

Struggle with hunger pangs all day long? This article might help:

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You’re trying your best to stick to a calorie deficit. The only problem? All that intense hunger. Find 3 hunger-suppressing foods that may help.

A sensible (and science-based) body recomposition diet

Okay, so there’s no shortcut for successful body recomposition. So how should you distribute your macros in a body recomp diet then? Here’s a brief step-by-step guide:

  1. Calculate your daily calorie intake (feel free to use our calorie calculator here)
  2. Determine your daily protein intake requirements: if you’re new to fitness, stick with the lower end of the spectrum (i.e., closer to 1.6 g/kg daily); and if you’re more experienced, go for the higher end (i.e., closer to 2.2 g/kg daily).
  3. Split your remaining calories into either fat or carbs (e.g., 35% fat, 65% carbs) according to your preference
  4. Monitor how you feel in daily life and/or perform in the gym—and adjust accordingly

Takeaway

Like with anything else in life, more doesn’t always mean better. The same applies to your training sessions (i.e., training six times a week isn't necessarily better for growth, and neither is stacking 12 exercises within a single training session).

To understand how you could better program your workout routine—or hand it off completely—there’s GymStreak, the AI-powered personal training app.

Let GymStreak Take Care Of Programming.

So you have more time to do everything else that matters for gains—from meal prepping to working out. 

References

Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Orris, S., Scheiner, M., Gonzalez, A., & Peacock, C. A. (2015). A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women—A follow-up investigation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12, 39. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0

Antonio, J., Peacock, C. A., Ellerbroek, A., Fromhoff, B., & Silver, T. (2014). The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11, 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-19

Bray, G. A., Smith, S. R., de Jonge, L., Xie, H., Rood, J., Martin, C. K., Most, M., Brock, C., Mancuso, S., & Redman, L. M. (2012). Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 307(1), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2011.1918