Sustained periods of negative energy balance decrease body mass due to losses of both fat and skeletal muscle mass. Decreases in skeletal muscle mass are associated with a myriad of negative consequences, including suppressed basal metabolic rate, decreased protein turnover, decreased physical performance, and increased risk of injury. Decreases in skeletal muscle mass in response to negative energy balance are due to imbalanced rates of muscle protein synthesis and degradation. However, the underlying physiological mechanisms contributing to the loss of skeletal muscle during energy deprivation are not well described. Recent studies have demonstrated that consuming dietary protein at levels above the current recommended dietary allowance (0.8 g · kg(-1) · d(-1)) may attenuate the loss of skeletal muscle mass by affecting the intracellular regulation of muscle anabolism and proteolysis. However, the specific mechanism by which increased dietary protein spares skeletal muscle through enhanced molecular control of muscle protein metabolism has not been elucidated. This article reviews the available literature related to the effects of negative energy balance on skeletal muscle mass, highlighting investigations that assessed the influence of varying levels of dietary protein on skeletal muscle protein metabolism. Further, the molecular mechanisms that may contribute to the regulation of skeletal muscle mass in response to negative energy balance and alterations in dietary protein level are described.