In patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), loss of cellular proteins increases the risks of morbidity and mortality. Persistence of muscle protein catabolism in CKD results in striking losses of muscle proteins as whole-body protein turnover is great; even small but persistent imbalances between protein synthesis and degradation cause substantial protein loss. No reliable methods to prevent CKD-induced muscle wasting currently exist, but mechanisms that control cellular protein turnover have been identified, suggesting that therapeutic strategies will be developed to suppress or block protein loss. Catabolic pathways that cause protein wasting include activation of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS), caspase-3, lysosomes and myostatin (a negative regulator of skeletal muscle growth). These pathways can be initiated by complications associated with CKD, such as metabolic acidosis, defective insulin signalling, inflammation, increased angiotensin II levels, abnormal appetite regulation and impaired microRNA responses. Inflammation stimulates cellular signalling pathways that activate myostatin, which accelerates UPS-mediated catabolism. Blocking this pathway can prevent loss of muscle proteins. Myostatin inhibition could yield new therapeutic directions for blocking muscle protein wasting in CKD or disorders associated with its complications.