Thermodynamics dictates that for body weight (i.e. stored substrate) loss to occur a person must ingest less energy than they expend. Athletes, who owing to their oftentimes large daily energy expenditures, may have greater flexibility than non-athletes in this regard; however, they may also have different goals for weight loss. In particular, weight lost may be less important to an athlete than from which compartment the weight is lost: fat or lean. A critical question is thus, what balance of macronutrients might promote a greater fat loss, a relative retention of lean mass, and still allow athletic performance to remain uncompromised? It is the central thesis of this review that dietary protein should be a nutrient around which changes in macronutrient composition should be framed. The requirement for protein to sustain lean mass increases while in negative energy balance and protein, as macronutrient, may have advantages with respect to satiety during energy balance, and it may allow greater fat loss during a negative energy balance. However, athletes should be mindful of the fact that increasing dietary protein intake while in negative energy balance would come at the 'expense' of another macronutrient. Most recently there has been interest in lower carbohydrate diets, which may not allow performance to be sustained given the importance of dietary carbohydrate in high-intensity exercise. The relative merits of higher protein diets for athletes are discussed.