A fascinating study was released this summer that addressed the worrisome problem of sacropenia, discussed previously on this site. In general the risk of sarcopenia (muscle wasting or muscle loss) has been feared to be inevitably increased during periods of weight loss, assuming that the body would always burn both fat and muscle for fuel in the process of losing excess body weight.
Scientists from the Military Nutrition Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine report that they scrapped the conventional RDA protein requirements, increasing protein to dieters undergoing calorie restriction. They found that, consistent with many body builders' beliefs, increasing protein during periods of weight loss can be a useful tool in maintaining muscle mass. In this study the best results were obtained with protein at twice the RDA level, with no benefit seen from greater increases.
Extra protein has the added benefit of conferring greater satiety. Paired with wise exercise, it is reasonable that one could actually build muscle mass while losing body fat if one consumes sufficient protein.