We’ve all heard the significance of eating a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and fats, but what we don’t often hear about is why it’s needed and how too little or too much of these basic foods can have an effect on our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and creating muscle, hormone production, staying full, creating healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have harmful side effects?
Let’s find out!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is most common and can have some health concerns.
Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like body fat loss. Instead, overall weight loss is an outcome of a low-protein, and most likely, a limited calorie diet. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body will use protein as a primary fuel source rather than creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we said above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t build or even maintain muscle and can even lose muscle mass. As we age (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we generally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Certain portions of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is important for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could end up with liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to add and fix muscle, but with a limited or protein-deficient diet your protein is going to be used as a primary fuel function, rather than building muscle to keep joints strong and stable, which could lead to achy joints.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem problematic, however low blood pressure lowers the movement of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could end up with anemia, which occurs when your body can’t make enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling appears, often in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps stop fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these spots, it could be a sign of eating too little protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick regularly or can’t recover from those common colds, it could be from low protein consumption. It’s the same with injury recovery. Proteins are needed to fix tissue and muscle. It will take more time to get over an injury if you aren’t eating enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can contribute to unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself reaching for more snacks, you’re probably not getting enough protein and too many carbs.
Too Much Protein
So what about too much protein? While it’s hard to eat too much protein, there are some health concerns and general knowledge about how much is suitable and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a possibility if you are using a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney problems, aim to keep your protein sources between 50% non-meat and 50% lean, unprocessed meat-based.
Weight Gain—Protein helps build muscle, and like carbs, if we have too much protein it will be kept as fat. Our bodies are not good at turning proteins into fat like with carbs, however it eventually does. Like eating too much of anything, weight gain can still happen. A six-year study of 7,000 participants found that those who ate a high-protein diet were 90% more likely to gain up to 10% of their body weight.
Building Muscle—Muscle protein synthesis is the process of changing protein amino acids into muscle. New studies have shown that there is a cap to muscle growth in a high-protein diet, which is about 30 grams per meal. What does that mean? Consuming 30 grams versus 20 grams will aid muscle growth, but having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact on muscle growth. Larger individuals may need a little more on average, but essentially, there is a cap to protein intake related to muscle growth.
A 2014 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that people who lift weights who ate 5.5 times the recommended daily protein (that’s just over 2 grams per pound of body weight) saw no positive or negative effect on body composition.
When figuring out your meals and protein sources, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, keep it to lean, unprocessed meats like skin-free chicken and turkey. Red meat is fine, but keep it lean and always limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are ideal sources to have.
At Farrell's, we show our members simple, suitable, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them achieve their peak performance in and out of the gym.
We designate protein, carb, and fat amounts for six daily meals, ensuring members are having the correct amounts of each macronutrient source.
To learn more about the Farrell's group fitness program and nutrition coaching, contact your local Farrell's today!
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