We’ve all heard the importance 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 impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and building muscle, producing hormones, staying full, bone health, and more; but does too little or too much protein have harmful side effects?
Let’s learn more!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is typical and can lead to health concerns.
Weight Loss—We don’t mean the good kind, like reducing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an effect of a low-protein, and most likely, a low calorie diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as its first fuel source instead of building muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we said above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t gain or even maintain muscle and can even start losing 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 parts of our bodies need different nutrients to function properly. Protein is essential for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could damage your liver.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to build and fix muscle, but with a reduced 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 joint discomfort.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem problematic, however low blood pressure limits the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could end up with anemia, which happens when your body can’t produce enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling develops, usually in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps block fluids from concentrating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these locations, it could be evidence of eating too little protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick frequently or can’t beat those common colds, it could be from low protein consumption. It’s the same with recovering from an injury. Proteins are needed to mend tissue and muscle. It will take longer 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 eating more snacks, you’re possibly not getting enough protein and too many carbs.
Too Much Protein
So what about too much protein? While it’s more difficult to eat too much protein, there are some health concerns and general knowledge about how much is appropriate and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a danger if you are eating a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney problems, aim to balance your protein sources between 50% non-meat and 50% lean, unprocessed meat-based.
Weight Gain—Protein helps build muscle, and like carbs, if we eat too much protein it will be stored as fat. Our bodies are not skilled at changing proteins into fat like with carbs, however it eventually does. Like eating too much of anything, weight gain can still take place. 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 assist in muscle growth, but consuming 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive influence on building muscles. Heavier 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 determined that weightlifters who consumed 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 planning your meals and sources of protein, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, stick with lean, unprocessed meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is OK, but keep it lean and always limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to include.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on uncomplicated, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, enabling them to achieve their top performance in and out of the gym.
We set protein, carb, and fat amounts across six daily meals, ensuring members are getting 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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