We’ve all heard the value of eating a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and fats, but what we don’t often hear about is why it’s necessary and how too little or too much of these essential foods can impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for repairing and creating muscle, making hormones, staying satisfied, bone health, 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 ordinary and can have some health concerns.
Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like reducing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an effect of a low-protein, and most likely, a limited calorie diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as its first fuel source as opposed to creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we mentioned above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t increase 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—Particular portions of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is essential for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could develop liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to build and fix muscle, but with a low 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 restricts the stream of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could end up with anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t make enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling develops, generally in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps keep fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be a symptom of eating too little protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being 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 recovering from an injury. Proteins are needed to repair tissue and muscle. It will take a greater length of time to get over an injury if you don’t get enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can cause unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself wanting more snacks, you’re likely not eating 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 appropriate and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a possibility if you are consuming a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney troubles, 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 have too much protein it will be stored as fat. Our bodies are not efficient at changing 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 turning protein amino acids into muscle. The latest studies have found that there is a limit 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 having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact on muscle development. 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 found that people who lift weights 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 figuring out your meals and types of proteins, 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 acceptable, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to have.
At Farrell's, we teach our members about simple, suitable, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to perform at their peak performance in and out of the gym.
We designate protein, carb, and fat intake across six daily meals, ensuring members are having the correct amounts of each macronutrient source.
To find out more about the Farrell's group fitness program and nutrition coaching, contact your local Farrell's today!
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