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 affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for repairing and building muscle, producing hormones, staying satisfied, 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 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 limited calorie diet. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body will use protein as its first fuel source instead of building 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 decrease muscle mass. As we get older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we naturally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Specific portions of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is important 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 create and repair muscle, but with a reduced or protein-deficient diet your protein is going to be used as a basic 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 have anemia, which occurs when your body can’t produce enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling develops, often in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps stop fluids from concentrating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these locations, it could be evidence of not eating enough 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 injury recovery. Proteins are needed to fix tissue and muscle. It will take more time to recover from an injury if you aren’t eating enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can cause 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 hard to eat too much protein, there are some health concerns and general knowledge about how much is useful and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a danger if you are using a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney troubles, aim to equalize 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 accumulated 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 turning protein amino acids into muscle. New studies have shown 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 eating 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive influence 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 determined that strength trainers 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 protein sources, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, stick with lean, unprocessed meats like chicken and turkey without skin. Red meat is acceptable, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to have.
At Farrell's, we show our members uncomplicated, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them perform at their peak performance in and out of the gym.
We set protein, carb, and fat amounts over the course of six daily meals, ensuring members are getting the appropriate 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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