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 necessary and how too little or too much of these essential foods can impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for repairing and forming muscle, producing hormones, staying satisfied, bone health, and more; but does too little or too much protein have adverse 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—This isn’t the good kind, like losing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is a result of a low-protein, and most likely, a calorie-deficient diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as a primary fuel source instead of creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein aids in building 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 lose muscle mass. As we become older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we generally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Certain areas of our bodies need different nutrients to function properly. Protein is important for healthy liver functions. Too little and you could damage your liver.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to create 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 like a problem, however low blood pressure restricts the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which occurs when your body can’t create enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling occurs, generally in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps block fluids from building up in tissue. If you notice swelling in these locations, it could be a sign of low protein consumption.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being healthy. If you’re getting sick more often 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 repair tissue and muscle. It will take longer to heal an injury if you are lacking protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can lead to unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself eating 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 more difficult 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 eating a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney troubles, 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 eat too much protein it will be stored as fat. Our bodies are not skilled at turning 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 action of changing protein amino acids into muscle. The latest studies have determined 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 help muscle growth, but having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact on building muscles. 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 concluded 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 preparing your meals and protein sources, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, choose lean, unprocessed meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is fine, but keep it lean and always keep an eye on the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to use.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on simple, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them achieve their best performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat levels over the course of 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!
- Men's Journal
- Eat This, Not That!