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 affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for repairing and creating muscle, producing hormones, staying satisfied, having healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have negative 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 a result of a low-protein, and most likely, a limited calorie diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as a fuel source first rather than 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 decrease muscle mass. As we get older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we usually start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Certain parts of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is essential 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 build 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 like a problem, however low blood pressure lowers the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t produce 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 building up in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be a sign of not eating enough protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick regularly 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 mend tissue and muscle. It will take longer to recover from an injury if you aren’t eating enough 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 likely not consuming 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 risk 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 equalize your protein sources between 50% plant-based 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 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 action of turning protein amino acids into muscle. Recent studies have determined that there is a restriction 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 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 strength trainers 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 planning your meals and sources of protein, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, keep it to lean, unprocessed meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is acceptable, but keep it lean and always limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to have.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on simple, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, enabling them to function at their top performance in and out of the gym.
We designate protein, carb, and fat intake across six daily meals, ensuring members are having the right 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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