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 have an effect on our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and forming muscle, producing hormones, staying full, bone health, 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—This isn’t 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 not eating enough, your body will use protein as a fuel source first instead of creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we stated above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t build or even maintain muscle and can even start losing muscle mass. As we become older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we usually start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Particular parts of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Don’t eat enough and you could end up with liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to add 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 pain.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem bad, however low blood pressure limits the movement of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could develop anemia, which occurs when your body can’t create 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 block fluids from building up 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 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 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 contribute to unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself reaching for 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 useful and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a risk 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 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 have too much protein it will be kept as fat. Our bodies are not skilled at converting 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. New studies have shown 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 consuming 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive influence on muscle growth. 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 found that people who lift weights who had 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 fine, 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 teach our members about simple, 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 taking in the right amounts of each macronutrient source.
To get more information about the Farrell's group fitness program and nutrition coaching, contact your local Farrell's today!
- Men's Journal
- Eat This, Not That!