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 essential foods can impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and building muscle, hormone production, staying satisfied, having healthy bones, 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 cause health problems.
Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like body fat loss. Instead, overall weight loss is a result of a low-protein, and most likely, a low calorie diet. If you’re not eating enough, your body will use protein as a primary fuel source rather than adding muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein assists in building muscle, but like we said above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t build or even maintain muscle and can even decrease muscle mass. As we age (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we usually start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Specific portions of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is essential for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could end up with liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to create and fix muscle, but with a limited 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 problematic, however low blood pressure lowers the stream of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which happens when your body can’t produce 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 block fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be a symptom of low protein consumption.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being healthy. If you’re getting sick frequently 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 mend 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 contribute to unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself wanting 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 suitable 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 problems, 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 take in 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 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 eating 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact on muscle development. 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 determined that people who lift weights 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, 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 ideal sources to have.
At Farrell's, we show our members easy, 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 levels across six daily meals, ensuring members are getting the right 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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