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 restoring and forming muscle, hormone production, staying full, 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 ordinary and can lead to health concerns.
Weight Loss—We don’t mean the good kind, like body fat loss. 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 primary fuel source rather than creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein assists in building muscle, but like we mentioned 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 naturally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Particular areas of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Don’t eat enough and you could develop liver disease.
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 main fuel function, rather than building muscle to keep joints strong and stable, which could lead to joint discomfort.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem like a problem, however low blood pressure restricts the stream of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could develop anemia, which occurs when your body can’t make enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling appears, usually in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps keep fluids from building up 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 stay healthy. If you’re getting sick regularly or can’t get over 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 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 cause 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 appropriate and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a possibility if you are eating a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney issues, aim to balance your protein sources between 50% vegetarian 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 accumulated as fat. Our bodies are not good 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 action of changing protein amino acids into muscle. Recent studies have determined that there is a cap 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 building muscles. Bigger 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 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 preparing your meals and types of proteins, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, stick with lean, unprocessed meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is acceptable, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to have.
At Farrell's, we teach our members about uncomplicated, proper, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them achieve their best performance in and out of the gym.
We designate protein, carb, and fat levels across six daily meals, ensuring members are taking in 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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