We’ve all heard the value 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 vital foods can impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and creating muscle, making hormones, staying satisfied, creating healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have adverse side effects?
Let’s learn more!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is typical 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 calorie-deficient 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 mentioned above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t increase or even maintain muscle and can even decrease 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—Particular parts of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is important for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could damage your liver.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to build and restore 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 limits the stream 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 develops, 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 areas, 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 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 wanting more snacks, you’re probably not eating enough protein and too many carbs.
Too Much Protein
So what about too much protein? While it’s harder 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 possibility if you are using a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney issues, aim to keep your protein sources between 50% plant-based 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 converting proteins into fat like with carbs, however it eventually does. Like eating too much of anything, weight gain can still occur. 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. Recent studies have shown 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 aid muscle growth, but having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact 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 weightlifters 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 figuring out 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 skin-free chicken and turkey. Red meat is OK, but keep it lean and always keep an eye on 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, proper, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to function at their top performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat levels over the course of six daily meals, ensuring members are having 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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