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 vital foods can impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for repairing and building muscle, making hormones, staying full, creating 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 ordinary 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 limited calorie diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as a primary fuel source rather than adding muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we stated above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t increase or even maintain muscle and can even lose 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—Certain portions of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is essential for healthy liver functions. Too little and you could end up with liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to create 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 pain.
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 develop anemia, which occurs when your body can’t create enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling occurs, often in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps stop fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be evidence 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 healing an injury. Proteins are needed to mend tissue and muscle. It will take more 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 reaching for more snacks, you’re possibly 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 eating a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney issues, aim to equalize your protein sources between 50% vegetarian 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 efficient at converting 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 changing 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 having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive effect on building muscles. 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 concluded 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 protein sources, 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 limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to use.
At Farrell's, we show our members simple, proper, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to achieve their top performance in and out of the gym.
We set protein, carb, and fat amounts for six daily meals, ensuring members are taking in 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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