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 necessary and how too little or too much of these essential foods can affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for repairing and forming muscle, hormone production, staying full, having 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 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 a result of a low-protein, and most likely, a limited calorie diet. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body will use protein as a fuel source first as opposed to building 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 lose muscle mass. As we age (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we naturally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Specific parts of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is essential for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could develop liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to build and fix muscle, but with a reduced or protein-deficient diet your protein is going to be used as a basic fuel function, rather than building muscle to keep joints strong and stable, which could lead to achy joints.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem problematic, however low blood pressure restricts 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, generally in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps stop fluids from concentrating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be evidence of low protein consumption.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick frequently or can’t get over 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 a greater length of time 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 reaching for more snacks, you’re likely not eating 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 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 equalize your protein sources between 50% plant-based and 50% lean, unprocessed meat-based.
Weight Gain—Protein helps build muscle, and like carbs, if we have too much protein it will be accumulated as fat. Our bodies are not skilled at turning 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 transforming protein amino acids into muscle. New studies have determined that there is a limit 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 effect on muscle development. 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 concluded that weightlifters 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, choose lean, unprocessed meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is OK, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to use.
At Farrell's, we teach our members about simple, suitable, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them achieve their top performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat amounts across six daily meals, ensuring members are having the appropriate 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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