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 affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for repairing and creating muscle, hormone production, staying satisfied, bone health, and more; but does too little or too much protein have negative side effects?
Let’s learn more!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is ordinary and can lead to health concerns.
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 limited calorie diet. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body will use protein as a primary fuel source instead of adding muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build 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 get 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 nutrients to function properly. Protein is essential 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 create and repair muscle, but with a reduced 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 like a problem, however low blood pressure lowers 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 occurs, often 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 a symptom of low protein consumption.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being healthy. If you’re getting sick more often 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 repair tissue and muscle. It will take a greater length of time to recover from 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 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 eating a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney troubles, 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 eat too much protein it will be stored as fat. Our bodies are not skilled 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 transforming protein amino acids into muscle. New studies have shown 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 assist in muscle growth, but eating 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive effect on building muscles. Heavier 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 people who lift weights who consumed 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, stick with lean, unprocessed meats like chicken and turkey without skin. Red meat is fine, but keep it lean and always limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to use.
At Farrell's, we show our members easy, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them function at their peak performance in and out of the gym.
We set protein, carb, and fat amounts over the course of six daily meals, ensuring members are having the correct 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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