We’ve all heard the significance 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 adverse side effects?
Let’s read more about it!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is most common and can cause health problems.
Weight Loss—We don’t mean the good kind, like losing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an outcome of a low-protein, and most likely, a low calorie diet. If you’re not eating enough, your body will use protein as its first fuel source as opposed to building 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 start losing 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 areas of our bodies need different nutrients to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Too little and you could develop liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to create and fix muscle, but with a low 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 joint discomfort.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem like a problem, however low blood pressure lowers the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which occurs when your body can’t make enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling appears, 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 spots, it could be evidence of eating too little protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being healthy. If you’re getting sick more often or can’t beat those common colds, it could be from low protein consumption. It’s the same with recovering from 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 cause unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself reaching for more snacks, you’re likely not consuming 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 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 balance your protein sources between 50% vegetarian and 50% lean, unprocessed meat-based.
Weight Gain—Protein helps build muscle, and like carbs, if we eat 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 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 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 aid muscle growth, but consuming 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive effect 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 concluded that weightlifters 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 preparing 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 skin-free chicken and turkey. Red meat is fine, but keep it lean and always keep an eye on the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to include.
At Farrell's, we teach our members about simple, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, enabling them to perform at their best performance in and out of the gym.
We set protein, carb, and fat levels across six daily meals, ensuring members are taking in the right amounts of each macronutrient source.
To get more information about the Farrell's group fitness program and nutrition coaching, contact your local Farrell's today!
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