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 mending and forming muscle, producing hormones, staying satiated (full), creating healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have harmful side effects?
Let’s find out!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is ordinary and can cause health problems.
Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like losing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is a result of a low-protein, and most likely, a low calorie diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as its first fuel source rather than creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein assists in building muscle, but like we said above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t increase or even maintain muscle and can even start losing muscle mass. As we become older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we usually start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Particular portions of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could end up with liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to add and repair muscle, but with a low 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 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 develop anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t produce 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 spots, it could be a sign of not eating enough protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being healthy. If you’re getting sick regularly or can’t recover from 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 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 danger if you are consuming 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% 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 accumulated as fat. Our bodies are not efficient 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. Recent studies have determined 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 help muscle growth, but consuming 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive effect on muscle development. 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 determined 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 protein sources, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, keep it to lean, unprocessed meats like chicken and turkey without skin. Red meat is OK, but keep it lean and always limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to include.
At Farrell's, we teach our members about uncomplicated, proper, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to achieve their best performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat intake for six daily meals, ensuring members are having the appropriate amounts of each macronutrient source.
To learn more about the Farrell's group fitness program and nutrition coaching, contact your local Farrell's today!
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