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 affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for restoring and forming muscle, producing hormones, staying full, bone health, and more; but does too little or too much protein have harmful side effects?
Let’s read more about it!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is ordinary and can have some 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 calorie-deficient diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as its first 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 gain or even maintain muscle and can even lose muscle mass. As we become older (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 components to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Don’t eat enough and you could develop liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to add and fix 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 discomfort.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem bad, however low blood pressure limits the movement of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t produce enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling occurs, generally in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps block fluids from building up in tissue. If you notice swelling in these locations, it could be evidence of not eating enough protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick frequently 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 a greater length of time to heal an injury if you aren’t eating enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can contribute to unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself eating more snacks, you’re possibly not getting 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 possibility if you are consuming a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney problems, aim to equalize your protein sources between 50% non-meat 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 good 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 action of turning 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 having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive effect on muscle growth. 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 preparing your meals and protein sources, 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 acceptable, 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 simple, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to achieve their peak performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat levels for six daily meals, ensuring members are having 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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