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 basic foods can affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and creating muscle, hormone production, 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 most common and can lead to health concerns.
Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like reducing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an effect of a low-protein, and most likely, a low calorie diet. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body will use protein as its first fuel source rather than creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein aids 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 decrease 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—Specific parts of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is essential 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 repair 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 achy joints.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem problematic, however low blood pressure restricts the stream of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could develop anemia, which happens when your body can’t create enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling appears, usually in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps keep fluids from building up in tissue. If you notice swelling in these spots, it could be a symptom of not eating enough protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to stay 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 injury recovery. Proteins are needed to mend tissue and muscle. It will take longer to recover from an injury if you don’t get enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can lead to unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself wanting more snacks, you’re possibly 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 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 have too much protein it will be stored as fat. Our bodies are not efficient 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 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 having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact 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 found that weightlifters who ate 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, choose lean, unprocessed meats like chicken and turkey without skin. Red meat is acceptable, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are ideal sources to use.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on simple, proper, 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 taking in 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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