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 have an effect on our bodies.
Protein is essential for restoring and forming muscle, making hormones, staying full, having healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have harmful side effects?
Let’s learn more!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is most common and can have some health concerns.
Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like losing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an effect of a low-protein, and most likely, a low calorie diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as a primary 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 increase or even maintain muscle and can even start losing muscle mass. As we get older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we usually start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Specific portions 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 repair muscle, but with a reduced 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 pain.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem like a problem, however low blood pressure lowers the movement of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could end up with anemia, which occurs when 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 stop fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these spots, it could be a symptom of low protein consumption.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to stay 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 healing an injury. Proteins are needed to mend tissue and muscle. It will take longer to get over 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 possibly not consuming 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 useful and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a danger if you are using 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 have too much protein it will be kept as fat. Our bodies are not good 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 turning protein amino acids into muscle. The latest studies have found 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 effect on muscle development. 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 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 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 skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is fine, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are ideal sources to have.
At Farrell's, we show our members uncomplicated, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to achieve their best performance in and out of the gym.
We set protein, carb, and fat intake for six daily meals, ensuring members are having the right 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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