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 vital foods can have an effect on our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and creating muscle, producing hormones, staying full, creating healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have adverse side effects?
Let’s learn more!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is ordinary and can have some health concerns.
Weight Loss—We don’t mean the good kind, like body fat loss. 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 a primary fuel source instead of creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein aids in building muscle, but like we mentioned above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t build 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 naturally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Specific parts of our bodies need different nutrients to function properly. Protein is important for healthy liver functions. Don’t eat enough and you could damage your liver.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to add and repair muscle, but with a limited or protein-deficient diet your protein is going to be used as a main 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 problematic, however low blood pressure lowers the movement of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could develop anemia, which occurs when 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 block fluids from building up in tissue. If you notice swelling in these locations, it could be a sign 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 get over those common colds, it could be from low protein consumption. It’s the same with recovering from an injury. Proteins are needed to fix tissue and muscle. It will take a greater length of time to get over an injury if you aren’t eating enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can lead to 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 eating a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney issues, 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 eat too much protein it will be accumulated 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 method of changing 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 consuming 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive effect on muscle development. 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 found 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 planning your meals and sources of protein, 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 acceptable, but keep it lean and always keep an eye on the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to use.
At Farrell's, we show our members simple, suitable, 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 over the course of six daily meals, ensuring members are getting 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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