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 impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for restoring and forming muscle, making hormones, staying satisfied, creating 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 ordinary and can cause health problems.
Weight Loss—We don’t mean the good kind, like reducing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an effect of a low-protein, and most likely, a limited calorie diet. If you’re not eating enough, your body will use protein as its first fuel source as opposed to adding 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 lose muscle mass. As we get older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we generally 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 add and repair muscle, but with a limited 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 discomfort.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem problematic, however low blood pressure limits the stream of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which occurs when your body can’t produce enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling appears, generally in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps keep fluids from concentrating 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 remain healthy. If you’re getting sick more often 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 repair tissue and muscle. It will take longer 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 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 harder 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 consuming a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney problems, aim to keep 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 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 take place. 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. The latest studies have shown that there is a restriction 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 aid muscle growth, but having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive influence 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 found that strength trainers 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 types of proteins, we recommend a healthy balance of both plant- and animal-based proteins. When selecting animal-based proteins, keep it to lean, unprocessed meats like skin-free chicken and turkey. Red meat is OK, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to include.
At Farrell's, we teach our members about easy, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to perform at their best performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat levels over the course of six daily meals, ensuring members are taking in 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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