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 important and how too little or too much of these essential foods can affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and creating muscle, making hormones, staying satisfied, having healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have harmful side effects?
Let’s find out!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is typical and can lead to health concerns.
Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like body fat loss. 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 a primary fuel source as opposed to adding muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein aids in building muscle, but like we said above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t build 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 naturally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Certain portions of our bodies need different resources to function properly. Protein is important for healthy liver functions. Don’t eat enough and you could end up with liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to create and fix 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 joint discomfort.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem like a problem, however low blood pressure lowers the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could end up with anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t create enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling appears, often 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 spots, it could be a symptom of not eating enough protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being healthy. If you’re getting sick frequently 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 heal an injury if you aren’t eating enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can cause unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself eating more snacks, you’re likely not eating 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 suitable and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a risk if you are using a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney troubles, aim to keep 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 skilled at converting 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 turning protein amino acids into muscle. Recent studies have determined 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 help muscle growth, but eating 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive effect on muscle development. Larger 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 consumed 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 types of proteins, 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 fine, but keep it lean and always limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are ideal sources to include.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on uncomplicated, proper, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to function at their top performance in and out of the gym.
We designate protein, carb, and fat intake over the course of six daily meals, ensuring members are getting 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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