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 needed and how too little or too much of these essential foods can impact our bodies.
Protein is essential for restoring and forming muscle, hormone production, staying full, bone health, and more; but does too little or too much protein have negative side effects?
Let’s read more about it!
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 reducing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an effect of a low-protein, and most likely, a calorie-deficient diet. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body will use protein as a fuel source first instead of adding muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein assists in building muscle, but like we stated 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 generally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Particular parts of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is important for healthy liver functions. Not enough 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 limited or protein-deficient diet your protein is going to be used as a primary 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 bad, however low blood pressure lowers the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could develop anemia, which occurs when your body can’t make enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling develops, often in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps block fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be a sign of low protein consumption.
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 healing an injury. Proteins are needed to repair tissue and muscle. It will take a greater length of time to recover from an injury if you aren’t eating enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can contribute to 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 appropriate and how much is “extra.”
Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a risk 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% vegetarian 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 accumulated 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 action of changing protein amino acids into muscle. New studies have found 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 assist in muscle growth, but consuming 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 concluded 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 figuring out 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 chicken and turkey without skin. 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 use.
At Farrell's, we show our members simple, suitable, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them achieve their peak performance in and out of the gym.
We designate protein, carb, and fat levels across six daily meals, ensuring members are taking in the appropriate amounts of each macronutrient source.
To get more information about the Farrell's group fitness program and nutrition coaching, contact your local Farrell's today!
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