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Protein: Too Little or Too Much

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Fitness Tips

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 building muscle, making hormones, staying satiated (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 typical and can lead to health concerns.

Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like reducing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an outcome of a low-protein, and most likely, a low calorie diet. If you’re not getting enough calories, your body will use protein as a primary fuel source as opposed to adding muscle.

Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we mentioned above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t gain 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 naturally start losing muscle mass.

Liver Issues—Specific portions of our bodies need different nutrients to function properly. Protein is important for healthy liver functions. Too little 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 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 like a problem, however low blood pressure restricts 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 appears, generally in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps block fluids from concentrating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be evidence 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 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 probably not eating 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 suitable and how much is “extra.”

Kidney Failure—A common concern of a high-protein diet, kidney failure, is only a possibility if you are consuming 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% 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 stored 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 MuscleMuscle protein synthesis is the process of transforming protein amino acids into muscle. New studies have determined 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 aid muscle growth, but having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact 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 concluded that people who lift weights 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.

Good sources of protein

When preparing your meals and sources of protein, 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 acceptable, 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, proper, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, enabling them to perform at their best performance in and out of the gym.

We set protein, carb, and fat intake across 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!

Sources:

  1. Men's Journal
  2. Eat This, Not That!
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