We’ve all heard the value 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, producing hormones, staying satiated (full), creating healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have negative side effects?
Let’s learn more!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is ordinary 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 its first fuel source instead of creating 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 decrease muscle mass. As we age (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we usually start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Specific areas 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 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 pain.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem bad, however low blood pressure restricts the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t make enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling develops, generally in the hands, feet, and ankles, from body fluid trapped in the tissue. Protein helps stop fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these areas, it could be evidence of low protein consumption.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being 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 healing an injury. Proteins are needed to mend tissue and muscle. It will take longer 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 wanting more snacks, you’re probably not getting 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 risk if you are using a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney problems, aim to balance your protein sources between 50% plant-based and 50% lean, unprocessed meat-based.
Weight Gain—Protein helps build muscle, and like carbs, if we have too much protein it will be accumulated as fat. Our bodies are not good at converting proteins into fat like with carbs, however it eventually does. Like eating too much of anything, weight gain can still occur. 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. 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 assist in muscle growth, but consuming 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact on muscle growth. 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.
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 skinless chicken and turkey. 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 great sources to include.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on uncomplicated, decent, 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 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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