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Protein: Too Little or Too Much

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Fitness Tips

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 basic foods can impact our bodies.

Protein is essential for mending and building muscle, making hormones, 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—This isn’t the good kind, like losing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is a result of a low-protein, and most likely, a limited calorie diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as a fuel source first 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 lose muscle mass. As we become older (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we naturally start losing muscle mass.

Liver Issues—Specific areas of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Don’t eat enough and you could develop liver disease.

Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to create and restore 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 discomfort.

Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem like a problem, however low blood pressure restricts the stream of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could end up with anemia, which happens when your body can’t create 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 block fluids from building up in tissue. If you notice swelling in these spots, it could be a sign of low protein consumption.

Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick regularly 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 repair tissue and muscle. It will take a greater length of time to heal an injury if you are lacking 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 probably 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 appropriate 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 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 have 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 MuscleMuscle protein synthesis is the process of turning protein amino acids into muscle. The latest 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 consuming 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 determined that people who lift weights 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.

Good sources of protein

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, keep it to lean, unprocessed meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is fine, but keep it lean and always keep an eye on the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to have.

At Farrell's, we teach our members about uncomplicated, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them function at their peak performance in and out of the gym.

We assign protein, carb, and fat levels across six daily meals, ensuring members are taking in 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!

Sources:

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