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 vital foods can have an effect on our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and creating muscle, hormone production, staying full, having healthy bones, and more; but does too little or too much protein have adverse side effects?
Let’s read more about it!
Too Little Protein
A low-protein or protein-deficient diet is ordinary and can have some health concerns.
Weight Loss—We don’t mean the good kind, like losing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an outcome of a low-protein, and most likely, a calorie-deficient diet. If you’re limiting food, your body will use protein as its first fuel source instead of creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we said above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t increase 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—Certain areas of our bodies need different nutrients to function properly. Protein is essential 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 add 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 bad, however low blood pressure lowers the stream 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 produce 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 locations, it could be a sign of eating too little protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to continue being healthy. If you’re getting sick frequently 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 fix tissue and muscle. It will take more time to heal an injury if you don’t get enough protein.
Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can lead to unwanted food cravings. If you’re finding yourself reaching for more snacks, you’re possibly 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 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 eating 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 eat too much protein it will be stored as fat. Our bodies are not efficient at changing 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 process of transforming protein amino acids into muscle. The latest studies have found 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 having 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive influence 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 determined that strength trainers 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, choose lean, unprocessed meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Red meat is OK, but keep it lean and always watch the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to include.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on easy, suitable, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, letting them function at their top performance in and out of the gym.
We set protein, carb, and fat intake across six daily meals, ensuring members are having 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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