We’ve all heard the significance of eating a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and fats, but what we don’t often hear about is why it’s necessary and how too little or too much of these basic foods can have an effect on our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and building muscle, producing hormones, staying satisfied, having 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 ordinary and can cause health problems.
Weight Loss—This isn’t the good kind, like reducing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an outcome 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 primary fuel source instead of adding muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein helps build 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 age (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we generally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Specific parts of our bodies need different nutrients to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Not enough and you could end up with liver disease.
Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to add 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 achy joints.
Low Blood Pressure—This may not seem like a problem, however low blood pressure limits the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could have anemia, which occurs when your body can’t create 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 keep fluids from accumulating in tissue. If you notice swelling in these spots, it could be a sign of eating too little protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick regularly or can’t beat 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 a greater length of time to recover from 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 wanting 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 useful 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 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 kept as fat. Our bodies are not efficient 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 Muscle—Muscle protein synthesis is the method of turning protein amino acids into muscle. New studies have determined that there is a limit 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 effect 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 found 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.
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 chicken and turkey without skin. 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 coach our members on uncomplicated, suitable, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to function at their best performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat levels across six daily meals, ensuring members are having 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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