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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 important and how too little or too much of these basic foods can impact our bodies.

Protein is essential for restoring and forming muscle, producing hormones, 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 most common and can lead to health concerns.

Weight Loss—We’re not talking the good kind, like losing body fat. Instead, overall weight loss is an effect 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 rather than creating muscle.

Muscle Loss—Protein helps build muscle, but like we mentioned 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—Certain areas of our bodies need different components to function properly. Protein is vital for healthy liver functions. Too little and you could damage your liver.

Joint Pain—Strong, healthy muscles help keep joints in place. Protein is used to create and repair muscle, but with a low or protein-deficient diet your protein is going to be used as a basic 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 limits the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could develop anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t produce 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 stop fluids from building up in tissue. If you notice swelling in these locations, it could be a sign of not eating enough protein.

Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to stay healthy. If you’re getting sick frequently 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 mend tissue and muscle. It will take a greater length of time to get over an injury if you aren’t eating enough protein.

Cravings—Too many carbs and not enough protein can lead 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 useful 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 equalize your protein sources between 50% vegetarian and 50% lean, unprocessed meat-based.

Weight Gain—Protein helps build muscle, and like carbs, if we have too much protein it will be stored as fat. Our bodies are not skilled at changing 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 transforming protein amino acids into muscle. The latest studies have determined that there is a restriction 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 eating 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive influence on muscle development. Heavier 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.

Good sources of protein

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, stick with lean, unprocessed meats like chicken and turkey without skin. Red meat is fine, but keep it lean and always limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are good sources to include.

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

We assign protein, carb, and fat intake across six daily meals, ensuring members are getting the correct 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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