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 essential foods can affect our bodies.
Protein is essential for mending and creating muscle, hormone production, 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 lead to health concerns.
Weight Loss—We don’t mean 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 limiting food, your body will use protein as a primary fuel source instead of creating muscle.
Muscle Loss—Protein assists in building muscle, but like we mentioned above, if your protein is being used for fuel, you won’t build or even maintain muscle and can even lose muscle mass. As we age (usually around age 35 for women and as early as age 25 for men), we naturally start losing muscle mass.
Liver Issues—Certain parts of our bodies need different components 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 build and restore muscle, but with a low 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 limits the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to vital organs and tissue. In addition, you could end up with anemia, which is a condition where your body can’t produce enough red blood cells.
Edema—This is a condition in which swelling appears, usually 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 spots, it could be a symptom of eating too little protein.
Immune System & Recovery—Your immune system needs protein to remain healthy. If you’re getting sick more often or can’t get over 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 eating more snacks, you’re probably not consuming 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 danger if you are consuming a majority of animal-based protein sources like meat or have a kidney disease. To avoid possible kidney problems, 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 kept as fat. Our bodies are not efficient 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 Muscle—Muscle protein synthesis is the process of turning protein amino acids into muscle. Recent studies have shown 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 aid muscle growth, but consuming 50 grams per meal won’t have any more positive impact 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 concluded 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 preparing your meals and types of proteins, 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 limit the portions. For plant-based proteins, beans, quinoa, nuts, and soy are great sources to have.
At Farrell's, we coach our members on simple, decent, balanced nutrition so their bodies are working effectively and efficiently, allowing them to perform at their best performance in and out of the gym.
We assign protein, carb, and fat amounts for six daily meals, ensuring members are getting 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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