Too much protein is not good for your weight loss goals, so how much protein do you need? Everyone knows that protein is the most important macronutrient to building muscle mass and losing fat. But, that doesn’t mean you can eat as much protein as possible. Moreover, being too much in protein consumption may be bad for your overall health.
How much protein do you need?
Protein is essential for life – it’s a building block of every human cell and is involved in the vital biochemical functions of the human body. It’s particularly important in growth, development, and tissue repair. Protein is one of the three major “macronutrients” (along with carbohydrates and fat).
So, consuming enough protein is required to stave off malnutrition; it may also be important to preserve muscle mass and strength as we age. And, in recent years, some have advocated a higher protein diet to rev up metabolism to make it easier to lose excess weight, though success in this regard is highly variable.
- The ideal amount of protein you should consume each day is a bit uncertain. Commonly quoted recommendations are 56 grams/day for men, 46 grams/day for women. You could get 46 grams/day of protein in 1 serving of low-fat greek yogurt, a 4 oz. serving of lean chicken breast and a bowl of cereal with skim milk.
- A weight-based recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For a 140-pound person, that comes to 51 grams of protein each day. (You can convert your body weight from pounds to kilograms by dividing by 2.2; so, 140 pounds is 64 kg; multiplying this by 0.8 equals 51). Active people— especially those who are trying to build muscle mass— may need more.
- Based on percent of calories— for an active adult, about 10% of calories should come from protein
- To pay more attention to the type of protein in your diet rather than the amount; for example, moderating consumption of red meat and increasing healthier protein sources, such as salmon, yogurt or beans.
But some experts suggest that these recommendations are all wrong and that we should be consuming more protein, up to twice the standard recommendations. Still others claim that the average American diet already contains too much protein. (Read more about the thinking of experts on this subject in this summary of two “Protein Summits” in 2007 and 2013 organized “to discuss the role of protein in human health and to explore the misperception that Americans overconsume protein.” Note, these meetings were sponsored in part by animal-based food industry groups.)
Risks of eating too much protein
Consuming high amounts of any nutrient for a long period of time typically comes with risks, as can be the case with protein. Overconsumption may lead to an increased risk of certain health complications, according to research.
There are potential benefitsTrusted Source to a high-protein diet for otherwise healthy people. However, it’s important to understand the health concerns related to excess protein in the body, especially if you follow an excessively high-protein diet for an extended period.
High-protein diets may tout weight loss, but this type of weight loss may only be short-term.
Excess protein consumed is usually stored as fat, while the surplus of amino acids is excreted. This can lead to weight gain over time, especially if you consume too many calories while trying to increase your protein intake.
A 2016 study found that weight gain was significantly associated with diets where protein replaced carbohydrates, but not when it replaced fat.
Eating large amounts of protein can lead to bad breath, especially if you restrict your carbohydrate intake.
In an older registry, 40 percent of participants reported bad breath. This could be in part because your body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis, which produces chemicals that give off an unpleasant fruity smell.
Brushing and flossing won’t get rid of the smell. You can double your water intake, brush your teeth more often, and chew gum to counter some of this effect.
In the same study, 44 percent of participants reported constipation. High-protein diets that restrict carbohydrates are typically low in fiber.
Increasing your water and fiber intake can help prevent constipation. Tracking your bowel movements may be helpful.
Eating too much dairy or processed food, coupled with a lack of fiber, can cause diarrhea. This is especially true if you’re lactose-intolerant or consume protein sources such as fried meat, fish, and poultry. Eat heart-healthy proteins instead.
To avoid diarrhea, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeinated beverages, limit fried foods and excess fat consumption, and increase your fiber intake.
Your body flushes out excess nitrogen with fluids and water. This can leave you dehydrated even though you may not feel more thirsty than usual.
A small 2002 study involving athletes found that as protein intake increased, hydration levels decreased. However, a 2006 study concluded that consuming more protein had a minimal impact on hydration.
This risk or effect can be minimized by increasing your water intake, especially if you’re an active person. Regardless of protein consumption, it’s always important to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
While no major studiesTrusted Source link high protein intake to kidney damage in healthy individuals, excess protein can cause damage in people with preexisting kidney disease.
This is because of the excess nitrogen found in the amino acids that make up proteins. Damaged kidneys have to work harder to get rid of the extra nitrogen and waste products of protein metabolism.
Separately a 2012 study looked at the effects of low-carbohydrate, high-protein versus low-fat diets on the kidneys.
The study found that in healthy obese adults, a low-carbohydrate, high-protein weight-loss diet over two years was not associated with noticeably harmful effects on renal filtration, albuminuria, or fluid and electrolyte balance compared with a low-fat diet.
Increased cancer risk
StudiesTrusted Source have shown that certain high-protein diets that are particularly high in red meat-based protein are linked to an increased risk of various health issues, including cancer. Eating more red and/or processed meat is associatedTrusted Source with colorectal, breastTrusted Source, and prostate cancer.
Conversely, eating protein from other sources has been associatedTrusted Source with a decreased risk of cancer. Scientists believe this could be due, in part, to hormones, carcinogenic compounds, and fats found in meat.
Eating lots of red meat and full-fat dairy foods as part of a high-protein diet may lead to heart disease. This could be related to higher intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol.
According to a 2010 studyTrusted Source, eating large amounts of red meat and high-fat dairy was shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Eating poultry, fish, and nuts lowered the risk.
A 2018 study also showed that long-term consumption of red meat can increase trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a gut-generated chemical that is linked to heart disease. Findings also showed that reducing or eliminating dietary red meat reversed the effects.
Diets that are high in protein and meat may cause calcium loss. This is sometimes associated with osteoporosis and poor bone health.
A 2013 review of studies found an association between high levels of protein consumption and poor bone health. However, another 2013 review found that the effect of protein on bone health is inconclusive. Further research is needed to expand and conclude upon these findings
Signs You Could Be Eating Too Much Protein
Fat and carbs both have their fair share of haters, but protein is pretty much always getting good press. It’s easy to see why: protein is an essential nutrient for strong bones, muscles, skin and pretty much every other part of the body, and it is responsible for thousands of different chemical reactions to make sure your body functions at its best. But that doesn’t mean more is always better.
Despite the National Academies of Medicine recommends consuming between 10 and 35 percent of the daily calories from protein (equivalent to 50 grams to 175 grams), people often adopt high-protein diets in the hopes of losing weight or toning up. A review published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle found there is no benefit to consuming more protein than recommended as increased consumption had no significant improvement on athletic performance—it only led to minimal muscle gain in healthy adults who were involved with resistance exercise training.
In fact, eating too much protein will do more harm than good for healthy individuals, often compromising at the expense of fiber, carbohydrates or other necessary nutrients. Eating too much protein for a prolonged period of time can cause place a burden on the kidneys, liver and bones, as well as potentially increase the risk for heart disease and cancer.
Here are a few major warning signs to tell if you might be packing too much protein into your day.
1. You Always Have to Pee
If you feel like you always have to pee, it could be due to eating too much protein. Our kidneys can only process so much protein at once, so the waste from the protein that is being broken down may build up.
In a 2020 study published in Nutrients, researchers also found that those who adopt plant-based and low-fat dairy protein diets had a lower risk of developing kidney stones than those who eat high meat, animal-based protein and low calcium diet. This phenomenon could be explained by the increased uric acid production for those who eat a high animal-based protein diet, leading to a greater risk of developing kidney stones.
Excess waste buildup from eating too much protein also creates a much more acidic environment, causing you the urge to pee all the time. Increased acid production over time may also cause problems in the bones and liver.
2. You Feel Like You’re In a Funk
A high-protein diet might have helped you tone up for summer or get closer to your goal weight, but could it also contribute to your blue mood? Maybe, especially if your protein-to-carb ratio is way off base.
One study from Lifestyle Genomics found high protein, low-fat diets may increase the risk of depression in healthy adults. Another study also revealed that a low-carb diet might also be associated with anxiety, depression and stress. These results agree with the theory that carbohydrates are responsible for releasing serotonin—your body’s “feel good” hormone, so eating a moderate amount of carbs may reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.
Still, this area of research is still underway as there are also conflicting findings, such as the study from Nutrition Reviews that showed that low carb, moderate protein and high-fat diets had no impact on the mood of non-depressive individuals. Nevertheless, focus on eating balanced portions of carbs, protein and fat by following the USDA MyPlate.
3. You’re Constipated
High-protein diets are often low in fiber, especially when your main protein sources are animal products—which can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Fiber helps move everything along your intestines, and it can only be found in plant-based foods, including whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Consider mixing up your protein intake with foods that deliver both fiber and protein, like whole grains, beans or tempeh, which can make a huge impact. You can also try ramping up your fruit and vegetable intake to get way more health benefits than just getting regular again—Think protecting your body from chronic diseases and weight gain, and keeping your gut healthy, just to name a few.
4. Your Weight Is Creeping Back Up
High-protein diets are often praised for helping people drop a dress size or two in as short as a week-but the long-term effects aren’t as desirable. Following a high-protein diet often means eating very few carbs, which isn’t sustainable for most of us in the long run. This can lead to food cravings and less energy to get your morning workout in and can make you regain the weight you worked so hard to lose.
Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist who has spent years studying the brain-weight link. She told EatingWell, “Don’t do anything to lose weight you’re not willing to do forever.” This is because your brain can certainly adjust its behaviors once you lose the weight, but it needs you to continue your efforts to maintain it. Opting for restrictive diets—like keto—may not be your best bet for long-term health.