Protein is a major part of our daily diets and helps our bodies build and maintain muscle. But can too much protein have a negative impact on the body? Does the amount of protein you eat in a day matter? Let’s take a look at what protein does for you and how to consume the right amount to support your health and wellness.
Protein is one of the most vital macronutrients in our diets. Most people rightly associate protein with muscle growth. However, protein is also instrumental in the health of our organs, bones, skin, and hair. A balanced diet with an appropriate amount of protein will support muscle growth and recovery, provide energy, and help manage weight.
The amount of protein each person needs is different, of course, and will vary with basic factors like body weight But is there such a thing as too much? Some doctors recommend an intake of no more than two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, no matter how active a person might be. Excess protein is only a potential issue in those with pre-existing kidney issues. What really matters is the quality and type of protein and making sure you are getting sufficient protein along with other macronutrients, like carbohydrates and fats.
There are a lot of factors that determine how much protein you should consume. The National Academy of Medicine’s recommendations are based on body weight, gender, and activity level. On average, those born male should consume 56 grams of protein per day, while those born female should consume 46 grams. This can also be broken down in other ways; somewhere between 10 and 35% of your daily diet should be protein. It can also be calculated by activity level.
Adults who get a minimal amount of activity per day should have 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Those individuals who perform intense exercise may require about 1.6 grams per kilogram. The recommended daily protein intake should also be increased slightly for older adults. This is because as we age, our bodies don’t absorb and process protein as efficiently as they did when we were younger. Some good sources of protein include:
Eating too much protein can potentially lead to health problems over time. Let’s take a look at what the research has to say.
There are some possible complications that come with increased protein consumption. Many of the side effects are mild, but a few are still being studied. There may be a link between high-protein diets and kidney function, but this is still being studied by doctors. Some studies suggest that it’s only a concern for people with pre-existing kidney conditions, but others have reported some changes in kidney health after an increase in protein. Make sure to speak with your doctor about any concerns you have regarding your health before drastically changing your diet.
One of the short-term effects of excessive protein intake is a possible unintended increase in weight. Consuming more than the body’s requirements can lead to excess calories, which may be stored as fat. In addition, another potential short-term consequence of excessive protein consumption is a disrupted balance of macronutrients.
Overemphasizing protein intake might lead to neglecting carbohydrates and healthy fats, which are necessary for providing energy and essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Maintaining a balanced diet of all three macronutrient groups should be prioritized.
Less commonly, excessive protein intake can contribute to halitosis (bad breath). Constipation, on the other hand, is a more common side effect of higher protein food intake, though it can be mitigated by increasing fiber intake from fruits and vegetables.
In people with pre-existing factors that affect kidney health, high protein intake over time can have adverse effects on the kidneys. The excess protein can put a strain on kidney function. Anyone with kidney issues or a family history should work with a healthcare provider before increasing protein intake.
The long-term high intake of protein can also negatively impact the health of other bodily systems, such as the liver, skeletal system, and circulatory system. People who consume too much protein may find themselves fighting against dehydration. That said, not all of the supposed downsides to an upped protein intake turn out to be true. Calcium loss and negative impact on bone health, for instance, are two myths that were not associated with excess protein intake.
Getting enough protein is important to any healthy nutritional routine. Remember to keep your diet balanced, and make sure you’re consuming an appropriate amount of protein for your body and activity level. If you’re going to start eating a higher-protein diet, you may want to consider supporting this diet with a higher intake of vitamins that can help the body digest protein. B vitamins – such as B6, B12, and folate – are good options, as are digestive enzymes. Use of digestive enzymes as supplements can support the breakdown of foods.
Protein can be eaten with every meal. Spreading your protein intake throughout the day will give you plenty of energy. Many people get their protein from meat, such as chicken breast or red meat, but there are plenty of other sources as well. High-protein foods include dairy products, some nuts and grains, and even some vegetables. These can provide plenty of protein for the average person’s diet.
Additionally, there are lots of options for protein supplements, powders, and drinks that can replace traditional sources for an extra boost of protein.
If you are looking to lose weight, it may be beneficial to focus your protein consumption on mid-day, as this will give you a feeling of fullness that can help curb overeating and snacking. If, however, your aim is to gain more muscle, consuming protein after working out or before bed may be a better option. But no matter what time of day, the main goal should always be to consume enough protein, rather than taking it at the exact right time.
Diet and exercise, genetics, and various lifestyle factors can impact how much protein your body needs.
Our bodies need protein to synthesize muscle, making it especially important for anyone who leads an active lifestyle or engages in regular exercise. Older adults also have more specific protein needs in order to support muscle stability during aging.
Protein is just one component of a balanced diet. While prioritizing protein intake, it’s equally important to incorporate healthy fats and carbohydrates to ensure the overall intake of essential vitamins and minerals. A well-rounded diet is the best way to ensure muscle synthesis and recovery.
Before making any big changes to your diet, it's recommended to consult a healthcare provider.
Genetics significantly impacts various aspects of our physical health, including muscle development, skeletal structure, and stature. Our protein requirements vary based on age, stage of life, activity level, and genetics. Genetics plays a role in how our bodies store and utilize energy, which can affect factors such as body weight and body composition.
Lifestyle factors play a major role when it comes to how much protein we need. For those who are regularly active, protein intake will help the muscles rebuild and repair themselves, promoting a strong physique. On the flip side, individuals with higher protein intake who are less physically active may find that excess protein can be converted and stored as adipose (fat) tissue, potentially leading to unwanted weight gain.
Beyond physical activity, other lifestyle factors like stress and poor sleep can affect how well our bodies digest and utilize protein. Low stomach acid can also make it hard to digest protein properly. If you experience difficulties with protein digestion, consider the use of digestive enzymes to help support healthy digestion and ensure the proper utilization of protein.
The source of your protein can have an impact on your health. Many people turn to red meat first, as it’s known for being high in protein. However, relying entirely on red meat as a protein source can come with health complications of its own. It’s better to consume protein from leaner meats, like fish and poultry. For meat, organic, free-range, grass-fed red meat, and wild-caught fish are the best choices, as they are leaner and contain more nutrients. They also contain all the amino acids needed for complete protein building blocks.
Plant-based foods can also be a good source of protein. Foods like mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, peanuts, or almonds are rich in protein. Quinoa is a protein-filled grain, and beans also pack a protein punch. Even some vegetables can increase your protein intake — add peas, broccoli, and kale to your meals for a little extra boost.
If you’re still struggling to eat enough protein on a regular basis, you can easily add in a protein supplement. Care/of’s whey powder and vegan-friendly plant-based protein powder (made with protein from pea, pumpkin seeds and hemp) are both great sources. You can add it to water, milk, or plant-based milk to create delicious protein shakes.
Adequate protein intake is essential for various aspects of our health. It supports muscle growth and repair, organ health, and overall energy levels. However, too much protein is not necessarily better. Excess intake can lead to potential negative consequences such as digestive issues and potential strain on the kidneys in those with pre-existing issues. The appropriate amount of protein varies based on factors like age, activity level, and individual genetics. A balanced diet, incorporating healthy fats and carbohydrates, is essential for optimizing protein intake and overall nutrition. Emphasizing quality protein sources, both from animal and plant-based options, can contribute to a well-rounded and fulfilling diet.