Protein is touted as one of the most important macronutrients for good health. But how much protein should you have? How much protein is too much, and is too much protein bad for you?
Let’s discuss the benefits of protein, how much you should have, and what happens when you eat too much protein.
What are the Benefits of Protein?
There are several benefits to getting the right amount of protein in your diet, including its role in building muscle, supporting a healthy metabolism, and weight management.
1) Can Help You Manage Your Weight
Protein and fat digest slower than carbohydrates, therefore consuming either of these two macronutrients will have you feeling full longer. Protein also has a high thermic effect on food score (TEF), which means your metabolism revs up and burns more calories breaking down protein. Therefore, protein provides the benefit of leaving you full for longer without having as many calories as a high fat food would.
Several research studies have seen those who eat more protein experience greater weight loss.
2) Builds Muscle and Strength
If you’re an active person, and especially if you’re lifting weights, you need enough protein to build muscle. Simply lifting weights alone won’t get you results – protein is an essential piece of the muscle-building puzzle.
3) Strengthens Your Bones
Strong bones are essential to maintaining the active lifestyle you love, and studies show protein intake supports healthy bone mass.
4) Protects Your Heart
Protein also helps protect your heart. For optimal heart health, choose lean, quality proteins like chicken breast, fish, egg whites, lentils, beans, tofu, and a lean protein powder that doesn’t contain excess sugar or unnecessary preservatives.
While protein provides all of these benefits and more, it is important to also know the side effects of too much protein and how much you need for the best results.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
In order to function optimally, the body needs a balance of the three macronutrients — protein, fats, and carbohydrates. These nutrients provide energy as calories and play many important roles in the body.
The National Institute of Health has identified ideal macronutrient needs based on a percentage of total calories. These are called the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR), which breakdown as follows:
- 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates
- 20-35% of calories from fat
- 10-35% of calories from protein
This means if you eat 2000 calories per day, you would need to eat between 50-175 grams of protein a day.
Another way to calculate protein needs without needing to calculate calories first is to base your protein intake on your lean body mass. Here is the basic calculation:
Step 1: Figure your lean body mass. If you weigh 200 pounds and you have a body fat percentage of 25%, your lean body mass would be 150 pounds or 75% of your body weight.
Step 2: Divide that number in half. Your body needs about 1 gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass. To continue the example above, if you weighed 200 pounds and had a body fat percentage of 25%, you would need to consume 75 grams of protein per day.
These are just general calculations for figuring out your protein needs. Your individual needs can vary based on a number of other variables such as age, activity level, muscle mass, life stage, or medical status.
Always speak to your medical doctor or a registered dietitian for personalized protein and nutrition recommendations.
Is Too Much Protein Bad for You?
What happens when you eat too much protein? And how much protein is too much?
Based on the calculation above, in order to eat “too much” protein on a 2000-calorie diet you would have to eat more than 175 grams a day. This would be the equivalent of eating about 25 ounces of chicken in one day. It would be possible, but most of us would be quite full.
Even if your calorie needs are below 2000, it still would be challenging to exceed the safe threshold for protein.
If you do manage to eat too much protein regularly, here are a few of the risks of excessive protein intake in your diet:
Increased Risk of Cancer
Eating more protein than your body needs likely means a higher intake of processed, grilled, and deli meats. An excessively high protein intake also means your diet may not be balanced and lack the benefits of key nutrients such as polyphenols and fiber that help prevent diseases like cancer. An imbalance to your daily intake can end up increasing consumption of carcinogens without the polyphenols that could end up fueling the growth of cancer cells in your body. It is believed that too much protein in the diet stimulates a biochemical pathway that plays a role in the formation of cancers.
Possible Kidney Strain
Current research has shown little correlation between a high protein intake and kidney damage for generally healthy people. However, what we do know is that consuming a lot of protein will increase the production of nitrogen waste, which in excess can lead to added stress on your kidneys. For people with damaged or impaired kidney function, this added stress can be harmful and potentially make any kidney issues worse.
Too much protein can also cause constipation. Increasing your protein intake may displace eating high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A lack of fiber will impair your body’s ability to move food through your digestive tract resulting in difficulties with maintaining regular bowel movements.
When you eat more protein, you need to drink more water to help the body eliminate nitrogen waste. Many people do not increase their water intake to balance out the increased protein intake, which may lead to dehydration. This lack of fluids can also exacerbate the previously mentioned risk of constipation due to the role water plays in helping digest, soften, and expel processed food from our body.
One easy way to get enough water with your protein is by making a protein shake with protein powder and using the suggested amount of water indicated for its preparation.
Calcium and Bone Loss
A 2013 review found that high protein diets may exacerbate calcium loss, which could increase the risk of osteoporosis. Getting the right amount of protein regularly, but not in excess, supports healthy and strong bones.
Risk of Heart Disease
A 2018 study found that a high protein intake from red meat increased levels of a compound called TMAO (Trimethylamine N-Oxide), which raises the risk of heart disease. However, it is important to note that this was not a side effect of all high-protein foods, but just red meat.
These are just a few of the risks of a high-protein diet, but remember many of these risks are only when you have excessive protein intake beyond the recommended amount daily.
Does Too Much Protein Make You Fat?
Protein is commonly touted as a weight loss food, but can excess protein turn into fat in the body? Possibly, especially if you are eating a lot of high-fat proteins. But too much of anything, including too many carbs and fats, can also do this.
To understand how this happens, let’s break down how the body works.
The body prefers to burn the other macronutrients, carbohydrates or fat, for energy. It will spare protein from being used for energy when possible because it is needed for more important bodily functions.
When you eat food, your body absorbs carbohydrates first, sending them off to the liver to be processed and turned into glucose to burn as energy. Next, it turns to proteins and fats.
Proteins are sent to the liver to be broken down into individual amino acids, which are used for multiple bodily functions. Fats can be used for energy, to make hormones, or can be stored for later. This is how your body prefers to function when you eat the number of calories that it needs.
However, many of us overeat. Too many calories, whether they are from protein or something else, will lead to weight gain.
Something to consider is a 2016 study found that when subjects replaced carbohydrates with protein, they gained weight. This did not happen when the subjects replaced fat with protein.
Protein and carbohydrates have the same number of calories, so if you replace them gram per gram, your calorie intake should not change and therefore you should not gain weight. So why is it that an even swap of Carbs to protein often means an increase In calories?
It may be that many high-protein foods are also fairly high in fat. Take a look at two of the tastiest protein containing foods like meat and cheese. Both are animal products that provide a great source of protein but also contain high amounts of fat.
When the body breaks down the protein in your meat and cheese, it also breaks down the fats they contain. As it is using the protein to power your muscles, it is storing its energy in the form of fat for later use.
Replacing these high-fat foods with leaner protein sources will automatically help you cut back on your calorie intake leading to weight loss. So, protein is not necessarily a miracle weight loss food if you’re not making the right choices.
If you are eating a lot of high-fat proteins, you will likely end up gaining fat. But if you get enough protein in the right amounts (while staying active) you will gain muscle.
The moral of the story – stick with low-fat proteins sources like beans, peas, kale, quinoa, and broccoli along with moderating your calories to squelch any weight gain fears.
Best Types of Protein to Consume
If you are going to add more protein to your diet, it’s vital that you are careful of your food choices. Here are a few of the best protein sources to add to your diet:
- Protein Powder – Whey protein is one of the easiest for your body to digest and the best choice for protein powder. But you can opt for soy, casein, and egg protein powder as well.
- Legumes – Low in fat, high in fiber, and an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. legumes such as beans and lentils should be a top choice when deciding on what protein to add to your diet.
- Fish – Certain fish, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, are not just high in protein, they are also incredible sources of omega-3 fats. These essential fatty acids offer a wide range of health benefits, from reducing inflammation to protecting the heart.
- Eggs – Eggs have been villainized for a long time. But there is no need to worry about eating them. Although they are high in cholesterol, more recent research shows they do not have a negative impact on heart health for most people. Eggs are loaded with vital amino acids and other nutrients that are hard to find elsewhere.
- Poultry – Eat the white meat of your chicken or turkey, and you’ll get a lot of protein with very little fat. Poultry is one of the leanest proteins around, provided that you remove the skin.
- Grains – Oats, quinoa, and barley are just a few of the grains that contain protein. They are an excellent source of amino acids and fiber, without any added fat.
- Grass-fed red meat – Grass-fed beef is an incredible source of nutrition. Not only is the amino acid profile excellent, but there are also more omega-3 fatty acids in red meat. Plus, there are no pesticides, chemicals, or preservatives present in this type of meat.
The Bottom Line
As long as you eat a balanced diet including lean protein sources, healthy fats, fruits, veggies, and whole grains, your risk of overdoing it on protein is minimal.
In addition, limit your intake of processed or high-fat proteins like red meat, bacon, sausage, and whole-fat dairy to prevent weight gain.
Eating a varied diet including lean protein sources is the secret to meeting all of your nutritional needs without overdoing it. Including a quality protein powder in your routine can help you meet your protein needs in a convenient way.
Learn more about our Vital Whey Protein and how it can help you meet your health and wellness goals.