WHAT COULD HAPPEN IF I EAT TOO MUCH PROTEIN?
First off, what are proteins? They are one of three macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. Macronutrients are nutrients that give the body energy. Carbohydrates and fat are the main energy sources, with protein being a minor energy source. Therefore, the recommended daily macronutrient intake range is 45-65% from carbohydrates, 20-35% from fat, and 10-35% from proteins.
There is no storage site for proteins in the body and therefore any extra protein consumed is eliminated as a waste product from the body. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Some of these amino acids are essential to proper body functioning. This makes it extremely important to consume a variety of protein sources. Some examples of complete protein sources include: grains + vegetables, grains + legumes, nuts/seeds + legumes, nuts/seeds + vegetables, and meats.
The rule of thumb is 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight for adults aged 19-30 and between 1.2-2.0g per kg of body weight for athletes. Now, what happens if you decide to exceed your recommended intake?
1) Crowding Out Other Nutrient Dense Foods
If you decide to increase your protein intake, you must be mindful of how you are affecting your macro- and micronutrient breakdowns. Generally, people gravitate towards red meat and poultry as their protein sources. By limiting yourself to these forms of protein, you are most likely consuming fewer meat alternatives such as legumes and beans. Legumes and beans are excellent sources of fibre, vitamins, and minerals and are lower in saturated fat than meat. Overconsuming protein also poses a threat to your intake of other types of foods such as fruits and vegetables that people generally decrease in portion size to accommodate for an increased protein intake. In addition, replacing meals with a protein shake narrows your caloric intake, in most cases, to pure protein. In a healthy diet, one should aim to eat foods with the highest nutrient density; meaning the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals in respect to overall calories. Some examples include salmon, kale, liver, and any of the protein combinations mentioned above.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
If you’re going to consume a high protein diet, aim to incorporate both meat and meat alternatives to increase the nutrient density of your protein source. Also, keep in mind your recommended protein requirement and make sure you are not lowering your overall vegetable and fruit intake as a sacrifice.
Protein metabolism requires about seven times the amount of water than does carbohydrate or fat metabolism. If you consume more protein than you require an increase in urine production could result. This can cause your body to lose more water than you are consuming leading to dehydration. Protein metabolism may also take the water you are consuming away from being used in other body processes. So, if you aren’t consuming enough water to replenish the increased loss through urine, dehydration is more likely.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Be wary of your water and protein intake. Overconsuming protein can very easily cause dehydration which can affect your body’s ability to undergo the many other processes in your body which require water. Consuming more water when outside, exercising, and when consuming large amounts of protein will prevent dehydration.
Eating a high protein diet can strain your pocketbook. Protein powder, although thought to be a booming addition to one’s workout routine, is unnecessary if you are already consuming high protein sources in your regular diet. Depending on protein, a powder can be expensive and decrease your satiety and variety of foods. Meat is also a very expensive addition to a meal and if consumed three times a day, can lead people to sacrifice quality and quantity of other foods purchased (such as fruit and vegetables). Eating meat alternatives in conjunction with meat will prevent overconsumption of protein and maintain nutrient balance.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Don’t eat more than you need to. There are many sources of protein you can attain in your diet without the purchase of protein powder or shakes. Even if exercise is increased, the protein requirement doesn’t require you to double your protein intake entirely. If muscle growth and strain are a concern, stretching and ensuring a post workout meal along with an overall high enough daily caloric intake will suffice.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE:
Protein is an essential macronutrient in our diet, however consuming more than you need will not lead to increased muscles and could potentially lead to the above consequences. That is why at Fuel Up Nutrition we recommend BALANCE! Your body is both incredibly sensitive and adaptable. Having moderation and variety in your diet will make any nutritional issues unlikely. A good gauge is the 80/20 rule. This allows you 20% of freedom while maintaining healthy food choices 80% of the time!
References: Hammond, G. 2017. UBC FNH 250 Class Notes: Proteins
Marika Laird, Nutrition Student and Fuel Up Nutrition Volunteer