Even with many of the best things in life, too much of a good thing is not always a better thing. (Just ask your roommate, you can have too many pairs of sneakers floating around the house.)
Case in point: protein, the one macronutrient that everyone seems to be on board with. Unlike carbs that sometimes get a bad rep from keto dieters for breaking ketosis or fat that’s still clearing up its rep from the low-fat craze of the ‘80s and ‘90s, pretty much everyone is pro protein since it aids in muscle-building and can help tame your appetite.
Discover the ideal protein consumption range to aim for each day, how much is too much, plus signs you may be eating overdoing it.
How Much Protein the Average Person Needs
Curious about how much protein you should aim to consume to be healthy and stay strong? Oh yes, and maintain adequate fluid balance and pH levels within the body, bolster the immune system and provide long lasting energy—just a handful of protein’s important tasks?
Aim for anywhere between 10 to 30 percent of your daily calories, depending on your physical activity level and wellness goals, according to the current U.S. dietary guidelines. On a 2,000 calorie per day diet, that would be about 50 to 112 grams of protein. (Unsure of what this looks like? Four ounces of chicken breast offers up about 24 grams, two medium eggs have 12 grams and a cup of black beans has 16 grams. Voila: You’re already there!) Athletes, those with certain chronic illnesses and metabolic conditions, the elderly and other special populations may require more protein than usual. At Nutritious Life, we generally recommend closer to a third of your calories come from protein.
The Risks of Eating too Much Protein
Since amino acids—the building blocks of protein—face some “competition” at the intestinal wall to be absorbed, research has said that we can only utilize 20 to 25 grams of protein from each meal or snack—and the rest is stored as excess calories. When your muscles are at peak protein uptake (what some call “muscle full”) they reach peak protein-use and the extra consumed gets broken down and stored as fat.
A review of 32 studies about protein intake revealed that there is no real benefit to consuming higher than recommended amounts of protein. It can be useless, or worse, harmful—since eating too many high-protein foods may lower your consumption of complex carbs and fiber that offer other beneficial vitamins and minerals. Overdoing it can also tax your kidneys, liver, colon, bones and heart.
Eating too much meat, in particular red meats that are high in saturated fats and processed meats that cause inflammation, may put you at higher risk for heart disease and certain cancers. It’s also tough for your kidneys to process and may lead to higher levels of acid in the body. These acids can cause calcium loss from your skeleton putting you at risk for osteoporosis or broken bones if extra protein consumption is a chronic pattern. Kidney stones might also arise.
It’s important to note, protein is a very good thing. You just need to be aware that it can be overdone. A great rule of thumb is to make sure you are choosing high quality plant or animal protein.
When to See a Doctor or Dietitian About Your Protein Consumption
Consult with a dietitian if you’re considering embarking on a high-protein diet (and any new eating plan). He or she can help you determine your ideal personal protein intake and explain how to integrate enough fiber, carbs and fat to stay well balanced.
If you’re unsure if you’re eating too much protein, keep an eye out for these signs that may indicate you’re overdoing it. See your doctor or dietitian if you notice one or more of these symptoms:
- You’re dehydrated often
- Your breath smells more than usual
- You’re constipated, have diarrhea or experience frequent indigestion
- You feel like you’re in a brain fog (carbs offer your brain and body, easy-to-use quick energy) or are often irritable
- You’re experiencing intense cravings for non-protein foods
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