Hiking your intake of protein may be necessary for certain populations, such as weight lifters and other athletes, the belief that there's no such thing as too much protein is off the mark. You may be at risk of too much protein in your diet if you follow a low-carbohydrate or zero-carbohydrate diet, or replace carbohydrate foods with protein foods.
If you do decide to make the switch to one of the ever-popular high-protein diets out there, what can you expect? Here are some of the more common side effects you might encounter.
Protein is, chemically speaking, complex. Because of this, your body has to spend a lot more time and energy to break down this particular nutrient than it does when dealing with carbohydrates and fats. As a result, all of that protein can build up in your system, leading to stomach pain, discomfort, and other digestive issues.
At the same time, when protein is finally broken down into its various amino acids, these need to be processed by your liver. Once that's done, the resulting byproducts have to pass through your kidneys. All of this filtration requires a lot of water. If you don't increase your water intake while also taking in more protein, it's possible that you will become dehydrated.
Along with all the other problems that comes with dehydration, you will likely experience constipation - worsening the digestive issues associated with high-protein diets.
Generally speaking, high-protein diets are typically also low-carb diets by necessity and design. When you first start to reduce your carb intake, however, you will likely experience a frustrating phenomenon that goes by many names. Whether you call it the low-carb flu, keto flu, Atkins induction flu or anything else, this likely isn't a pleasant experience.
Despite their bad reputation, carbohydrates are your body's primary choice in fuel. When you take that fuel away, though, several biological changes have to take place before you can start running on fat instead. While this change is taking place - which normally takes about two weeks - people commonly experience fatigue, mood swings, cognitive impairment, and reduced athletic performance.
What happens when your diet regularly exceeds recommended protein levels for long stretches of time? Depending on the amount and type of protein you consume, you may end up experiencing complications.
According to National Kidney Foundation, eating too much protein may stress kidneys and contribute to pre-existing kidney problems, high levels of protein in the urine, and kidney stones. Getting plenty of exercise and drinking water can help the kidneys flush wastes out of your system more effectively. Make sure you talk to your doctor before beginning a high protein diet if you have ever experienced kidney problems.
Another issue regarding getting too much protein is leeching of calcium from the bones. The acids released by the body as it digests protein are absorbed with the help of calcium. If you aren't getting enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones. A Nurses Health Study even showed that women who ate more than 95 grams of protein were more likely to have broken their wrist than were women who ate less protein.
Heart Problems From Animal Proteins
While it's a popular belief eating too much protein causes cardiovascular disease, new research shows that a high protein diet that emphasizes vegetable sources of protein is protective to the heart. While both sources of protein have an equal effect on the body, according to Harvard School of Public Health, the protein package is what is likely to lead to heart problems. Animal proteins tend to have high levels of saturated fat, which may contribute to heart disease.
Cancer From Animal Proteins
The same Harvard School of Public Health report suggests that the type of protein you eat may affect more than your heart. Diets high in red meat protein such as beef may lead to higher incidences of cancer.
Low-carbohydrate dieters often seek to fill in gaps left by starchy carbohydrates like rice and pasta with protein; however, even low-carbohydrate diet proponents like Dr. Michael R. Eades suggest too much protein in the diet can be deleterious to the diet's primary mechanism, ketosis. Dieters can fill in gaps with low-glycemic vegetables and healthy fats.
One disadvantage of high protein diets you may not have considered is an impact that goes beyond your personal fitness. This negative effect is the amount of energy it takes to produce a protein-rich, animal-based diet. In The Omnivore's Dilemma (2007), author Michael Pollan explains that raising one cow in a standard factory farm uses roughly 35 gallons of oil. If you are at all concerned with the size of your carbon footprint, choosing to forego a high protein diet in favor of a more moderate plan is an easy way to reduce oil consumption.
Protein is an essential building block of human tissue. It functions in every part of the body, and you need to eat enough to maintain health. However, regularly eating too much protein may lead to an array of health issues ranging from kidney problems to certain types of cancer. Regardless of whether you are eating additional protein for improved athletic performance or as part of a low-carbohydrate diet, your body needs a balance of macro and micronutrients. To that end, a healthy diet contains proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and includes a variety of foods from across the spectrum of color. By maintaining your protein at 30 percent or less of your caloric intake, you can help keep your macronutrients in balance and your body functioning optimally.
You need protein for health, growth and healing, but once those needs are met, there are few added benefits to a very high-protein diet. According to the USDA Supertracker, an average adult woman needs approximately 46 grams of protein per day. If you are actively building muscle through an athletic training program, you may need more, perhaps as much as 77 grams per day. If you're consuming significantly more than the RDA for protein, you may be putting yourself at risk for some of the problems that can come from eating too much protein. Finding a balance that allows you to get the protein you need along with other valuable nutrients is the best way to ensure optimum health and fitness.