There’s a lot of confusion around protein. This is particularly true in athletics. If you’re active and interested in building muscle, you’re told to consume more protein. Yet there are health consequences to consuming too much protein. Of course, there are also serious health consequences to consuming too little. Let’s take a look at the consequences, appropriate recommendations, and how to tell if you’re getting too much or too little protein.
Few people in America consume too little protein. This is because in addition to meat and dairy products (which are high in protein), there is protein in just about everything you eat. Amongst the general population, the only people generally at risk for too little protein are vegetarians and hardcore athletes. Additionally, pregnant women need more protein to help support a growing fetus.
When you don’t get enough protein the most immediate signal your body sends you is a decrease in your immune function. People who aren’t getting enough protein in their diet tend to get sick more often. You may find that you have more colds and infections. Kwashiorkor and Marasmus are two diseases that result from malnutrition and grossly insufficient protein.
Too much protein can put stress on your kidneys according to many nutritional experts and researchers. Additionally, it may leach some of the calcium from your body, which can ultimately weaken bones. These risks are often minimal and can be balanced by an otherwise healthy diet rich in calcium as well as fruits and vegetables.
However, one of the most common sources of protein in the average person’s diet is meat, and eating too many animal products has been linked to obesity as well as cardiovascular disease. This is particularly true if you are consuming high fat animal products.
The RDA recommends consuming 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. If you’re sedentary then you should look to the low end of that range, and if you’re an athlete then you should shoot for the high end. To convert your bodyweight to kilograms simply divide it by 2.2 pounds.
For example, 150 pounds would be 68.18 kilograms. You can then multiply that number by the point in the recommend range that you’re targeting. If you’re an athlete and you want to get 0.8 grams per kilogram then you’ll need to consume about 54 grams of protein each day. Pregnant women need to add about 25 grams to their daily consumption.
To know if you’re getting enough protein, pay attention to your health and physical recovery after exercise. You can, and perhaps should, track your protein intake for a week or two to make sure you’re on track to getting the amount your body needs. Click here to learn more about T3 fitness recommendations and considerations.