Protein builds and repairs muscle fibers, helps the body recover from injury and maintains healthy hair and nails. It’s an essential nutrient and our bodies need it -- but only in certain amounts. Consuming more protein than you need may put you at risk for several health conditions, especially if you follow a high-protein diet for longer than a few months.
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Everyone needs protein to maintain good health, but not everyone needs the same amount. Most Americans regularly eat more than double the amount of protein they need, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Rice University researchers suggest that sedentary adults should eat about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight, regularly active adults should eat up to 0.6 grams per pound and athletes building muscle mass should eat up to 0.9 grams per pound. For a 150-pound adult, that’s a range of 60 to 135 grams of protein every day.
Some proteins, like legumes and nonfat yogurt, have a relatively low calorie density. Others, like nut butters and red meat, have a higher calorie density. Any protein you eat contains calories, however, and just because protein can build muscle doesn’t mean it can’t contribute to weight gain. If you consume more protein-rich calories than you burn on a consistent basis, you will gain weight over time. Without regular strength training sessions, much of that added weight may show up as body fat.
Eating a lot of protein may naturally reduce the amount of other nutrients in your diet, particularly carbohydrates. Rhode Island-based personal trainer Davey Wavey writes that diets that include high quantities of protein can raise your risk of nutrient deficiencies and may result in gastrointestinal problems such as constipation or diarrhea. If you are increasing your protein intake, it’s helpful to retain plenty of high-fiber complex carbohydrates in your daily diet, such as those that come from whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Heart and Kidney Problems
Many high-protein foods are also rich in saturated fat and sodium. Getting most of your protein from such foods can increase your risk of heart disease and negatively impact your overall cardiovascular health. Too much protein also has a negative impact on your kidneys, which bear the burden of metabolizing the nutrient. An excess of protein can raise your risk of kidney disease, kidney stones and osteoporosis, regardless of the source of the protein. For these reasons, it’s important to see your doctor for approval if you’d like to follow any high-protein eating plan.