Protein powder is a dietary supplement for people who are trying to gain muscle through strength-training programs, and it can also be used in weight-loss shakes. Protein is a crucial part of everyone’s diet, and athletic people may even need a little more protein than sedentary people, but using protein in its supplemental form can increase your risk of accidentally consuming too much and causing physical damage.
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Your body uses protein as energy for its cells, and it also uses it to build muscle. However, your body is limited in the amount of energy and muscle it can store from protein. If you take in more protein than your body actually needs – which is easy to do with protein powder – your body won’t use it to build muscle or store it for later use. Extra protein converts into fat, and your body stores it that way as excess pounds. The body's fat storage capacity is limitless.
Taking too much of a protein powder supplement can increase your risk of dehydration. When your body metabolizes protein, it uses extra water to properly use and eliminate protein byproducts. If you’re using protein powder to enhance muscle gains through exercise, you’re at an even greater risk of dehydration because exercise induces excess fluid loss through perspiration. Signs and symptoms of dehydration are fatigue, headache, lightheadedness, decreased urine output, dry mouth and excessive thirst.
When your body metabolizes proteins, your kidneys are responsible for excreting protein’s waste products, urea, uric acid and ammonia. When your body produces a large amount of urea, your kidneys may become overwhelmed by their filtering task and begin failing, according to the American Association of Kidney Patients. You are at an especially high risk of reduced kidney function if you have an underlying kidney problem, because your kidneys may already have trouble eliminating protein’s waste products.
Your body produces acid when you consume large amounts of protein. To buffer the higher acid load in your body, your bone releases calcium, and the calcium and acid are excreted together through your urine. Chronic loss of calcium in your urine can weaken your bones and may increase your risk of osteoporosis as you age. You are at an even higher risk of osteoporosis if you are a woman.
If you’re still interested in trying a protein powder supplement or following a high-protein diet, consult your doctor in advance to ensure that you don’t have an underlying health problem that could be worsened by supplementation. Once you’re given the thumbs up, find a protein supplement that contains all nine of your body’s needed essential amino acids. Most powders have about 20 to 24 grams of protein per scoop, and the average adult only needs about 46 to 56 grams of protein per day. As a point of reference, one 3-ounce piece of meat contains about 21 grams of protein, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- American Council on Exercise: Are There Health Risks Concerning Eating Too Much Protein?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- MedlinePlus: Protein in Diet
- Health Services at Columbia University: Amino Acid Supplements
- American Association of Kidney Patients: Why Do I Have to Monitor My Protein Intake?
- University of Michigan MedFitness: Protein Supplements
- UCLA’s Student Nutrition and Body Image Awareness Campaign: Protein