Protein seems to be a very divisive thing in the nutrition, dietary, and fitness world. Some people will tell you that you’ll never achieve a ripped, fit physique if you don’t get enough protein. Others will claim that protein in high doses is extremely unhealthy, causing diseases and so much more.
Perhaps it’s fitting that those against too much protein are largely adherents to strict vegetarian and even vegan dietary disciplines. This isn’t to say that vegetarians nor vegans are wrong in their life choices. Different diets work for different people, and there are a lot of health benefits to this way of life.
However, since this is such a hotly debated topic, we feel that we need to step in and do our best to bring unbiased truth to light if we can.
The biggest question is this – is too much protein bad for your health?
Alright, first of all, before we get too far into this, a short answer is yes. Because too much of anything, and we do mean anything, is bad for your health. Moderation and balance in all walks of life are pretty important, and how this pertains to protein requires us to get into what protein actually does for the body.
When it comes to nutrition, the body basically has three things it needs – fuel, raw materials, and vitamin complexes for electrochemical regulation. The latter comes from various sources and food groups, while the former two – fuel and resources, come from more specific groups.
Fuel comes in the form of carbohydrates and sugars. You need these to live. Any diet that says you can’t have any carbohydrates or glucosamine compounds of any kind is probably not a good idea either.
The problem with sugars and carbohydrates in excess is that what the body doesn’t burn in short order, it will store as reserves – fats. This is why sweets and starches can make you overweight if you don’t burn those calories.
Protein, while sometimes burned as a limited fuel, and lipids from it being used as compounds in that fat-energy storage system is primarily used as a building material. Like any other machine, parts wear out, and these parts have to be replaced. We’re basically made of protein, and thus, we need to intake protein to repair ourselves, and definitely to build more muscle.
Before we debunk a couple of health myths regarding protein, let’s talk about the fact that not all protein is created equally. Protein sources are known to have some potential health risks. Fatty red meats or egg yolks are bad for you not because of the protein they provide, but fatty acids and lipid complexes which come with them. Those can get stored by the same system that stores excess carb intake and can cause things like cholesterol build up and so on.
Lean proteins like egg whites, seafood, less-fatty dairy, and leaner poultry, have little health risks for people without existing severe conditions. We want to say, though, that occasionally eating some bacon, or a thick juicy steak, isn’t going to kill you. In fact, you can’t eliminate the iron of red meat (although lots of beans can substitute it), or the fatty compounds of something like pork. The body does need some levels of these.
One of the biggest myths about protein is that excess can cause osteoporosis. Allegedly, the acid load in our body from a lot of protein will cause your bones to experience calcium decay. Some studies have shown these symptoms can happen on a low-level, short-term basis, but not on an ongoing, symptomatic level that can lead to skeletal problems like osteoporosis.
Protein and some of the lipid compounds that come with it are critical for bone, tooth, hair, and nail health, along with a decent amount of calcium intake.
The other big myth is that protein can cause strain on your kidneys. The worry is that it will cause an increased workload on the kidneys. While it may cause a tiny increase, but it wouldn’t be enough to be at all significant in people without existing kidney disease.
Kidneys are already the hardest working organ in the body, with up to 20% of your blood cycling through it at any given time. There is no information backing claims that protein can cause kidney problems. Things like high blood pressure, lack of sufficient water intake, and alcohol and pharmaceutical abuse are the typically the real culprits there.
Now, that doesn’t mean that gorging yourself on protein is a good idea. For one, different people process things differently. Many ethnicities and cultures get most of their energy and needed fat intake from carbohydrates and dairy, rather than from meat and other mainly-protein sources.
Some, depending on genetics, benefit more from higher protein intake than do others. You need to see a physician and a nutritional specialist to determine where in that spectrum you fall. You can’t judge this by your ethnicity alone, because it’s pretty variable on an individual level as well.
The problem you can encounter from consuming more protein than you need is that your body will try to burn it, as we said a while ago. It’s not something you usually burn when carbohydrates and other easier-to-use fuels are in abundance, but it can be done. Your body has to work hard to burn protein. It can result in some soreness and fatigue, as it’s an anaerobic process mainly, producing things like lactic acid.
This process can also cause your body to store better fuels until it can be rid of this excess protein. This can cause you to gain weight if you also have decent starch and sugar intake.
At the end of the day, you should see a specialist to find out what your ideal weight is, learn about your metabolism and your own unique biochemistry, etc. Then, you know what amount of protein your body needs for your workout regime, active lifestyle level, and your fitness goals.
There are a lot of variables to take into consideration. If you do have an interest in something like a vegetarian, pescatarian, or other specialized diet for health or personal preference, make sure that it doesn’t impact the quantity of protein sources you’re getting. Vegetarian sources like nuts and legumes, while good sources are less efficient and effective than something like poultry or seafood.
There are, of course, other alternatives like protein supplements, egg substitutes, and other modern solutions which provide some of the cleanest protein you can get. Protein that, if accidentally over-consumed, is much easier for your body to burn quicker than the complex amino acids present in any natural source of protein.
Again, it all comes down to your unique physiology, and any health considerations you might happen to have. You should consult a doctor and a nutritional expert before making any significant changes to your diet because playing it safe is always the wisest course.
To learn more about nutrition and fitness, follow us on Facebook today!