Medically reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
5 min read
Protein is a major part of our daily diets, and helps our bodies build and maintain muscle. But can too much protein have a negative impact on the body? Does the amount of protein you eat in a day matter? Let’s take a look at what protein does for you and how to take the right amount to support your health and wellness.
Protein is one of the most vital macronutrients in our diets. Most people rightly associate protein with muscle growth. However, protein is also instrumental in the health of our organs, bones, skin, and hair. A balanced diet with an appropriate amount of protein will support muscle growth and recovery, provide energy, and help manage weight.
There are a lot of factors that determine how much protein you should consume. The National Academy of Medicine’s recommendations are based on body weight, gender, and activity level. On average, men should consume 56 grams of protein per day, and women should consume 46 grams. This can also be broken down in other ways; somewhere between 10 and 35% of your daily diet should be protein. It can also be calculated by activity level.
Adults who get a minimal amount of activity per day should have 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Those individuals who perform intense exercise require about 1.6 grams per kilogram. The recommended daily protein intake should also be increased slightly for older adults. This is because as we age, our bodies don’t absorb and process protein as efficiently as they did when we were younger.
Protein can be eaten with every meal. Spreading your protein intake throughout the day will give you plenty of energy. Many people get their protein from meat, such as chicken breast or red meat, but there are plenty of other sources as well. High protein foods include dairy products, some nuts and grains, and even some vegetables. These can provide plenty of protein for the average person’s diet. Additionally, there are lots of options for protein supplements, powders, and drinks that can be added for an extra boost of protein.
If you are looking to lose weight, it may be beneficial to focus your protein consumption on mid-day, as this will give you a feeling of fullness that can help curb overeating and snacking. If, however, your aim is to gain more muscle, consuming protein after working out or before bed may be a better option. But no matter what time of day, the main goal should always be to consume enough protein, rather than taking it at the exact right time.
The amount of protein each person needs is different. But is there such a thing as too much? Some doctors recommend an intake of no more than two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, no matter how active a person might be. There can be detrimental effects from taking in too much protein beyond that per day.
Eating too much protein can lead to health problems over time. The most significant problems found so far have been digestive issues, liver problems, and problems with the vascular system. Additionally, protein sources tend to be high in calories. This is great for people with an active lifestyle, but an excess of protein can lead to weight gain. People who consume too much protein may also find themselves fighting against dehydration and calcium loss, or dealing with changes in bowel movements (especially if additional fiber is not added to the diet as well).
There are some possible complications that come with an increase in protein. Many of the side effects are mild, but a few are still being studied. There may be a link between high-protein diets and kidney function, but this is still being studied by doctors. Some studies suggest that it’s only a concern for people with pre-existing kidney conditions, but others have reported some changes in kidney health after an increase in protein. Make sure to speak with your doctor about any concerns you have regarding your health before changing your diet.
Getting enough protein is important to any healthy nutritional routine. Remember to keep your diet balanced, and make sure you’re consuming an appropriate amount of protein for your body and activity level. If you’re going to start eating a higher-protein diet, you may want to consider supporting this diet with a higher intake of vitamins that can help the body digest protein. B vitamins – such as B6, B12, and folate – are good options, as are digestive enzymes.
The source of your protein can have an impact on your health. Many people turn to red meat first, as it’s known for being high in protein. However, relying entirely on red meat as a protein source can come with health complications of its own. It’s better to consume protein from lean meats, like fish and poultry. For meat, organic, free-range, grass-fed red meat and wild caught fish are the best choices because they are leaner and contain more nutrients. They also contain all the amino acids needed for complete protein building blocks.
Plant-based foods can also be a good source of protein. Foods like mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, peanuts, or almonds are rich in protein. Quinoa is a protein-filled grain, and rice and beans also pack a protein punch. Even some vegetables can increase your protein intake — add peas, broccoli, and kale to a meal for a little extra boost.
If you’re still struggling to eat enough protein on a regular basis, you can easily add in a protein supplement. Care/of’s whey powder and vegan-friendly plant-based protein powder (made with protein from pea, pumpkin seeds and hemp) are both great sources. You can add it to water, milk, or a plant-based milk to create delicious protein shakes.