Can You Eat Too Much Protein?

Everyone is carrying their tuna and broiled chicken breasts in their fanny packs. The question to ask, especially for body builders, is, can you pump too much protein into your body? And if so, what are the effects?

Protein can basically be described as the primary building block for many parts of the body: muscles, hair, blood, skin, nails and internal organs all depend protein. Most protein can be found in the skeletal muscles (up to 70%). If a body builder doesn’t take in enough protein, the protein that your body can use for building muscle will be limited. But at the same time, study after study shows that it is not excessive dietary protein intake which makes you build bigger, stronger muscles-this comes from athletic training and often such frustrating factors as age and genetics.

You can calculate your body’s protein needs with a very simple formula. Take your weight in kilograms (if you work in pounds, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilos) and multiply it by between 0.8-1.8 g/kg to come to your recommended daily intake. The range of 0.8-1.8 g/kg depends on how active you are. If you’re a couch potato, stick to the lower end of the range. If you are an athlete in training, use the higher 1.8 g/kg. Athletes need slightly more protein in their diet to repair and build body tissues, to stimulate the production of enzymes and hormones, to regulate body processes such as hydration, to transport nutrients, and to make muscles contract. So, if you are a hardcore lifter who weighs 90 kilos (200 pounds), your recommended daily intake would be 162 grams of protein per day, which translates, perhaps surprisingly for some, into the equivalent of three chicken breasts.

The most commonly known source of protein is meat, but there are many vegetarian alternatives for those who swing that way. Three ounces of meat (including chicken and turkey), fish or cheese all provide 21 grams of protein. Three ounces of tofu provides 15 grams, and 8 ounces each of milk or yogurt provide the body with 8 grams of protein. Other good meatless sources are beans, legumes (beans, lentils, soy products, peas), eggs, peanut butter, grains, seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables. Generally, if you are an athlete, 12-15 % of your daily calories should come from protein, 25-20% from fat and 55-65% from carbs, although if you are serious about both training and health, you should consult a nutritionist for an individualized plan.

The belief that the more protein you take in, the bigger your muscles will be is has no basis in scientific fact. In fact, excessive consumption of protein (in the form of food and supplementary shakes and powders) can have an adverse effect on many parts of your body. Aside from the fact that your body takes excess protein and stores it as fat, there are many, more serious side effects to protein overload.

According to Dr. Rotimi Aluko, professor of Human Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba, protein overload in the body causes what is called nitrogen overload on the kidney. This results in an increase in the excretion of urea (a waste by-product of protein). He explains: “The increased excretion of urea requires more water to be lost from the body and that is why consumption of high protein diet requires the intake of lots of water. It can also result in the loss of some minerals like calcium, which is essential for bone formation.” This can lead to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, a reduced intake (absorption) of vitamins, minerals and fiber, kidney stones, and even, eventually, kidney disease, kidney failure and death. At a sports nutrition conference in February 2001, Dr Suzanne Steed, head of the University of Washington Huskies Sports Nutrition Program, presented information that countered the current trend for higher protein and lower carb diets (see article, “High Protein Diets Fade,” at http://sportsmedicine.about.com/). According to Dr Steen, a high protein, low carb diet can result in a lack of endurance potential when an athlete is performing. This is the result of glycogen depletion in the muscles: the stored energy in muscles that also help it retain water. Steed insists that it is carbohydrates that fuel the powerful muscle contractions necessary for muscle training, not vast amounts of protein in the diet. Most nutritional experts agree that in order to maximize your workout potential, both in endurance and strength building, you must keep a reasonable amount of carbohydrates in your diet in order to keep your system balanced and running properly.

As demonstrated protein supplements are no substitute for proper nutrition, since the amount of protein that an athlete needs is by no means out of anyone’s normal expectation. Directly after a workout, the body needs carbohydrates, protein and some fat in order to repair muscle tissue damaged during strength training. This is essential to recover form your workout session. And, according to Kris Berg, an exercise psychologist and professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, there is no scientific data that supports the claims that special whey or soy proteins that are currently on the market are any better than the amino acids in milk or meat. Dr Antonio, author of Sports Supplement Encyclopedia, agrees, stating that the best post workout meal is a chicken breast, brocccoli and brown rice.

So there’s the bottom line: eat a balanced diet, and if you are serious about what you do, take the money you are saving on those expensive supplements and go talk to a nutritionist to find out your personal optimum diet. But take some solace in knowing that if you are not pumping up as quickly as you would like to be, you can just as soon blame your forefathers as that piece of toast you had this morning for breakfast!

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Categories: Health Tips