Protein is known as the body’s building blocks for a reason. This essential macronutrient helps keep you full and works to build and maintain your lean muscles.
With that, you might think that eating huge amounts of protein is always a good idea – but is it possible to have too much of a great thing?
Read on to find out exactly how much protein you should down if you want to reap the benefits.
Can eating large amounts of protein be harmful?
It’s not that more protein will “hurt” you, per se. For years, people have suggested higher protein diets will have a negative effect on your bone density (not true) or hurt your kidneys (also not true).
Research has refuted both claims many times, according to a review of multiple studies published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
The potential downside: You’re left with an unbalanced diet. If you fill your plate with mostly protein every day, that higher intake could push out other high quality foods your body needs to properly function, like disease-fighting fruits and vegetables, heart-healthy fats and whole grains that aid in digestion and weight loss.
So say you’re not eating enough carbohydrates because you’re skewed heavily towards protein. You might feel a dip in your energy levels, because carbs serve as your primary source of fuel.
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“Leaning heavy towards one macro can lead to deficiencies in other macros and other vital nutrients,” dietician Jim White explains. “For example, if you consume 60% protein, 20% fat and 20% carbs, you could be robbing yourself of B vitamins, fibre and extra energy that you would normally get through a moderate carbohydrate diet.”
What’s more, your muscles can typically only absorb up to 35g of protein in one sitting. When you eat more than that, they either go to other parts of your body or you just flush it out.
So how much protein do you need?
Dietary Guidelines suggest getting 10 to 35% of your kilojoules from protein. While having that benchmark is great, that’s a pretty large range and may not help much when you’re trying to make sense of how much protein your body needs.
So, let’s look at protein intake another way. Arguably, the most important message about protein is not to eat more, but rather when you should eat it.
There is no storage depot for protein in your body like there is for carbohydrates and fat. That means your body doesn’t have it on hand when it runs low, so the breakdown of protein into amino acids – the muscle-building components of the protein itself – needs to be adequate throughout the day to continually fuel your body.
Read more: 4 delicious and simple homemade protein bars
Despite this, the typical person eats very little protein in the morning, a bit more in the afternoon, and the majority in the evening. That’s not just out of balance, but it also doesn’t give your body what it needs, when it needs it.
To confirm that evenly spreading your protein intake is a more effective approach than slamming it down all at once, researcher Dr Doug Paddon-Jones and his team fed people a “typical” dose of protein at dinner, or 90g, versus what he and others recommend, which is 30g per meal.
Their results found both intakes of protein resulted in the same increase in protein synthesis – your body’s process of building and repairing muscle – after the feeding.
In other words, people who ate more protein, or 350g of beef in this case, didn’t experience any greater benefits than those who ate 115g of beef, or roughly a palm-sized portion of protein.
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The general consensus seems to be aiming for about 30g of protein per meal, incorporating snacks containing 10 to 20g of protein in between.
If you hate counting grams, about 1/4 of your plate should be filled with protein, 1/4 with grains and the remaining half with vegetables and some fruit.
Ideally, your protein should come from a variety of foods like beef, fish, poultry, dairy (cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, cheese), whole eggs and the like.
This article was originally featured on www.bicycling.co.za
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