Protein isn't just a good thing to have -- it's part of a well-balanced diet and it helps repair your muscles, organs and bones. But with all the focus on protein in high-protein diets such as Atkins, the Zone, Caveman or Paleo, is it possible to eat too much protein?
After all, too much of a good thing can be bad, so what should we make of high-protein diets, or even those that are upping their protein intake for the purposes of muscle building or another fitness goal?
Beyond the muscle building benefits of protein, high-protein diets have been shown to shed excess pounds and reduce fat in the body, in addition to increasing the feeling of fullness and the retention of muscle during those times of inactivity.
That said, for all the benefits of protein, there is such a thing as too much protein, which may even prompt health risks. Besides, nutritional experts say there's no benefit to consuming more than the recommended daily amount, even if you have certain fitness or muscle building goals.
As for how much protein you should be consuming, it depends on your activity level as well as your diet. If you're already getting a ton of protein in your meals, you may not need additional protein such as that found in nutritional supplements like protein powder, protein drinks or protein bars.
What Happens To Excess Protein in the Body?
When you consume too much protein, you could be risking certain health complications, particularly if you eat an excess of protein over a prolonged period of time. However, for healthy individuals, a high-protein diet can actually be beneficial as the body needs protein to optimize function and recovery after strenuous activity.
Weight Gain From Too Much Protein
While many people may be consuming protein to meet their weight loss goals, too much protein can actually lead to weight gain, not weight loss. That's because in the hunt for additional protein, it's easy to overeat and consume too many calories. All those calories have to go somewhere, and if you're not burning them off in exercise or your activity level, you could end up with excess fat stores.
In fact, a study from 2016 noticed that too much protein could lead to weight gain when used as a replacement for carbs, but not for fat. To avoid this, it can be helpful to consume supplements and foods that are high in protein but low in calories.
Bad Breath From Too Much Protein
Those that consume large amounts of protein may also experience bad breath, or halitosis. When carbs go down and protein goes up, your body enters ketosis, which is a metabolic state that can produce foul smelling odors. Strangely enough, it's kind of an unpleasant fruity smell.
You can combat this easily by doubling your water intake, brushing your teeth more frequently, using mouthwash or chewing gum. It won't completely counter the effect, but management is possible.
Constipation From Too Much Protein
Unfortunately, another side effect or symptom of too much protein is constipation. In some studies, over 40 percent of high-protein diet participants reported feeling constipated. For the most part, it's because high-protein foods and supplements tend to be low in fiber to help minimize carbs and calories.
Like some of our other side effects, upping your water intake can help offset the negative effects. It can also be a good idea to up your fiber intake with supplements or foods -- and tracking your bowel movements can help you understand more about what's causing your constipation.
Diarrhea From Too Much Protein
Whether it's from too much dairy or processed foods that lack fiber, too much protein can actually cause the opposite of constipation -- diarrhea. If you're lactose-intolerant or you're prone to consuming protein-rich sources like poultry, fish and fried meat, it could make the matter even worse, which is why it's best to eat heart-healthy proteins instead.
To manage diarrhea from too much protein, it's important to up your fluid intake while avoiding caffeine, increasing the fiber in your diet and reducing excess fat consumption and fried foods.
Dehydration From Too Much Protein
As nitrogen levels rise in the body, they're flushed out with fluids. That's why too much protein can make you dehydrated even if you don't feel parched or more thirsty than normal. Some studies have shown that an increase in protein intake decreases hydration, though other studies have noted that increasing protein has little to do with hydration.
If you're concerned about your hydration levels, however, it's easy enough to increase your water intake, particularly if you lead an active lifestyle or if you're engaging in strenuous workouts often. Even if you're not a highly active person, you'll need to consume plenty of water throughout the day in order to maintain your health and fitness levels.
Kidney Damage From Too Much Protein
An otherwise healthy person may not have to worry, but if you have preexisting kidney disease, too much protein can actually cause kidney damage. It's due to the excess nitrogen from amino acids found in protein, which can cause damaged kidneys to overwork while flushing the body of excess nitrogen and other waste products of protein metabolism.
On the other hand, a study done in 2012 on the effects of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet found that there are no noticeable side effects compared to a low-fat diet when considering fluid or electrolyte balance, as well as renal filtration and albuminuria.
Cancer Risk From Too Much Protein
If your high-protein diet includes a lot of red meat, you may be inadvertently increasing your cancer risk in the chase for more protein. Not only is a red meat or processed meat diet associated with colon, breast and prostate cancer, but it can also be bad for your overall health and increase your risk of heart disease and other conditions.
However, if you get your protein from other sources such as supplements, you may actually be reducing your cancer risk. That's because harmful stuff such as hormones, fats and carcinogenic compounds found in meat is what's actually bad for your health, not protein.