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Protein: Too Much of a Good Thing?

When high-protein diets can thwart your fat-loss efforts.

It’s not unusual, when evaluating my clients’ initial eating habits, that I see an opportunity to correct a common nutrition misconception.

That’s the myth of the high-protein diet as the be-all, end-all in achieving a firm, athletic physique.

How much is too much? Well, that depends on your size, what you’re trying to accomplish and your level of volume and intensity of exercise. But here’s the dirty little secret: It doesn’t vary that much based on the last two factors – only moderately.

Why is that? Don’t we all have to eat tons of protein and limit carbohydrates to keep blood sugar low and force our bodies to burn fat? Can’t we just eat meat, eggs and dairy and strip the flab off our frames like peeling a banana?

No.

Your body is coded to operate best using a wide variety of substrates, or calorie-containing nutrients like carbohydrates, protein and fat (in that order). And it’s coded to rebuild and to resist disease and aid recovery with a micronutrient-rich mix of vitamin and mineral-heavy foods. A broad spectrum intake of produce, accounting for about half of your diet, is the only pathway to that destination.

Does that sound like the prehistoric diet of the Flintstones?

So, how much protein is enough, then?

The American Dietetic Association’s recommendations are .5 - .8g of protein / pound of body weight per day for athletes.

If you’re not training at 80 percent or higher intensity several hours a week, your needs are likely lower. The guidelines also assume that athletes have achieved their ideal body weight.

I’m close to mine but train only three or four hours a week. At 155 pounds, that means anything in the 80 – 120g of protein-per-day range is great for me, and is about what I shoot for. In addition, the range is soft and fluid based on activity for the particular day. I probably get about 60 or 150g some days but rarely dip under 50g or approach 200g.

Most bodybuilders, power lifters and football players will target 200-plus, but there’s little evidence to support the “more-is-always-better” philosophy.

Hilary Swank, while filming the academy award-winning “Million Dollar Baby” consumed more than 200g of protein per day, but also was training six hours a day. I guarantee she dropped back down to normal intake levels after the film wrapped shooting.

Eating too much protein on a regular basis can put you at risk for kidney disorders and even result in muscle loss by shifting the substrate selection away from the sequence your body naturally follows with a balanced diet, decrementing muscle (stored protein) when carb stores are too low.

But probably the most compelling argument for dialing back the protein intake from bodybuilder-consumption levels if you’re trying to trim body fat is that it’s difficult to get huge amounts of protein into your diet without boosting your calorie intake significantly as well.

And we all know how that story ends.

Want more useful information on how to eat well and get in shape? Contact Dan at http://trivalleywellness.com.

References:

Nutrition and Athletic Performance abstract PDF file.

jake3_14 July 13, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Absolutely right — protein intake should be moderate, even if your kidneys are healthy. What people need to increase on a diet is traditionally-raised animal fat, such as lard and tallow. What they need to decrease are carbs, especially eliminating grains from the diet.
Tanya Rose July 13, 2011 at 08:29 PM
When I read this column, I thought about all those people who went on Atkins awhile back and got so sick!
jake3_14 July 13, 2011 at 10:19 PM
That may be because they misinterpreted Atkins as a high-protein diet. Atkins and its cousin diets are high-*fat* diets.

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