How Much Protein is Too Much?

Protein is essential to every diet. Among its many functions, protein builds and repairs muscle, helps make antibodies that stave off infection, and plays a role in good cell health and cell creation.

We need protein to fend off malnutrition. But the saying “everything in moderation” rings true for protein.

It’s hard to miss all the protein bars, powders, and other supplements that sometimes occupy their own sections of the grocery store that could lead us to believe we are lacking protein in our diets. But is this the case?

How much protein do we need?

The amount of protein a person needs is based on their body weight and activity levels. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) states that sedentary adults should consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams of protein per pound). Consuming more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is considered excessive. For example, a sedentary adult male weighing 220 pounds (100 kg) should consume about 80 grams of protein per day, while a sedentary adult weighing 150 pounds (68 kg) should consume about 54 grams per day.

Generally, people should consume 15 to 30 grams of protein during each meal. Higher intakes of more than 40 grams are no more beneficial than the recommended 15–30 grams at one time, according to most studies.

Your protein intake should not exceed 35% of your daily calorie intake, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If you consume about 2,000 calories a day, for example, no more than 700 of those calories should come from protein.

After the age of 40, people need increase their protein intake to 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Individuals in this age range tend to lose muscle mass and may need to talk to their doctor about how to incorporate more protein into their diets.

Others – like those who live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle and who struggle to consume high-quality plant proteins – may need to supplement their protein intake. When using a protein supplement, the Mayo Clinic states that it should contain:

  • 200 or fewer calories
  • 2 grams or less of saturated fat
  • No trans-fat or partially hydrogenated oils
  • 5 grams of sugar or fewer

What happens to our bodies when we consume too much protein?

Because the body can’t store protein, any intake that exceeds the body needs is stored as fat, which can lead to weight gain.

High protein diets that contain a lot of red meat, total and saturated fat can pose a higher risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.

Excessive protein intake can pose a risk to the kidneys for those predisposed to kidney disease. Some research also suggests that diets high in animal protein increase the acid load to the kidneys, raising the risk of kidney stones.

Safe protein consumption

To reach your recommended average daily intake of protein without exceeding it or exposing yourself to the health issues listed above, you should generally try to get your protein from healthy sources like legumes, lean poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, tofu, nuts and beans.

Avoid consuming protein products that are high in processed carbs and saturated fat.

If you indulge in a high-protein diet, talk with your doctor about any underlying health conditions you may have.

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