Ask our expert: Is there such a thing as eating too much protein?

When you think about maximizing muscle, you think protein. But can you get too much? Here, expert Brian Haycock weighs in on how much you need daily

February 8, 2013
Ask our expert: Is there such a thing as eating too much protein?

A. Yes, there is definitely such a thing as eating too much protein. Experts say that the pitfalls of excessive protein include dangerous or even life threatening conditions such as hyperaminoacidemia (excess amino acids), hyperammonemia (excess ammonia), hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin), not to mention uncomfortable symptoms like nausea and diarrhea. Excess protein is defined as getting more than 35% of your total daily calories from protein. Bodybuilders and hardcore fitness competitors most often recommend taking in one gram per pound of bodyweight. Interestingly, researchers who have studied low-carb/ high-protein diets also agree that one gram per pound of body weight is the max one should ingest.

Here’s what a typical day might look like for a 136-pound woman who trains at an advanced level (assuming she has 19% body fat, 110 pounds lean):

Breakfast 2 egg whites, 1 whole egg (14g protein); lunch 4 oz chicken breast (21g protein); post-workout protein drink (20g protein); dinner 4 oz salmon (25g protein). Total protein for the day comes to about 80 grams, which happens to be about 25% of her daily caloric intake of 1200 calories. This is well below the theoretical max-safe intake of about two grams per pound of body weight per day. On the other hand, it is well above the recommended daily intake of protein, which is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (i.e., 0.36 grams per pound).

Remember, too, that protein is only one of several essential nutrients, so don’t forget about other healthy foods. What often happens when people become obsessed with consuming a lot of protein is that they begin to overlook other nutrient-rich fare, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like quinoa. Fruits tend to get a bad rap com- pared to vegetables, because they contain more carbs, but they’re loaded with disease-preventing antioxidants, as well as belly-flattening fiber, which makes them a necessary part of a healthy diet. Put fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains on your plate, as well as the usual lean meats, fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy products.