Protein is king when it comes to exercise. It fuels the recovery process and helps you build stronger, bigger muscles. But for the fitness enthusiasts out there, how much protein is too much when working out? We spoke to an expert and learned everything you need to know.
According to the Mayo Clinic, staying on top of your protein intake is important because it gives your body amino acids to sculpt and restore muscle. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM the Director of Medical Content & Education at Ro and a member of the Eat This, Not That! Medical Expert Board, further explains, “It’s important to get a variety of amino acids in the diet. Your body is able to make some amino acids itself, but certain ones—called essential amino acids—must be consumed. And three of the essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—are known as branched-chain amino acids and are especially present in skeletal muscle and important for muscle protein synthesis.”
If you’re working out consistently, you should consume more protein than the recommended dietary allowance.
Dr. Bohl informs Eat This, Not That! of just how much protein is too much when you’re working out on a consistent basis. He says, “The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein for both men and women is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. As an example, that means a 154-pound (70-kilogram) person should consume 56 grams of protein per day.”
If you’re a regular at the gym with the goal of building muscle, you’ll want to consume more protein than the recommended daily allowance, as Dr. Bohl points out the RDA mentioned above is sufficient for living a sedentary life. When engaging in consistent physical activity, a good example of what to consume every day is a range of 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight, which means a 154-pound person can consume between 98 to 140 grams of protein per day.
There are some side effects if you eat too much protein.
Can you have more protein than the RDA? “It is possible to go over this amount, and some may consume a very high protein diet of up to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that it’s possible to simultaneously lose weight while maintaining muscle mass if you consume between 1.8 to 2.2 grams per kilogram each day. (Normally, in order to lose weight, you end up losing muscle mass as well, because you need to eat a calorie deficit). However, as you approach 2.2 grams per kilogram each day, there’s an increased risk of side effects,” Dr. Bohl explains.
There are some negative side effects to a high-protein diet worth mentioning. They include gout, kidney stones, high levels of calcium in the urine, gastrointestinal upset, and constipation.
Switch up your diet to make sure you’re feeding your body the right proteins.
Complete proteins are foods that have all of the necessary amino acids you need. Examples are eggs, seafood, fish, poultry, meat, dairy, and some plant-based foods, including quinoa, buckwheat, hemp, and soy.
Dr. Bohl tells us, “Other foods can also contain protein, but they may not have all of the essential amino acids—these are called incomplete proteins.” By switching up your diet to include a good variety of incomplete proteins, you can be certain your body is benefiting from all of the amino acids it requires.
For additional sources of protein that ensure you’re getting enough when working out aggressively, Dr. Bohl suggests, “If you’re trying to build muscle and are having a hard time getting enough grams of protein through food, you can consider protein supplements. One of the most common protein supplements used by weightlifters that often comes in powdered form and can be blended into a shake or smoothie is whey protein.”
The caveat? When consuming a diet that’s high in protein, it’s extremely essential to stay hydrated by drinking lots of extra water. “This is because the breakdown of protein causes elevated levels of urea, and drinking more water can help facilitate the removal of urea from the body,” Dr. Bohl says.