STELLAR Investigates: Is Too Much Protein Bad For Our Health?

The #fitfam have an amino acid hit at every feeding opportunity and they're looking great on it. We asked dietitian Orla Walsh to set us straight on the meat feast.

Steak- Is-too-much-protein-bad-for-you

Guzzling protein shakes and eating steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner is totes norm at the mo. Is it time to beat a path to the butchers and follow suit? We spoke with dietitian, Orla Walsh from the Dublin Nutrition Centre, who warned us that  an over-reliance on one food group makes us way more susceptible to deficiencies.

How much protein do we actually need a day?

Most people need about 1.2 -1.7g protein per kg per day. So for example if you’re 70kg (approx 11stone), the recommended amount of protein is between 84g and 119g per day.

What if we’re eating upwards of 125g a day, like lots of gym bunnies?

Protein is a bit like water, you can only absorb and use a certain amount at any one time. The liver and kidneys break down excesses and excrete them from the body which is why those with kidney damage need to have moderate intakes of protein.

For most people, it is considered safe to eat up to 2g of protein for every kg that you weigh. The problem with this is that the more protein you eat, the more likely it is that your diet will become unbalanced. This shouldn’t be taken lightly, both surplus and deficit intakes are unhealthy whether it’s from our macronutrients or micronutrients.

So more protein doesn’t mean more muscles?

You need about 10g of protein to stimulate your muscles and about 20g to stimulate them to the max. If you’re in the gym every day lifting weights, you’ll only need 20g of protein four to five times a day to maximise results.

What does 20g of protein look like?

A meat, poultry or fish portion the size of a packet of cards is about 20-35g of protein, whereas one egg has about 6-7g of protein. A 200g tub of greek yogurt should ensure you meet the 20g protein mark too.

Where does protein powder fit into the mix?

Whey protein has been shown to be good at stimulating muscles – one scoop would contain about 20-25g of protein. However, it is preferable to have a food first approach and by doing this, you’ll get your protein hit in addition to other nutrients.

Can we gain weight by eating lots of protein?

Like all food, protein contains calories and if you eat too many calories, you will put on weight. Despite that, protein sources tend to be self-limiting, that is you could easily eat a family sized packet of crisps (approx 1000kcal) but you would struggle to eat 13 eggs (approx 1000kcals).

Are there any other health consequences to eating too much protein?

If you eat too much meat, you may be taking in too much saturated fat. Fibre intakes can also be affected by increased protein consumption because, chances are, less healthy wholegrains are being consumed as a result – this can affect training and reduce performance.

At present, nutritionists are unsure of the full dangers to such a dietary approach. Recent research is looking at the quantity of protein consumed but it can be argued that the quality of protein is just as important.

Can you give us some examples of good quality protein?

It’s best to choose a variety of sources including legumes (lentils and beans) for soluble fibre and phytochemicals, oily fish for omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D, shellfish for zinc, nuts for monounsaturated fats and magnesium, lean red meats for iron and dairy and tofu for calcium. You’ll easily meet your protein requirements when these foods are included at meal times.