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Tell it to me straight: the negative side effects of too much protein

by 10361 · February 23, 2014 at 06:08 PM

Trust me, I have gone through so much reading on this subject and I'm still confused. I eat 2-3 times my recommended intake of protein and have been doing so every day for several months. Is there any evidence thus far on long-term, potentially negative, effects of too much protein? Fat storage? Is it insulinogenic? Something to do with the kidneys? And what the heck are uncoupling proteins? Or is there really no such thing as "too much protein?" I have a cornucopia of questions but I don't know where I want to begin and frankly, I don't know when it will end. I know there's not an end-all-be-all answer but any contribution backed by legitimate sources will help.

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13 Replies

2859 · December 15, 2011 at 06:06 AM

You might gain unsightly muscle, lose fat, and look hot. This would be tragic.

20222 · December 15, 2011 at 02:51 PM

Well, there are folks that think too much protein can be problematic for longevity (Rosedale, Mercola, Ornish). I'm not sure if they are correct or not. My sense is that if you are in the range of 20-25% of calories as protein, you're probably okay.

803 · December 15, 2011 at 09:12 AM

My understanding (always my opening caveat :P) is that excess protein in your diet simply gets excreted out in the urine; meaning hugely excessive intake can put more stress on the kidneys.

Having said that, the "RDA" for protein has nothing to do with what most human bodies are capable of utlising; it's probably more like the point below which you start losing bone density or something.

Anyway, as a ball-park figure, if you're eating below 200g a day, I'd say there's nothing to worry about (and even on paleo not many get close to even that).

However, if you're still concerned - just drink more water to oil the ol' kidneys :)

Aside from wasted money (as protein is generally the most expensive macronutrient from a supermarket-shelf point of view), I don't really see any downsides in taking a bit more than strictly necessary.

2368 · December 15, 2011 at 06:52 AM

Well if you consume too much lean protein, a condition called "rabbit starvation" or "protein poisoning" could occur. But really unlikely in a normal diet though.

15070 · September 07, 2013 at 12:44 AM

Dietary protein isn't directly related to uncoupling protein intake. This question has a pretty in-depth explanation of uncoupling proteins, but in a nutshell they allow your body to dissipate fat as heat when there is too much fat in the cell and you don't need to make any more energy (ATP)

edit: to make more sense

17816 · December 16, 2011 at 03:40 AM

Just putting it out there that more protein than is beneficial (I'm not going to say more than "needed" because as has been pointed out, it's silly to base recommendations on what you absolutely need to avoid death) lowers testosterone levels in males. And I have seen a few others that show this.

So while there seem to be some benefits to a certain amount of protein, it may work against somebody trying to gain muscle if more than is needed for optimal muscle growth is consumed. Protein is essential for muscle growth but just how much is optimal is probably overestimated by nearly everyone.

This is open to debate if anyone has objections.

943 · December 16, 2011 at 03:20 AM

Many cite deamination or the conversion of amino acids into ammonia as the most notable danger in consuming protein in quantity.

Paul Jaminet, for example, claims that somewhere between 150 and 200 grams of protein depending on body/liver size, one will start to experience ammonia toxicity. This occurs because the body is no longer able to convert the ammonia to urea and the nitrogen and ammonia lingers in the body as a toxin.

Eat more fat. From what I've read, it's rather unlikely you could consume saturated fat in quantities that would be toxic to the body since it's utilized by such a vast number of organs/systems.

16813 · December 16, 2011 at 02:52 AM

The rule seems to be .5 to 1.5g of protein per lbs of target weight. You fill up the rest of the macros with fat and a little bit of carbs and all is good.

But don't bother measuring... Let your hunger guide you. As long as you don't fool it with excitotoxins or the wrong kinds of carbs, it will lead you in the right direction.

There's no reason to eat tons of meat, unless you feel ravenous. In which case, by all means, give in to your carnivorous side. I do. :) But usually only after an extra large work out, or longer than usual IF.

Protein does trigger insulin (but, also glucagon, so not as bad as carbs), so high excess can be as bad as excess carbs. We need only as much as is needed for protein repairs, and a bit more for neoglucogenesys, if we're not doing carbs. (But it's better to get enough of each of fat, protein, and carbs than have to convert.)

Unless you have kidney problems, don't worry about it, and even then, there were some papers saying that eating protein/fat can help rather than hurt kidney issues. We've had more than a million years worth of adaptation as humanoids, and loads more as mammals. Our senses are keen enough to guide us as long as we stay away from things that fool us. Cravings for specific foods are very useful as the point to what nutrients we need in those foods (assuming we're not addicted.)

Too much protein without fat can lead to rabbit fever, but you're unlikely going to have that issue unless all you eat is lean protein, and nothing else.

11251 · December 15, 2011 at 06:52 PM

Doubtful. Protein overload may be doable, but it would be pretty uncomfortable and probably require some sort of refined food.

Now the flip side to this is Rosedale (and others) who are saying that limiting protein will keep you living longer. They aren't saying protein is dangerous per se, but that excess protein turns on growth factors and this encourages bigger muscles but seems to also encourage aging. So their game is to keep protein intake under 20g or so a serving and between 60-80g a day so as not to trigger this pathway.

I like the idea, but I am wondering if it actually works that way. Perhaps a better application would be to mimic the seasonal food situation in earlier times. High summer= food abundance and growth while the dead of winter= being cold and hungry while a lot of those processes that promote longevity kick in.

3127 · December 15, 2011 at 03:20 PM

just one more comment i would like to make is most vegitarians like to argue this point with the paleo diet people because they can use numbers. As we all know paleo diet folk, never count calories because its pointless. i have never heard of a person getting fatter eating paleo yet i know plenty of vegitarians that eat so many carbohydrates they become diabetic. for instance, the country of india are mostly vegitarians ,yet suffer from diabetes at an alarming rate just as americans do.

3127 · December 15, 2011 at 03:08 PM

i laughed when i read the RDA for protein. that's the minimal amount to prevent death. You know just like the RDA for Vitamin C will prevent death but not sub clinical survey diseases such as gingivitis and atherosclerosis and many more unknowns.i have no answer except that a healthy mind will tell a healthy body what to burn as fuel. All you have to do is relax and say to yourself, what sounds good to eat right now. you would be amazed that the mind can control food intake to the point that just overeating a single cucumber slice daily for twenty years will make you fat. By the way since switching to a paleo diet my protein intake has increased like eveybody elses. yet, i seem to get less dehydrated than before. So maby extra protein improves kidney function? who knows? i dont.

5351 · December 15, 2011 at 09:38 AM

I think a lot of the negative consequences are actually about the lack of other nutrients when trying to subsist on only protein. And there's nothing conclusive enough to make official guidelines (and we all know how willing they are to jump to the wrong conclusions without evidence). And still that's 300g+ depending on your size for a high-protein diet, which I don't think you're eating!

182 · December 15, 2011 at 07:18 PM

Not protein per se, but there appears to be an increased risk of colorectal cancer from red meat -

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