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How Much Protein is Too Much Per Day?

steak and veggiesThere seems to be a lot of confusion with protein intake. From warnings of kidney failure and cardiovascular disease, it’s no wonder people are apprehensive about eating too much protein. The FDA recommends a protein intake of 0.8 grams/kg of body weight. Is this enough, and how much protein is too much per day?

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

For a regularly exercising individual, I recommend a protein intake of .8-1 gram per pound of body weight. If you are overweight, you can base your intake off of lean body mass instead. While even higher intakes have been shown to provide benefits, this intake will provide you with all the essential amino acids necessary to repair and build muscle tissue.

Protein is present in every cell of your body. It is the second most abundant molecule in the human body – only behind water. Protein makes up your hair and skin, and is a precursor for the production of neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters affect everything from mood to fat loss. It’s much better to err on the side of too much protein than not enough.

What about preventing muscle loss when dieting? A protein intake of 1 gram per pound of body weight was significantly superior to the FDA’s RDA of 0.8 grams/kg of body weight at maintaining lean body mass [1]. Given how important muscle is for losing fat, it’s even more imperative that you are getting sufficient amounts.

Can protein actually help with fat loss? Increased protein intake is correlated with increased fat oxidation independent of body weight [2]. In other words, increased protein intake caused a more favorable body composition. Simply eating more of your calories from protein can increase fat loss.

Are the FDA’s Recommendations Enough?

Based on the FDA’s recommendation of .8 grams/kg of body weight, a 150 pound person would need to consume just 54 grams of protein per day. That is just 10-15 percent of your calories coming from protein. Eat an 8 ounce piece of meat in one of your meals, and you’ve met your intake for the entire day. Can you survive on 54 grams of protein? Yes, but are we just trying to get by, or are we trying to optimize our performance?

Then there’s the potential health risks of “high” protein intake…

Warnings of kidney disease are overblown. In healthy subjects, protein intake does not significantly affect kidney function [3]. The majority of studies done on protein intake and kidney disease are done on patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). In the case of CKD, protein intake should be monitored closely. In otherwise healthy individuals, a higher protein intake has not been linked to kidney problems. Will a higher protein intake mean that your kidneys have to work more? Of course, but just like how exercise makes your heart work harder, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad for you.

How Much Protein is Too Much Per Day?

So we know how much protein to aim for to optimize body function, but how much is too much? There are a few factors that will influence your protein intake. These include:

  • Do You Exercise? – A higher activity level demands a higher protein intake. Muscle is made up of protein. When you exercise, you break down this protein and then build it back up bigger to cope with the increased stimulus. The more active you are, the higher your protein demands will be.
  • How Many Carbs Do You Eat?Carbohydrates are protein sparing. When glucose is present, protein is less likely to be broken down and used for fuel. If you are on a low carbohydrate diet, your protein intake should be higher than someone who eats several hundred grams of carbohydrates per day.
  • Are You Trying to Lose Weight? – If you are, protein demands will be higher, or maybe I should say more important. Many people believe just the opposite – that you should have more protein if you are trying to put on muscle. While this might be true to an extent, in a hypercaloric environment, protein is spared much more than in a calorie restricted one.

Given all the variables, it’s not possible to give a blanket statement on how much protein is too much. Anyone giving you a number is simply making an educated guess. If you want that number, you are going to have to eat a controlled diet and then test for urea content. Your kidneys are responsible for the excretion of urea, and elevated levels usually mean more protein is being consumed than can be used. Even still, urea is just one of many markers to check for.

If I had to make my own educated guess, I would surmise that an intake approaching 1.5 grams/lb of body weight would start hitting the ceiling on the potential benefits towards athletic performance. Anything more would either be oxidized and excreted, or be converted to glucose or ketones to be used for energy. While there can still be benefits to even higher protein intakes, you begin to reach a point of diminishing returns. Aim for .8-1 gram per pound of body weight. For active individuals, it strikes a good balance between what is needed for optimal performance, and what is needed for good health.

  • Kelly

    Great article Tony and I love reading all your posts. You often talk about “grains” and avoiding them? Can we get a definite list of what a “grain” actually is please? Its so confusing. I have carbs first thing in the morning after my workout and these are wholegrain oats. Is this to be avoided?

    Hear from you soon
    Kelly

    • Coach Calorie

      Grains are an iffy food group for many. Personally, I have to avoid them. I have bad digestion problems when I eat them, and I have a problem staying lean. For other people though, they have no problem with them. If you’re one of those people, just stick to whole grain sources. Oats would be just fine.

  • http://www.healthnwellnessonline.com/ Melissa

    I am 110lbs and sometimes take in 150-175g of protein. Is this too much?
    My calories are 2000-2100, fat is 50-70g, and carbs are 200-260g.
    Thank you!

    • Coach Calorie

      You are able to eat quite a few calories considering your body weight. It’s good to see you aren’t starving yourself. It’s not unheard of to eat 1.5 times your body weight in protein. Is that too much? You will certainly start getting diminishing returns with higher amount of protein intake, and it might be cheaper and more efficient to instead fill some of those calories with healthy fats and/or carbs. If things are going well for you though, don’t change things!

  • Wendy

    I’m a 5’9″ 157lb 40 yr old female. I take zumba 2-3 days/week, RIPPED one day/week and body pump 3 days/week. I’m interested in losing fat and gaining muscle so last week I started increasing my protein to at least 160g of protein. The past 2 zumba workouts I’m bonking 3/4 of the way through and feeling nauseas. Do you think I should increase my fats or carbs to get my energy back up? Is this a normal reaction?
    Thanks!

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Wendy, did you drop your carb intake when you increased your protein. I’ve never heard of reduced energy from increased protein intake. What’s your calorie intake and macro breakdown?

  • Wendy

    Hi Coach! Thanks for your response. I don’t keep strict track of what I eat, but it’s usually 1400-1700 calories I would say. I eat pretty clean….cottage cheese with fruit and some protein powder for breakfast, something like carrots and hummus for a snack, a huge
    salad with tuna or salmon for lunch, chocolate milk with protein powder for an afternoon snack, and maybe fish and a veggie for dinner. It varies, but that’s how it usually goes. Any ideas?

    • Coach Calorie

      I would seriously consider tracking your food intake for a week. Based on what you showed me, it only looks like around 1000 calories (not sure about your portion sizes though).

      Are you eating anything before your workout? If not, that could be an additional step to take to up your energy levels.

  • Aamir

    Hey Coach Calorie! First time on here, I’m 16, around 5’9/510′, and way around 210-215lbs. I asked a buddy of mine at the gym for advice and he said to get rid of a lot of fat that i should lift heavy and like really get into it. And to do cardio like once a week.

    Is this a good idea or bad? I have worked out before and do have decent muscles, just wanna lose some more fat and get more cut. He also said to take like 2 protein shakes a day (I take Whey Protein , from Body Fortess, and it’s like 52 g of Protein) should I stick to 1 a day? And also can I take one everyday? I really appreciate the help!!

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Aamir, you should definitely be doing strength training. Your diet is going to have the biggest effect on your body fat though.

      There’s nothing wrong with protein shakes, but make it a priority to eat as much food as possible from solid food sources. There are not as many nutrients in protein shakes. I have one every day either before or after my workout, so I see no problem with them.

  • Laura

    Hi Coach, I’m 156lbs and eat roughly 130-140g of protein a day. I do eat around 1800-2000 calories a day due to how much I exercise and consume 230-250 carbs per day. Am I eating to much protein?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Laura I try to eat at least 1 gram/lb of lean body mass. I usually go over. I don’t know your body fat percentage, but something in the range of 110 – 130 should be plenty with your carb intake.

  • Patricia

    Hi Coach Calorie!

    My name is Patricia, I am 5’9, 186 lb (31% body fat). I have eaten approximately 1500 calories/day and 120-130g protein/day. I work out everyday (mostly cardio) and I spend usually 700-800 calories/day at the gym (1h30min). I am trying to drop my weight to 164 lb. Am I eating too much protein? Thank you very mcuh, Patricia

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    I’d say you’re right at 1 gram per pound of lean body mass. Wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Patricia

      Thank you for the information!

  • Eileen

    Hi Coach,
    I want to follow your diet advice protein/carb/fat ratio. I do not understand what constitutes lean body mass. Just muscle, or everything except fat? then, how do I measure this, so I can do the correct protein grams per your suggestion.

    Thank you,
    Eileen

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Lean body mass is everything besides fat mass. It includes muscle, bone, water, etc. To determine this number you have to measure with something like body fat calipers. If you don’t have access to that, you can aim for between .7-1 gram/lb of body weight as a general guide.