Protein: Too Much of a Good Thing

Protein PowderI see lots of teens in my nutrition clinic who tell me they’re trying to eat extra protein. When I ask them what they eat during the day, it sounds something like this: “eggs, then meat, then nuts, then a protein shake, then some more meat.” When I ask why they’re eating so much protein, the answer is usually to “bulk up” or “build muscle”. Science has taught us that getting the recommended amount of protein as part of a balanced diet and doing strength training is what builds muscles, but eating extra large amounts of protein doesn’t help us build extra muscle. Kids ages 9-13 need around 34 grams/day and teens need around 50 grams. Athletes may need slightly more just because they need to eat more food in general, but high protein diets aren’t recommended for teens.

The Facts:

  • Your body can only use so much protein at a time; the rest gets excreted in your urine or stored as fat.
  • If you’re eating too much protein you’re probably not getting enough carbohydrates. Not only are carbohydrates important for energy, they often contain something else your body needs: fiber.
  • Dietary supplements like protein powders or shakes are not regulated by the government the way food is. Companies who make supplements do not have to prove they are safe before selling them; these products are only removed from stores after the fact if they turn out to be harmful.
  • Too much protein in your diet or from supplements can have dangerous effects on your body such as: calcium loss, dehydration, and kidney problems (because they have to work extra hard to process the protein).

Eating foods that contain protein is part of a healthy, balanced diet. Keep in mind that you probably get more than enough protein from the foods that you eat and drink, such as: meat, beans, eggs, yogurt, and milk. It’s okay if you’re getting a little more protein than you might need from food; you just want to avoid getting way too much. As long as you eat a balanced diet, you don’t need to use protein powder, shakes, or bars. Talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian if you’re not sure how much protein you need or if you think you might be getting too much or too little.

-Dietitian Katrina