When people start a detox or a new eating plan, protein generally isn’t the first thing they give up. In fact, while we’re quick to give sugar, carbs and fat the boot, protein is often considered the golden child of the macronutrient world. It’s the cornerstone of popular diets like Paleo and Atkins and for good reason: getting adequate protein is essential for muscle growth, fat loss and the day-to-day functioning of our bodies.
But as with most things, too much protein isn’t necessarily a good thing. Chowing down on huge amounts of it isn’t a guaranteed shortcut to a smokin’ bod. It is possible to go overboard— and believe it or not, it can actually derail your weight loss efforts! You see, when you eat more protein than your body needs, it metabolises as glucose. This means your body uses it the same way it would sugar. That is, it’s either excreted through your urine or stored in your fat cells. If you’re consuming too many kilojoules, the latter is likely to happen — leading to weight gain.
Contrary to all the hype that everyone needs more protein, most adults get twice as much as they need.
-Kristi Wempen, a Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian nutritionist via Juice Daily.
In a study published in the Clinical Nutrition journal, researchers tracked the weight and dietary patterns of more than 7,000 adults from 2003 to 2009. Those whose diets were comprised of more than 20% protein (particularly animal protein) were significantly more likely to gain more than 10% of their body weight compared to those whose diets contained less than 15% protein. Not only that, the high-protein dieters also had a 50% higher risk of dying during the study period than lower-protein eaters. While it’s hard to say whether this was a direct result of excess animal protein wreaking havoc on liver and heart function, or mere coincidence, it’s still pretty scary stuff.
Unless you’re following a hardcore bodybuilder-style diet, probably not. However, considering us Aussies tend to love our BBQd meats, it’s a good idea to be mindful of how much you’re actually eating. According to the Dietary Reference Intake, a good rule of thumb is aiming for 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. So, if you weigh 60kg, you’ll need 60 x 0.8, which equates to around 48g of protein a day. This equates to about 100 grams of chicken, 1 egg, 40 grams of cheese and half a cup of legumes.
Of course, not all protein sources are created equal and it pays to be picky.
It’s not only important to think about eating protein but where that protein has come from. For instance, studies have shown that grass-fed meats contain more nutrients than grain-fed, particuarly Omega-3s. Where possible, look for locally grown and sustainably farmed sources of protein and limit your intake of highly processed meats like luncheon meats.
– Personal Trainer Greg Stark via his book, Sweat Equity
So, if you’re eating around the right amount of protein for your size and opting for sources like salmon, lean meats and legumes over bacon and salami, you’re probably on the right track. If not, it may be time to go back to the drawing board!