Protein is one of three macronutrients, alongside fat and carbohydrates, that you need to eat on a daily basis to survive. While each one is important, protein is vital for sustaining and increasing muscle mass and also plays a role in transporting oxygen throughout the body.
However, there is such a thing as eating too much protein, and Liz Weinandy, RD with The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, breaks down exactly how much protein you should roughly be eating every day. She also details some signs that may indicate you’re getting too much protein in your diet.
How much protein should you eat per day?
The amount of protein you need each day varies on several factors, primarily by sex and activity level.
“Most people need around 1 gram of protein for each kilogram of ideal body weight,” says Weinandy.
Ideal body weight equations are used to help gauge what a healthy weight is for people based on their height. However, as is the case with BMI, both values fail to take muscle mass into consideration and identify that there is a range of healthy body weights.
For women, the ideal body weight for someone 5 feet tall would be 100 pounds and for every inch after, you tack on five pounds. For men, the ideal body weight for someone who is 5 feet tall is 106 pounds, and for every inch after you add six pounds.
So, following Weinandy’s equation, to figure out how much protein a woman who is 5’6″ would need, you to take the ideal body weight—which in this case would be 130 pounds—and then convert from pounds to kilograms by dividing 130 by 2.2. That number will be 59 kilograms. Since Weinandy says you need about 1 gram of protein per each kilogram of body weight, a woman who is 5’6″ should eat between 59 and 60 grams of protein each day.
For those who are trying to build muscle mass, you may want to try aiming for 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Athletes will also likely require more protein than those who don’t exercise as regularly. No matter how much protein you specifically need per day, you shouldn’t consume more than 30 grams of protein per meal.
What are some key warning signs that you’re including too much protein in your diet?
Weinandy says that eating too much protein can be problematic for various reasons. Here are a few things that could be happening to your body right now that may indicate you’re eating more protein than you should be.
- You’re gaining weight. “Even though higher protein diets have been shown to help some people lose weight, if you increase your overall calories, no matter where they come from, those extra calories can be turned into body fat,” she says. “This is especially true if you are getting your protein from high-fat sources like cheese and fatty meats.”
- You’re getting constipated. As Weinandy points out, most protein sources have little to no fiber, so it can back up your intestines if consumed in excess.
- You consistently have bad breath. Not only is this a common complaint among people who are following the keto diet, but it’s also a side effect of eating too much protein. Bacteria that grows on the tongue breaks down protein and can emit smelly gases.
- You have other gastrointestinal issues. Again, if you have too much protein in your diet, that could indicate that you’re not getting enough carbohydrates in your diet, such as fruits and vegetables, that naturally contain fiber. This can cause abdominal discomfort.
What are some long-term side effects of eating too much protein?
Eating too much protein can be detrimental to your body, especially your kidneys. When you eat something with protein in it, the body breaks it down into smaller pieces and then the kidneys will remove any excess protein there is in the blood.
“While this is normal, if we eat really large amounts of protein especially for a long time, it can stress the kidneys,” explains Weinandy. “For people who may have years of high blood pressure or diabetes or take drugs that are hard on the kidneys, adding large amounts of protein to any of these conditions can really stress the kidneys out.”
Not to mention, eating significant amounts of protein can also increase the risk of some types of kidney stones. Weinandy also points out that most Americans consume plenty of protein in their diet, and don’t need to stress about trying to incorporate more of it into meals, with the exception being their vegan or vegetarian.
Regardless of whether you eat meat and animal byproducts or not, she says it’s important to still include plant-based protein such as tempeh, lentils, and nuts into your day-to-day.
“Plant proteins are gentler on the kidneys too which is ideal for anyone who has kidney disease already,” she adds.