6 Surprising Signs You’re Eating Too Much Protein
“A sensation of always feeling thirsty and lack of regular urination is common with too much protein,” says Shilpi Agarwal, MD board-certified family medicine physician and author of The 10-Day Total Body Transformation. “When the body absorbs protein, it requires water and the kidneys to break it down, but the kidneys can only do so much under protein overload so the body starts pulling water from everywhere to help process the protein.” It can also lead to the buildup of nitrogen and other waste by-products that aren’t being flushed out efficiently.
“When most of your water is utilized to process protein, it’s not available for bowel function so you’ll get more constipated and have harder stool,” adds Agarwal. You see how this problem gets magnified when you think about the types of food your body is trying to expel. “If you’re swapping carbohydrate foods for purely animal-based proteins like chicken and fish, you’re missing out on important nutrients—namely fiber,” says Perri Halperin, MS, RD, clinical dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Without a diet rich in complex carbs like whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables, you’ll have a hard time reaching the recommended 25 to 35 daily grams of fiber, which can lead to constipation and bloating.”
You’re gaining weight.
“We’ve all heard that sugar and fat can pack on the pounds, but that does not mean protein is a ‘free’ food,” says Halperin. “Just like other foods, protein foods contain calories and, at its simplest, excess calories equals excess pounds.” Essentially, if you’re going to increase the number of calories you receive from protein, you need to scale back your intake of calories in other areas. “Protein is helpful in losing weight, but an imbalance of proportions means added calories that have nowhere to go and ultimately contribute to weight gain,” says Agarwal.
You’re in a bad mood and your breath smells.
When you prioritize protein and cut out carbs completely, your body enters a state called ketosis and burns fat for fuel, which creates byproducts called ketones (a goal of the trendy ketogenic diet you’ve probably heard about). “This can be helpful for weight loss in the short term,” says Halperin, “but an excess of ketones and starving your brain of carbohydrate-based fuel can leave you with stinky breath and even stinkier moods.”
You’re not keeping track.
If you don’t know how much protein you should take in, and then eat protein with abandon, you can easily consume too much. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g per kg of body weight: Take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2, then multiply it by 0.8 to find your personal RDA. “However, this is a general recommendation and needs to be taken with a grain of salt,” says Halperin. “It’s also important to consider age, height, ideal body weight, activity level and your personal goals.” If you have any questions at all, work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to figure out your ideal protein intake.
You’re focusing on supplements and bars.
All protein sources aren’t created equal. “Whey protein is most readily available protein supplement, but it can sometimes cause gas, bloating and upset stomach,” says Agarwal. She suggests incorporating more dietary sources into your routine or, if you choose to opt for supplements, trying hemp and pea protein, which are easier on the stomach. “Eggs, Greek yogurt, beans, lentils, nuts, nut butter, seeds, poultry and seafood are all sources of protein that can be eaten as part of a well-balanced diet,” adds Halperin. She says you’ll also want to be wary of protein bars and shakes, which are often packed with sugar, and processed meats (like hot dogs and bacon) because they’ve been linked to an increased risk of cancers and they’re often loaded with salt.