For most people, eating enough protein per day can be a struggle. But what about eating too much protein? Is there such a thing? What happens when you consume too much protein?
Can you have too much protein?
Yes, it is possible to consume too much protein. When you consume more protein than your body needs, the excess calories are turned into fat and stored within the body. You can't store extra amino acids or protein for later use, so the amino acids are simply excreted through urine and wasted. Therefore, there is absolutely no point consuming more protein than you need to.
But what happens when you do go overboard? If you are eating far too much protein, there is a good chance you won't be eating enough carbs. This means not enough fibre and nutrients from fruit and vegetables. You may also be lacking sugar which promotes healthy brain function.
How many grams of protein a day is too much?
Guidelines state that an adult man should take in a minimum of 10% of his daily calories from protein. This equates to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so a 12 stone (168lbs) man would need roughly 60g of protein per day.
However, for athletes and people who are very active, this can rise to up to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight; so if this 12 stone man was an active bodybuilder or triathlete, he may need up to 168g of protein per day to meet the needs of his muscles.
If you live a sedentary lifestyle whereby you work an office job and only do a limited amount of exercise, you won't need that much protein in your diet. Eating healthy, lean protein sources each day like chicken, turkey, eggs, and nuts and seeds part of a balanced diet will be all you need to achieve your protein needs. Unless you train a lot, you shouldn't need to add protein shakes into your daily diet. For more information on dietary supplements, read our article on the top 5 supplements for beginners. If you think that drinking protein shakes can help you lose weight, read our article which answers the question of should I use protein shakes to lose weight.
Is it bad if you eat too much protein?
As with everything, too much is a bad thing and it's best to have everything in moderation. Consuming too much protein really isn't an issue many people need to worry about, however if you do think you're consuming too much, there are negative implications. The main negative effect of consuming too much protein is weight gain, however there are other side effects such as dehydration and kidney problems.
The health implications of not eating enough protein are actually worse than consuming too much. If you don't think you're eating enough protein, here are 3 easy ways anyone can get more protein into their diet.
What're the signs you're eating too much protein?
As mentioned above, any excess protein you consume will be tuned into fat and stored in the body. If you are eating too much protein you are probably eating too many calories, which will always result in weight gain.
The body has to use more water to flush out the excess protein from your body, so if you consume too much protein you will end up dehydrated. If you feel dehydrated despite drinking plenty of water, it could be a sign of consuming too much protein. Always make sure you're drinking plenty of water, especially if you train a lot. Up to 3 litres a day is optimal.
Your kidneys are responsible for filtering waste products from your body. By consuming too much protein on a regular basis, you could damage your kidneys by over-exerting them. You would have to eat far too much protein for a very long time to do any real damage to your kidneys, though, so it's not something many people need to worry about.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a competitive athlete? Team GB Age Group triathlete Lucy Mapp talks us through a typical day of training and eating to show the dedication and time-management it takes to be an amateur athlete juggling work with sport.
A typical day for me starts around 5.20 am
When my alarm goes off, I jump out of bed, get dressed and grab my bag then it’s downstairs to the kitchen to have my pre-swim snack. As there isn’t much time in the morning between getting up and getting in the pool, this needs to be quick energy for me, but nothing too heavy or big as I don’t want it to cause any stomach problems when I’m swimming, or worse as I tumble turn at the end of each length.
I typically go for a smoothie with berries, melon, yogurt and milk for a good amount of quick carbohydrate that’s readily available, even more so by being in liquid form. If it’s not a smoothie (or if I want a bit more) then my go-to is cereal or homemade snack bars made from the cereal as they’re light on the stomach and have quick release carbs to fuel my session.
I’m in the pool around 6.30 am and my sessions vary throughout the week from longer endurance-based ones to shorter sessions with longer rests focusing on speed and power. If it’s a long session then I might take some energy drink in my bottle to top up the carbohydrate levels during the session and keep me going through to the end.
Afterwards, it’s milk or a milk-based drink for two reasons. Firstly, milk has been well researched as being a great recovery drink with the perfect ratio of carbs to protein, it’s easy to take with me and drink in the changing rooms after the session and it’s pretty cheap too. Secondly, because I often find I have a really dry mouth after swimming and no matter how much water I drink it doesn’t go away. Having milk is the only way I’ve found to re-coat and hydrate my mouth and get it feeling back to normal, so a double win for milk! Sometimes I add some flavouring in the form of milkshake mix or whey powder, but that will also depend on what else I have coming up in the day or next few days.
I have my proper breakfast when I get home (if I’m headed straight home - if not I’ll take a similar combination with me and have that when it suits). Breakfast is generally the same for me every day regardless of what I’ve done before, just with some variations in quantities and toppings. I have oats for slow release carbohydrate, some whey protein powder to help with the recovery, and some flavourings which can vary quite a bit. I love maca powder at the moment and a bit of vanilla, but sometimes I go for cacao with/without maca, plain vanilla, or cinnamon. I typically top my porridge with some natural yogurt, berries and some mixed seeds or nuts, but this can vary depending on the day and also what I feel like.
Mid morning it’s snack time – either something small if I’ve got another session coming up shortly just to top up those carb levels, or just something to tide me over until lunch if I’m not training again until later. This could be so some toast and jam or a flapjack bar and maybe a banana, or oatcakes and cottage cheese, hummus and pitta bread/rice cakes, some fruit and perhaps some milk or cheese for a little extra protein.
I tend to make sure I have a snack 1-1.5 hours before a session to keep the energy levels up and make sure I perform my best in the session, but also to ensure that I have enough time for it to be digested and not to cause any GI problems.
Lunch is one of a few options but generally some sort of variation on a tuna wrap, some salad and fruit. I also often have eggs on toast or beans, a thick homemade soup with lots of veg, lentils and sweet potato, or cous cous salad, but it will depend a bit on what I have coming up later in the day.
In the afternoon it’s a similar story for snack time as the morning, or I might have some homemade banana bread or something else I’ve made if I want something a bit sweeter and I don’t have a session in a couple of hours time.
Dinner is often similar as it makes life easier, at the moment I’m loving a bed of spinach and lettuce, some sort of grain – cous cous/quinoa/bulgar wheat – or potato and then a mixture of vegetables (leek, courgette, broccoli, green beans, peppers etc. depending what I have in) and a protein source (typically white fish, salmon, tuna or chicken) on top with low sugar ketchup and sriracha for some extra flavour drizzled over the top.
Other easy options I go for are fajitas, a quick Thai chicken curry and rice, varying stews or curries in the slow cooker (especially good in winter or when short of time), turkey mince made into a Bolognese-style dish, bean burgers, or a lentil and veg mix.
I often have a post-dinner/pre-bed snack too to keep those glycogen levels topped up to the fullest overnight ready for the next day and to help with the recovery process overnight. This can be anything from some more porridge, rice pudding and jam, banana and custard or a bowl of cereal. I also have a small addiction to hot chocolate and tend to have one (or two or three) in the evenings before bed with milk, or just a big mug of hot milk sometimes with some added flavour.
I tend to prefer to run or do my bike sessions in the afternoons so I’ve had a chance to recover from the morning swim and refuel adequately with breakfast, snacks and a bit of lunch so I’m raring to go again. Unfortunately that’s not always possible, or the session I have calls for a different time because of the nature of it and where I want to go and do it etc. You have to be a bit flexible and try to fit things in and make it work. One thing I always try to do though is plan my day the night before, and also look ahead several days so I can make a rough plan and timetable in my head.
When I know what I have coming up I can be prepared for it, make the best use of the days and ensure that my fuelling is adequate and appropriately timed around the sessions. One thing that I’ve learnt to be really important is planning ahead and knowing what the sessions are and how intense. It’s easier then to plan how you’re going to fuel them, both before, during (if needed) and afterwards so you can just get on with it and focus on the training, knowing that the fuelling and energy is there and already planned so you don’t have to worry.
During the day I love to wear my Sundried Solaro women's leggings as they’re super comfy and soft, and really stretchy – perfect for whatever I get up to in the day. They are also quite tight which gives that compression-feel to them which I love and without the need for full on compression wear. Using these leggings post training and races I’m sure has contributed to my recovery and helped my legs feel fresh and ready for the next session or day ahead.
It's not easy juggling everything in a day and getting the fuelling right around sessions and other daily demands. I started off doing my best on my own, using the knowledge I had and information from various resources, however more recently I’ve been working with a nutritionist (the 4th discipline) to help me get the most from my diet and perform at my best.
It is possible to do it on your own, and there’s loads of good advice and information out there if you know where too look, but sometimes it can also be too much information of what you should/shouldn’t do and when, and contradictory. Having struggled with stomach and food issues I wanted to make sure I gave my body the best chance to meet the demands of my sessions, allow me to improve and adapt with my training and to recover well which is why I chose to start working with a nutritionist, and what a difference it made!
About the author: Lucy Mapp is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
John started his sporting life as a swimmer but soon found his love for triathlon and Ironman racing. He tells us what he eats in a day to fuel his intense training.
What I have for breakfast depends on what time of day I am waking up. If I'm in the pool for 6am then I'm often not particularly hungry and a banana and/or a cereal bar does the job to start the day.
If I'm coaching for 7am then I will have a bowl of granola or porridge – something a bit more nutrient- and calorie-dense that can fill me up until lunchtime. If I don't have morning clients then a real treat for me is to make scrambled eggs and maybe some smoked salmon.
The snacks that I eat throughout the day could be anything from biscuits to cereal bars to recovery shakes or bars post-training.
This tends to be bagels, sandwiches, or leftover dinner. I like to have something simple and easy and hopefully, something that I can carry around or pick up on the fly.
This depends on how busy I am. On busy weeks, I might batch-cook a big chilli con carne, chicken casserole, or baked salmon – something that I can box up and heat up for lunches or dinner.
If I have a little more time then I enjoy taking that time to cook something a little nicer. My favourites are risotto or curry (my grandparents are Indian); my view is that food is a social thing just as much as fuel!
As an endurance athlete, my diet is mixed, balanced, but overall fairly high in energy. Personally, I never really worry too much about my intake because I enjoy my fruit and vegetables and they tend to bulk out any meal.
Life as a financially-challenged medical student, Team GB multi-sport athlete, London commuter and worker of two part-time jobs that involve being on my feet all shift brings several challenges to ensuring my dietary intake matches my energy expenditure and daily nutritional needs. I have tried low carb, gluten free, low dairy and reduced meat ‘healthy diets’ but all have left me tired, grumpy, food-obsessive and broke.
My current diet is carbohydrate-rich and full of meat, dairy, fruit and veg. My meals are planned generally based on what meat or fish are being sold at a reduced price or on a good offer. I then pair this with whatever vegetables and carbohydrate accompaniments I have to hand. I have a very sweet tooth but instead of depriving myself of cakes, biscuits, puddings etc for the sake of ‘health’, I fit these foods around fuelling for and recovering from training. For example, a few sweets before a running speed work session, a cake stop in the middle of a long training ride or chocolate custard and a banana post evening swim. Finally, I am a serial snacker. My bag is always full of cereal bars, boxes of grapes, almond snack packs and oatcakes. I don’t like to have huge meals and therefore the best way to get enough calories in the day for me is to snack regularly. Additionally, there is nothing worse than a rumbling tummy on ward round, in lectures or before cycling home.
Below is an example of what I would eat on a typical day with two training sessions and 9-5 at university.
Morning pre-swim- 1 banana and a coffee (instant with a splash of milk)
Morning post-swim- Porridge made with skimmed milk, one egg, frozen berries and chia seeds.
Morning Snack- Cereal Bar (whatever brand is currently on offer)
Lunch- Chicken marinated in tandoori paste, spinach, chickpea and lentil mix (bought pre-made) and peas. Followed by a yoghurt (Again I get whatever is on offer) and grapes.
Afternoon Snack- Dark Chocolate rice cakes
Late afternoon/Pre training Snack- 1 pack of gluten free cheese oatcakes
Post Training- Tandoori marinated Chicken, brown rice and veg. Followed by strawberries and yoghurt.
When tapering for a race, offseason or when it’s been raining/icy/snowy and I’ve got the tube instead of cycling, my energy demands are obviously much lower. Therefore, on these days I would cut the number of snacks and lower my volume of carbohydrates throughout the day.
In triathlon, with all the long or intensive sessions every day (or sometimes both), it can be a challenge to give the body everything it needs. I've been on a plant-based diet for over a year now and it works perfectly for me. At the moment, with 20 to 35 hours of training every week, I need more than 4,000 calories every day.
Here's what a full day of eating looks like for me.
I start the day with a workout before breakfast. I live by the slogan "earn your breakfast". At the moment, as it's cold and dark until 9am or even 10am here in Germany, I like to go for an early swim with an Espresso and nothing else.
What I use for fuel during my workout depends on the type of session. If it's endurance or technique-based, I'll take a bottle of BCAA drink to the pool in order to protect my muscles. If it's a hard workout, for example speed work, I'll go with a carb-loaded drink and use that from halfway through the session and sip on it on the way home in the car.
Once I'm back home, I'll usually go for porridge, made with almond milk and a banana. It has everything I need: carbs, protein, calories and it's warm which is nice after a swim on a cold day.
Usually, a bike session will be next on the agenda. So, after my porridge, I'll take a break of an hour or two before I get on the bike. Again, nutrition depends: if it's a long endurance ride, I'll go with mostly water and electrolytes. If it's a hard workout, I'll take my race drink on the bike in order to be able to keep pushing hard watts.
After the ride, I always have the same: banana, crushed ice, peanut butter, vegan protein powder, almond milk, sprouted seeds, maybe some frozen berries, and some more fruit if I feel the need. This is the perfect fuel as it helps my immune system to stabilize again and it boosts my protein for the day.
I'll take another break then it's time for a run. If the run is slow for recovery and/or technique, I'll not eat anything and will have some water about 45 minutes before I go.
If it's a hard run, such as intervals, I'll try to get some carbs in. This might be in the form of (yet another) ripe banana with waffles and chocolate cream. I eat what I feel my body needs at the time.
After my run, I'll drink some water and maybe take some Gluatmin or BCAA again until it's time for dinner. Dinner is mainly vegetables - anything you can imagine, heated in whatever way is easiest. I'll have a base of carbs, such as rice, quinoa or wholewheat pasta. Added to that, I'll have fat such as an avocado, nuts, or seeds.
1 or 2 hours after that, I sometimes feel the need to eat before going to bed. This could be some sort of soy yogurt with a few nuts and cacao nibs. I've found that for myself, if my body is crying out for something, I get it and have it!