While some things can’t be stressed enough — like eating enough fruits and vegetables — getting enough protein, it turns out, isn’t one of them. The popularity of high-protein foods in health food stores and fitness studios may leave you thinking that you can’t overeat protein, but you actually can and it can be very detrimental to your health. “Most men already get enough protein from their diet so there is no need to supplement,” says Stacy Goldberg, MPH, RN, BSN, CEO and founder of Savorfull. “Too much protein can cause issues with overall health and sports performance. Your body can only utilize 20-25 grams of protein at once, any excess gets broken down to use for energy or is stored as fat meaning it can actually cause weight gain. It has also been associated with kidney problems and dehydration because protein breaks down into urea and gets eliminated in urine. If you’re consuming more than the recommended amounts it’s imperative that you’re drinking extra fluids.”
That doesn’t mean protein isn’t essential, especially for the active male. Post-workout protein-rich foods and smoothies will not only help you feel full, they’ll help rebuild the muscle tears that happen as a natural part of working out. Protein is also one of the most important building blocks of bones and high-protein meals have been shown to help with weight loss. Further the combination of consuming high-quality protein and regular physical activity can help slow age-related muscle loss. However, too much of a good thing is still bad.
So how much do you actually need?
The average man needs 56 grams of protein a day (or, about 0.8 grams/kilogram body weight), and according to the Institute of Medicine, per WebMD, should get between 10 and 35% of their daily calories from protein. If you’re a male in the active stage of serious bodybuilding then you need closer to 1.5 to 2 grams/kilogram body weight. Regular exercise however doesn’t call for extra protein. It’s also worth noting that according to every national nutrition survey from the last six decades, American men getting enough protein, while falling short of many other vitamins and nutrients that don’t get nearly the attention they deserve (think vitamin A, C, K, and zinc).
Soy, Casein, Hemp, Whey…there are so many protein sources…what’s the difference?
Proteins are either animal-based or plant-based. Goldberg recommends avoiding protein powders: “In general men get enough protein from their diet so there’s no need to opt for powders. Real food is always preferred because it’s accompanied by other useful nutrients as opposed to highly processed protein isolate.” Note, however, there are major differences when it comes to quality and calories of various protein powders so make sure to check nutrition labels if you are consuming powders. You’ll also want to consider your goal as not all are created for the same purpose — whey, for example, is best for a morning smoothie because it’s quickly digested, while casein is one of the best for muscle gains and recovery.
Watch out for protein bars
Performance bars are a workout staple, but those with 20 to 30 grams of protein, “provide much more protein than people need,” says Goldberg. “Unless you are a bodybuilder, much of the protein that is eaten in a performance bar is stored as body fat. Excess protein intake over long periods of time can result in bone thinning. Also, as mentioned, kidney function declines as we age, and a high intake of protein accelerates that process.” Goldberg goes on to explain that it’s imperative to avoid all bars with artificial sweeteners, colors, and dyes and with ingredients from non-whole food sources. Instead look for one with healthy unsaturated fats and fiber like the Strong & Kind bars.
So where should I get my protein?
Like with the protein bars, your other protein sources should all have fiber, healthy fats, and be made with very little sugar and only “real” ingredients. “Go for the animal and plant sources like meat, eggs, fish, cottage cheese, beans, quinoa, oatmeal, lentils, nuts, and Greek yogurt,” suggests Goldberg.