Protein drinks have become more and more popular over the years, and are most commonly recognized as used by gym-dwellers. But now, it is not uncommon for average exercisers to drink them. Even use by teens and pregnant women has been on the rise!
Our bodies need protein. It is responsible for building and repairing tissues (especially muscle), and works as many chemical messengers in the body, like enzymes. Not only that, but protein (along with fat) helps raise your satisfaction and fullness. These important functions give people the impression that the more protein they eat, the more beneficial it will be. But as with everything else, there is a limit!
What’s the Right Amount of Protein?
Most people only need about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, and the upper limit for what the body can actually use is two grams per kilogram. This is really not a lot of protein at all. The Dietary Reference Intake tables suggest adult males have an intake of about 56 grams, and males age 14-18 years old have about 52 grams per day. For adult females and females age 14-18 years old, the number decreases to 46 grams per day, although those who are pregnant or lactating require about 71 grams per day.
If a deck of cards or the palm of your hand is about 3-4 ounces of animal protein (25 grams) then most people only need somewhere between 2-3 decks a day. But don’t forget, there are many sources of protein. One cup of Greek yogurt has 20 grams! So that’s going to count as one of your decks.
Consequences of Too Much Protein
People who use supplemental protein shakes choose them as an easy way to get more protein into their diets. Just one serving can give you anywhere from 10 to 30 grams of protein! But high levels of protein can be harmful to the body. The most likely result from too much protein can be weight gain if you overeat in total calories too. Extra protein is stored by the body – and not as muscle either. Not only that, but all the protein you ingest has to be metabolized and the nitrogen needs to be removed by the kidneys. Uric acid (a protein by-product) can build up, deposit in your joints and cause painful gout.
Questionable Supplement Safety
Not only do you not really need protein shakes, but they can have contaminants. Consumer Reports has found levels of heavy metals in some protein supplements and drinks. Contaminants such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium have been found in low to moderate levels per serving. But with consumers using the products regularly, this poses serious risks. The metals can build up over time in the kidneys, causing serious damage. Since protein drinks and supplements are not monitored by the FDA, it is hard to know which ones are safe.
Don’t Miss Out on Other Nutrients from Food Proteins
Instead of stressing about which protein supplement to use, think more about what vitamins and minerals you might be missing if you sip from a can or chew from a wrapper. Why not try switching up your eating habits? There are plenty of foods that can provide high levels of protein, with options for meat eaters and vegans! Egg whites, fish, edamame, lentils, low-fat dairy products and nuts are just a few of the various options that can seriously boost your protein intake the healthy way.