(Sometimes a reader will email me a question that needs a full article to answer properly, and sometimes it’s an answer I think others will benefit from hearing. This is one of those times.)
QUESTION: I’ve always seen people (including you) recommend that people trying to lose fat or build muscle should eat a high protein diet, with the exact recommendation most often being 1 gram per pound of body weight. Sometimes a little lower, sometimes a little higher.
However, I recently read that an intake this high could be dangerous – particularly for the kidneys – and it should therefore be avoided. But is this really true? Is eating too much protein bad for you?
ANSWER: Ah yes, the good old “is too much protein bad for you” question. It’s a question that is most frequently asked by a misinformed diet-conscious person who – in their quest to learn how to lose fat or build muscle better or faster – somehow came across some crappy article from some crappy source claiming some crappy crap about the dangers of eating too much protein.
Yup, that would be the very same macronutrient they were previously told to eat a lot of because of how required it is for gaining muscle and how beneficial it is for losing fat. And now they just found out that they are apparently already eating a supposedly “dangerous” amount of it!
Oh no! Ohh noooo!!! Whatever will they do?!? Whatever will YOU do?!?
Well, my suggestion is simple. Relax, take a deep breath… and watch me explain why it’s bullshit.
First… How Much Protein Are We Talking About?
Let’s define “high protein” in the context of this article.
I’m talking about anything in the range of 0.8-1.3g of protein per pound of body weight, as that covers pretty much every sane and intelligent recommendation you’ll see in the diet and fitness world these days.
(Note: Just a quick reminder that this recommendation does not apply to those who are very overweight. As in, obese. In those cases, my recommendation is to use your goal body weight rather than your current body weight, as your calculations will be greatly overestimated due to the excessive amount of fat currently on your body. For everyone else… use your current body weight.)
Second… Who Are We Talking About?
Let me make this quick and simple.
Are we talking about sedentary men and women? No.
Are we talking about anyone with any preexisting kidney problem of any kind? No.
Are we talking exclusively about typical healthy adults who are working out for the purpose of building muscle or losing fat (or some related goal), and/or people who are trying to maintain muscle while losing fat? Yes.
Clear on everything so far? Good.
Third… How Much Is “Too Much”
Alright, there’s something that’s bugging me here and I need your permission to be slightly… annoyingly… anal about it. More so than usual. Just for a second.
Permission granted? Awesome. (If not, feel free to skip ahead to “So… Is Eating Too Much Protein Bad or Safe?” below.)
Technically speaking, “too much” of something is, by definition, guaranteed to be “too much.” That’s why words mean things. Too much means too much, and “too much” of something is always going to be bad for you otherwise it wouldn’t be considered “too much” in the first place.
Which means, the true answer to the question of too much protein being bad for you is yes. Too much of anything is bad for you. That’s why we use the words “too much” to describe it.
However, this bit of annoying logic needs to be ignored in the context of this article, because we’re not using the technical objective definition of “too much.” Rather, we’re using more of a subjective misinformed definition that people typically associate with being “too much” when it comes to eating protein… and by that definition we’re still talking about the very same 0.8g – 1.3g per pound of body weight range that you already know we’re talking about.
And so… what we’re REALLY answering here is whether this high of a daily intake of protein truly qualifies as being “too much” and therefore “bad” for you in some way.
I feel better now.
Back to the point!
So… Is Eating Too Much Protein Bad or Safe?
Simply put: it’s safe.
Even more simply put…
There is literally no research in existence that shows otherwise, and plenty of research showing that protein intakes as high as 1.3 grams per pound of body weight (here’s a study) and even 1.5 grams per pound of body weight (here’s a study) – which, by the way, is just over 4 times the stupidly low “official” RDA – are indeed completely safe.
And not only is it safe in terms of kidney function, but it’s also safe in terms of everything else… including whatever other nonsense you may have heard a diet this high in protein would be bad or dangerous for.
Turns out that’s all bullshit, too.
In fact, in addition to consistently supporting all of the muscle building, muscle preserving and fat loss related benefits we are eating this much protein for in the first place, studies also show that higher protein intakes may have positive effects on everything from blood pressure to diabetes to bone health and more.
So, is it safe? Yes.
Is it beneficial? Yes.
Who ARE High Protein Diets Dangerous For?
People with preexisting kidney disease. That’s it. That’s literally it.
In these cases, protein intake should indeed be limited to some degree, the exact extent of which is something only each individual’s doctor is qualified to provide.
The Moral Of This Story
If your goal is to lose fat or build muscle (or anything similar) and you have normal healthy kidneys… eating 0.8-1.3g of protein per pound of body weight is NOT “bad” or “dangerous” or “too much.”
Rather, eating this much protein has only been found to be both safe and beneficial over and over and over again.
Which is why I recommend it.
(Wondering if there’s a limit to how much protein your body can process in a single meal? Cool. I’ve already got that covered right here: How Much Protein Can You Eat Per Meal?)