Is Eating Too Much Protein Bad For You? (What The Studies Really Show)

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.

This range also covers my own specific protein intake recommendations for both fat loss and muscle growth, and it’s also the amount I’ve personally eaten for over a decade. Details here: How Much Protein Do I Need To Eat A Day?

(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.

Okay.

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.

(Additional relevant studies are here, here, here, here, here and here.)

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?)

49 thoughts on “Is Eating Too Much Protein Bad For You? (What The Studies Really Show)”

49 Comments

  1. Thanks for clearing that up Jay! Next time this senseless debate comes up ill be sending this link and those studies

  2. But won’t all that protein make look like all musclure like a man? Wait sorry I am a man!! Shit. But you can’t eat all that protein it’ll shut your kidneys down!! Wait I’m still alive!! I’m 43 been eating all that bad protein for years. No issues. Funny how morons can get in the heads of people trying to do something positive. Great article!!!

  3. First of all Jay, please let me thank you all the exceptionally good information you give us, and how easy is to understand to anyone, with much or little previous knowledge about nutrition and fitness.
    I have a question regarding the protein intake, when we say we have to take, let´s say 1.0 gram of protein per pound, if I have 200 pounds, this would be 200 grams of protein. Ok, but how we exactly have to count this? I mean, if I eat 200 grams of chicken breast….I´m not eating 200 grams of protein, because the meat will have more components, a bit of fat, some water.. Am I wrong? Or is precisely that what we have to take, I mean, 200 grams of a piece of what we call protein, meat or whatever we want to take the protein from?
    I hope to have explained myself right, sorry if I turn around too much, in its proper sense of too much :).

    Thanks again.

    Jaime

    • 200 Lbs you would need only a 100 grams of protein. I would think it’s impossible to down 200 grams of protein in a day.

    • Hey Jamie,

      Chicken breast consists of 25% protein by weight, so when you consume 200 grams of chicken breast the actual amount of protein consumed would be 50 grams. And as a general rule all meat contain about 25% protein by weight.

      Hope that helps.

      Jehangir

  4. so what about the people that do have pre existing kidney disease or issues and still want to build muscle but can only eat 0.8g of protein or less per pound especially if they have kidney problems may also have potassium restrictions and sodium restrictions and cant eat all the foods and all supplements regular people can eat

  5. Great Article Brutha, Jay!! I was recently working for my Local School District and I was appalled by how low the Protein Recommendations were!! It was one ounce of protein for breakfast and lunch! Perhaps that is why so many of the children who came through the ‘chow line’ were devoid of muscle and fat beside!
    They happened to notice how “buff” I was as I’ve been so blessed to experience great results from your “Superior Muscle Growth” e-book which I purchased over a year ago! THANK YOU, JAY!!

    • Always glad to hear it, May!

      Yeah, school lunch… I have a vague memory of people making a big deal about how school lunch pizza switched to whole wheat bread instead of white, as if that was the main problem/solution with school lunches. Fun times.

  6. This isn’t one of your best posts…

    While there hasn’t been any direct and conclusive study results that show that a high protein diet can cause kidney or liver problems in a healthy individual, there are at least valid reasons for considering that it might not be “great.” Chronic elevated creatinine levels probably aren’t great for you, but, more importantly, I’d refer to the studies (I’m sure you’ve seen them) that show that even the most hard-core bodybuilders show no additional benefit to eating over about .85g of protein per pound of body weight.

    I’m relatively certain that most people reading your blog are no more hard-core than those in the study, who lifted several hours per day over multiple sessions 6 days per week. Even those people showed no benefit to eating over .85g.

    All in all, I don’t think it’s safe to say eating “too much” protein being “bad” for you is “bullshit.” Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but if there’s no benefit to eating large amounts and being that protein is the most expensive macro… why do it?

    • Ehhhh, no.

      Based on 100% of the scientific research available, there is not a single thing that shows a single shred of reason to believe that a protein intake this high is “bad” for anyone other than those with preexisting kidney issues. Decades of real world experience with bodybuilders and normal people who are just into fitness/trying to lose fat/build muscle eating this amount of protein and having no issues whatsoever provides additional confirmation.

      Your argument that there might not be much (if any) benefit to eating more than .85g per pound is a completely separate topic worth discussing (and I’d suggest reading Lyle McDonald’s “The Protein Book” and Eric Helms’ work in this area, namely this study), however it is completely irrelevant to the topic this article is about and does nothing whatsoever to disprove the safety of a high protein intake.

      • For you to convince me on how much protein I need to build muscle and burn fat, you would need to show me how everyone got to that amount in the first place. My understanding is it was discovered years ago that we only need between 5 – 10% of protein for our bodies to work efficiently. Consumption in excess of our needs overworks the liver and kidneys, and can cause accumulation of toxic protein byproducts. Proteins are made of amino acids, and are, therefore, acidic by nature. Animal proteins are abundant in sulfur-containing amino acids which break down into very powerful sulfuric acid. These kinds of amino acids are abundant in hard cheese, red meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, and their acids must be neutralized by buffers found in the bones. The bones dissolve to release the buffering materials; eventually resulting in a condition of weakened bones, known as osteoporosis. Released bone materials often settle and coalesce in the kidney system, causing kidney stones. If too much protein wasn’t a problem I think regardless of previous kidney problems you would think it would be safe to consume.

          • …and, for those who want the summary of the article which is linked, here it is:

            “CONCLUSION
            Despite a widely held belief that high-protein diets (especially diets high in animal protein) result in bone resorption and increased urinary calcium, higher protein diets are actually associated with greater bone mass and fewer fractures when calcium intake is adequate. Perhaps more concern should be focused on increasing the intake of alkalinizing fruits and vegetables rather than reducing protein sources. The issue for public health professionals is whether recommended protein intakes should be increased, given the prevalence of osteoporosis and sarcopenia. Currently, little or no attention is paid to ensuring adequate protein intake for elderly fracture patients. In the hospital setting, there should be nutrition protocols in place for hip-fracture patients that include higher protein and calcium intakes. Moreover, health professionals may need to be reeducated about the important role of protein in bone health.” (2008 American Society for Clinical Nutrition)

    • Satiety factor of protein. Plus it take body more energy to break down protein. Plus it tastes awesome.

  7. Jay, I love your articles and read them and quote them to friends regularly. Thank you for all you’ve done to bring truth to the facade of an industry full of illusion and illegal drugs. That said, I’d extend a word of caution to those reading this particular article. I’m 205 lbs with roughly 11-13% body fat (I say roughly because I haven’t done a dexa scan). My protein intake has been averaging between 0.8-1.3g/lb during the last few years. During this time I have been very consistent in heavy and intensive workout routines structured for maximum muscle growth, as well as additional cardio. Lately, my doctor found a protein leak in my kidneys after I began the higher protein intake. My doctor said this protein leak was indicative of potential kidney disease if I don’t get it under control. My doctor recommended dropping my protein intake. I dropped it to the very low end of the above range (0.8g/lb) for 3 months and retook the test and was fine. The doctor wants to be sure I’m in the clear and plans yet another test in 6 months. I will be keeping my protein intake lower (0.8g/lb) as a result. I care about our workout community and particularly natural bodybuilding and realize most of you reading this are just like me; wanting to get the best gains possible and willing to do anything within good morals to get to our goal. If I didn’t know there weren’t thousands of guys out there just like me I wouldn’t bother writing this note to you. Our health comes first. I realize this is just one man’s story and thus anecdotal, but please guys, PLEASE SEE YOUR DOCTOR at-least for yearly check-ups if you are going to do this.

    • Well, here’s the thing about that. The idea that you had a kidney related issue that improved with a lower protein intake sounds about right.

      The idea that your higher protein intake was the direct cause of the issue in the first place rather than an unrelated correlation is a very different story.

      The fact that the vast majority of the population – including those closely monitored in the studies mentioned and the countless millions of people who have eaten a high protein diet for decades – had no problems whatsoever, leads me to assume that it was an unrelated correlation potentially caused by something else or really any number of combinations of things (and was already happening/would have happened regardless of your protein consumption, and perhaps a higher protein consumption made things worse as it tends to in cases where a preexisting issue exists), or that you are a very, very, very, very, very, very rare exception. Or, maybe even a misdiagnosis.

  8. Kidney function declines with age, fact. But if you have eaten healthy and looked after yourself and there is no history of kidney disease in your family, then it will be a slower decline. Most elderly people do not even know that kidneys don’t function as well as they did. Drink plenty of water is key to healthy kidneys. There is some research suggesting that 1gram of protein per pound of body form the over 60’s is a good thing along with less carbs. Keeps them leaner and potentially helps fight against dementia. So when you are over fifty like me it may well be worth getting a kidney function test once a year. I’ve eaten 1 to 1.5 grams/lb for the last 28 years. My kidney function is great, so good that the wife is having one later this year. As she has Chronic Kidney Disease (ckd), cased by vasculitis, we know quite a bit about kidneys. Time for another whole chicken and some salad.

  9. Hi!
    Great work as always 🙂
    Well – what about very VERY high intake? I have trouble getting lower that around 1,6grams per pound (I weigh 110 pounds, eeeeasily consuming 180-200g protein a day), because I “crave” protein rich foods like chicken and turkey – it’s like I was born do to paleo, haha (hahaha…. Ha… *sobbering*….)
    I eat around 2400-2500 kcal per day, so the protein does not really take up too much room from other important nutrients, but I get nervous when I hear 0,8-1,5 being labeled as high – or even *too* high, as you mention.
    Are there any studies that cover this? Would your suggestion be To try and fix my protein addiction and go down to 1,5 or stop concerning myself with this being a problem?

    • Nope, I can’t recall seeing any studies that looked at anything above 1.5g per pound.

      If I were you, I’d bring that down more towards 1.3g per pound and increase carbs and/or fat to make up the calorie difference. You’ll probably perform/recover better getting more calories from carbs than protein once protein is already set to sufficient levels.

  10. Interesting article as always Jay. One thing I’d like to add – I’ve been following a ‘high protein’ diet for some time but got knocked out by a nerve injury a couple of years ago and had to abruptly reduce my training. I continued with my 1g/lb protein diet. When I had a series of blood and urine tests the neurologist flagged up the high levels of uric acid. He told me it was because I was eating too much protein including whey protein and it was not being used because I wasn’t active enough. He recommended I cut down and drink a lot more water. I’m just wondering how many folk following this way of eating have even had their levels tested? I was advised this wasn’t an ideal situation for my health. I would fall into the category of someone with no underlying kidney condition who’s generally healthy apart from Piriformis problems.

  11. Jay great article! I think you could have killed 2 birds in one shot if you would have mention that whey protein is safe as every other source of protein since this question is the cousin of the question you have been answering originally. 🙂

  12. Hey Jay,

    Say I go with 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (at weight of 140 lbs that would be 140 g/day).

    To hit 140 grams do I only count complete proteins (but not say bread, rice, potatoes, jello….). If i don’t count the incomplete proteins (and then add in the 140 grams from mainly meat) my protein numbers will be even higher. What amount (or percentage) needs to come from high quality protein?

    Thanks,
    M

  13. I just saw this blog post and was compelled to reply as a 40 year old who had kidney disease, was on dialysis, and now had a transplant. Pre-transplant I was advised to restrict my protein intake to prolong my kidney function. On dialysis & gout, your diet is so restrictive you are more worried about your phosphorous, calcium, and potassium levels so as to not provoke a heart attack or bone leaching. You will not have the energy to workout, at all. In addition, your immune system is compromised, so your body will start eating away at your muscle tissue that you will wind up not being able to open up a jar of peanut butter. Now post-transplant (8 months!!!), I was encouraged to eat lots of protein to help with the healing process. Hospital dietitians would give me little premier protein cartons to drink a couple of times a day, which I credit to helping me heal from various ureter and bladder leaks after 5 surgeries. So now with a new kidney, lots of energy, and no muscle; I embarked on a weight training journey to get my strength back. Under my nephrologist’s supervision of course, I am hitting more than 200g of protein every day with no ill effects. The only thing he prohibits me from taking is creatine, because they measure that in my urine tests and do not want to see artificial spikes they might misinterpret. Some weeks I try to eat more beef to get some natural creatine in my body. Now that my immune system is suppressed, building muscle is a necessity so my body can break it down when it needs to fight some infection. As such, eating lots of protein is a must if I want to build some muscle.

    So that’s just a brief insight into my protein intake with kidney disease & now as transplant recipient. Thanks Jay for your insight on this weight lifting journey. Your wit, humor, & training advise is appreciated.

  14. I just adore your “anal” digression re “too much” by definition and how words get to mean things. After my own heart!
    Lots of great common sense here, clearly stated.
    Thank you.
    Ela (pronounced eela)

  15. I read a similar article that stated 1g per pound of body weight is a good amount of protein, however it called out fat free mass as the weight that should be used for the calculation. so if I way 200lbs and have 25% body fat, my fat free mass is 150lbs, so I should shoot for 150g of protein per day. Or are you saying I should be eating 200g? Also, if I’m on a caloric deficit right now to lose some of that body fat, should that factor in at all (in other words, as I decrease calorie intake, do I keep protein steady and decrease carbs and fat, or do I decrease all three)?

    • Since most people don’t have an accurate idea of what their lean body weight is, recommending they just use their total body weight instead tends to be a lot simpler and easier and errs on the side of slightly more protein rather than slightly less.

      The exception to this would be people who are very overweight in which case target body weight should be used.

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