Can having too much protein be bad for your kidneys?

By now, most of us know that a diet high in protein has some great health benefits such as building muscle, losing fat, and just generally helping you live a healthy life. Although, there is also an ongoing debate that too much protein can affect your kidneys. In turn, this has started to make people consider if the benefits are worth the risk.

So, we’re going to take a look and find out if too much probably really is bad for your kidneys.

Let’s dive in.

Protein: what exactly is it?

Well, a protein is a big molecule that is made up of much smaller compounds, called amino acids. If you’d like to make it a little easier, think of amino acids as the “building blocks” of all of the body’s tissues, such as:

  • Muscles
  • Skin
  • Nails
  • Hair

Now, our bodies are able to synthesize 12 of the amino acids required, however, the other 9 need to come from the food we eat. This is why we need protein in order to survive.

Why do we think too much protein is bad?

Our kidneys are vital organs that have many important jobs, like the following:

  • Producing hormones
  • Filtering the blood to remove any waste products
  • Maintain a healthy pH level
  • Regulate blood pressure by adjusting sodium balance

When your body metabolizes protein, it produces something called urea. Our kidneys cleverly remove this from our blood and get rid of it through our urine.

Meaning that the more protein you consume, the harder your kidneys work to flush out all the urea. This is the apparent problem, the increase in urea production causing your kidneys to work overtime, damaging them in the long run.

Well, is too much a bad thing?

There is some research that shows a connection between high protein diets and diminished kidney function, especially in those who have been diagnosed with kidney disease. Not only that but there is some research conducted on animals that suggests a protein-filled diet could heighten the risk of developing a kidney problem.

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However, as we’re not always able to relate results from animal studies to humans, we’ll take these results with a pinch of salt. There may be evidence that highlights problems with rodents and kidney disease patients, but there isn’t anything concrete to imply it’s harmful to those will a clean bill of health.

In addition, if we take a peek at these randomized-controlled trials, the results showed that almost all participants consuming a high protein diet had no negative effects with regards to their kidney function.

Researchers at Nova Southeastern University have conducted many other studies and discovered that a protein intake of 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day had no unpleasant effects.

Despite the fact that this may have sounded a bit scary at first, it’s rather simple really. Of course, our kidneys will have to work harder to remove the urea when we consume larger amounts of protein, but it’s not something they can’t handle.

Anyway, how often do you look at the news and find out that something else is bad for us, all the time, right? It’s also said that too much water can be bad for your kidneys. But no one out there is going to tell you to drink less water now, are they? Drinking water and eating protein are two very normal things that our bodies need and our kidneys are more than capable of.

How much protein do really need?

Right, so there isn’t a definitive amount as this is different for each individual.

There is a recommendation that all those between the ages of 17 and 90 should be consuming 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, as a minimum. You’ll maintain muscle and feel much more energetic when you’re eating the correct amount of protein. Although, if you’re someone that is wanting to enhance muscle growth, then you’re gonna want to eat more than this.

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If you like to keep physically active, particularly weight training, you’ll definitely want to be eating more than the above recommendation to help your body build new tissues and repair. But, it isn’t very clear as to how much more you should consume as this is part of a neverending argument amount scientists. Not only this, but it also depends on your body goals.

Whilst in a cut?

So, during your cut, you’re restricting your daily calorie intake in order to shift excess weight, but then your body doesn’t have loads of fuel to burn. As your fat and glycogen stores are likely also depleted too, you’re forcing your body to use muscle as an energy source. The good news, eating protein would actually prevent this, so it would then make sense to increase your intake.

The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism published a review recommending to those who are wanting to preserve muscle and shed fat, that they should consume 0.8-1.1 grams of protein per pound of body weight, per day.

A quick internet search and you’ll also find loads of other reviews and guides out there telling you how much protein you should be eating. However, we’d say a sensible target to aim for is 1.1-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day.

When bulking or maintaining?

Right, guys, when you’re maintaining your weight or bulking, you likely already know that you can take it a little easier with your diet in regards to protein. This is because your body is unlikely to use muscle for fuel when it’s got more calories to go for.

Another review from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has claimed that 0.55-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is more than enough to support muscle gain, as long as your daily calories are at or above expenditure.

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Due to the fact that eating at the top end of this range will likely maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain, the above protein intake is a sensible aim. Although, we’d recommend slightly more, between 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day whilst you’re bulking or maintaining.

Our conclusion

As we’ve now unearthed, there isn’t really much evidence to suggest that too much protein is going to cause a problem, particularly if you’re a healthy person with no pre-existing kidney conditions.

We’ve given you some great advice on the right protein intake if you’re cutting, bulking, or maintaining for you to adjust appropriately. It’s important that you ensure you’re getting the right level of protein into your diet to give you enough energy for workouts and everyday life.

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