How much is too much protein?

Justine Hays, M.S., R.D. is back again with more nutrition tips!

With Keto, Atkins, South Beach, and low carb diets all the rage these days we are consuming more protein than ever but how much protein is too much? Can too much protein be harmful? 

Let’s start at the very basic beginning- we need protein for life. Protein is one of the building blocks for every cell in our body. We need it to carry out basic human functions like breathing, reading, cycling, and sleeping. Protein is one of the “big three”; carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Most Americans already consume more protein than is necessary (and not enough fruits and veggies).

How much do we really need to keep our body going? About .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (Math time: convert your body weight from kilograms to pounds by dividing by 2.2. Then multiply that by .8 to get the total grams of protein your body needs). For example, a 130 pound woman is 59kg. 59 times .8 is 47 grams of protein. 

What does 47 grams of protein look like? 

  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt is 12 grams

  •  3 oz chicken breast  is 19.6g

  •  Cheese stick is 6g

  •  Two tablespoons of hummus is 3g

  •  1oz turkey jerky is 8g

 That clocks you in right around 48 grams.  Pour milk in your coffee? It’s an extra 4 grams of protein per half cup. Had an egg for breakfast? That’s about 6g. Add ½ cup of black beans to your taco salad? That’s an extra 20g! Add 1 ounce of tofu to your smoothie? That’s an extra 3g. You might also be consuming more than three ounces of meat based protein. A three ounce serving is usually the size of a deck of cards. Most restaurant portions are MUCH bigger than that. 

Like anything, too much of something can be harmful. An excess of protein in your diet could be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased risk of certain cancers, increased risk of kidney or gall stones, constipation, or diarrhea. 

If you are more active, you may need to consume more protein than .8g per kilogram of body weight. Generally speaking, adding in a few high protein snacks or bigger portions of meat won’t adversely affect your health. Truly high protein diets of more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, are only necessary for elite athletes; like professionals and Olympians. 

Justine Hays is a registered dietitian with a passion for community nutrition, individual wellness and, public health and nutrition policy. She regularly writes about nutrition and wellness for a wide range of online and print publications, sharing evidence-based nutrition information in a practical and fun way. She is driven by the opportunity to improve lives through realistic and attainable lifestyle changes. Finding different ways to stay active and trying different recipes at home are her favorite ways to unwind.

Elizabeth Kamp