Photo: Getty Images / Adam Gault
In terms of healthy macronutrients, fat and carbs both have their fair share of haters, but protein is pretty much always getting good press. It's easy to see why: protein is an essential nutrient for strong bones, muscles, skin and pretty much every other part of the body, and it is responsible for thousands of different chemical reactions to make sure your body functions at its best. But that doesn't mean more is always better.
People often adopt high-protein diets to help lose weight or tone up, but research shows it's probably best to follow the current recommendation of consuming between 10 and 35 percent of your daily calories from protein.
An analysis of 32 studies related to protein consumption found there is no benefit to consuming more protein than recommended. Too much could be useless at worst and detrimental at best for healthy individuals—in no small part because eating that much protein often comes at the expense of fiber, carbohydrates or other necessary nutrients. Eating too much protein for a prolonged period of time can cause a metabolic burden on your kidneys, liver and bones, as well as potentially increase your risk for heart disease and cancer.
Here are a few major warning signs to tell if you might be packing too much protein into your day.
Related: The 10 Best Vegan Protein Sources
1. You Always Have to Pee
If you feel like you always have to pee, it could be due to excess protein consumption. Our kidneys can only process so much protein at once, so the excess starts to build up.
Protein buildup in the kidneys creates a much more acidic environment in the kidneys, causing you to have to pee all the time. Increased acid production can also cause problems in the bones and liver.
Side effects start with mild dehydration but can lead to the development of kidney stones, which are intensely painful. One interesting note—researchers found that plant and dairy proteins had a much lower negative effect on renal function than nondairy animal protein (meat) did. Time for some more vegetarian protein options?
2. You're in a Funk
A high-protein diet might have helped you tone up for summer or get closer to your goal weight, but could it also be contributing to your blue mood? Maybe. Especially if your protein-to-carb ratio is way off base.
Carbs run the show in your brain, telling it what to do and how to do it. Carbohydrates are specifically responsible for releasing serotonin—your body's "feel good" hormone. One study from the American Medical Association on the psychological effects of low-fat and low-carb diets found that people who adhered to a high-protein, high-fat and low-carb diet for a year experienced more anxiety, depression and other negative feelings than those on a low-fat, high-carb, moderate-protein diet.
Related: 6 Reasons You Should Be Eating Carbs
3. You're Constipated
High-protein diets are often low in fiber—especially when your main protein sources are from animal products—which can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Fiber helps move everything along through your intestines, and it can only be found in plant foods.
Simply mixing up your protein intake with foods that deliver both fiber and protein, like whole grains, beans or tempeh, can make a huge impact. Also, try ramping up your fruit and vegetable intake to get way more health benefits than just getting regular again. Think protecting your body from chronic diseases and weight gain, and keeping your gut healthy, just to name a few.
Related: 3-Day Meal Plan to Help You Poop
4. Your Weight Is Creeping Back Up
High-protein diets are often praised for helping people drop a dress size or two in as short as a week—but the long-term effects aren't as desirable. Following a high-protein diet often means eating very few carbs, which isn't sustainable for most of us in the long run. This can lead to food cravings and less energy to get your morning workout in, and can make you regain the weight you worked so hard to lose.
Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist who has spent years studying the brain-weight link. She told EatingWell, "Don't do anything to lose weight you're not willing to do forever." This is because your brain can certainly adjust its behaviors once you lose the weight, but it needs you to continue your efforts in order to maintain it. Opting for restrictive diets—like keto—may not be your best bet for long-term health after all.
5. You're Tired All the Time
Even if you're someone who gets those coveted eight hours of sleep every night, eating too much protein can still leave your body tired for several reasons. First, we now know that overconsumption can put a strain on your kidneys, liver and bones—causing them to work overtime. Also, eating too few carbs can really affect our brains—preventing us from being sharp, focused and energized each day.
Since carbs are your brain's main source of energy, you probably want to increase your intake of healthy ones, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, to get you back to your best. Not only can this help you get your energy back, but you'll be getting more of the vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs to be healthy and happy overall.
6. You Have Bad Breath
If you or someone you know has tried the keto diet, you've likely head of the term "keto breath." This happens when you're focused more on consuming protein and fat instead of healthy carbs: your body has to adjust and produces ketones that smell awful, like acetone (yes, the ingredient in nail polish remover!).
Trying to find a more balanced approach when it comes to macronutrient consumption will help your body get up and running on carbs again and get your breath nice and fresh once more. Simply swapping out several sources of animal protein for plant versions—like whole grains and beans—each week will still keep your protein intake at the high end of your daily needs, while increasing your intake of healthy carbs.