Is too much protein bad for your kidneys?

It’s fairly common knowledge that eating a high-protein diet comes with its own set of benefits from helping you to build muscle, lose fat and generally live a healthy life. However, with that said, the idea that a high-protein diet can affect your kidneys has been floating around for some time now too. Unsurprisingly, it’s starting to make people wonder if those health benefits are worth the risk.

Today we’re going to find out if too much protein really is bad for your kidneys.

Right, let’s go.

What is protein?

So, a protein is a large molecule that is made up of a chain of smaller compounds, known as amino acids. To make it easier, think of amino acids as the “building blocks” to all the tissues in the body, including:

  • Hair
  • Skin
  • Nails
  • Muscles

Our bodies are able to synthesize 12 of the amino acids it needs, however, the other 9 must come from the food we eat, which is why we need protein to survive.

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Why is it thought that too much protein is bad?

Our kidneys are a vital organ and perform many roles, such as:

  • Filtering blood to remove any waste product
  • Regulate blood pressure by adjusting sodium balance
  • Maintain a healthy pH level
  • Create hormones

Urea is a substance created when your body metabolizes protein, our kidneys then remove this from our blood and flush it out through our urine.

This means that the more protein you eat, the more work your kidneys will have to do to flush out the urea. It’s said that this increased urea production causes damage to our kidneys over time.

Is too much protein bad for your kidneys?

Some studies have shown that there is some sort of connection between a high protein diet and decreased kidney function, particularly in those diagnosed with kidney disease. There is also some animal research showing that protein-fuelled diets could increase the likelihood of suffering from kidney problems.

Although, it’s not possible to fully draw conclusions from these studies as they were observational. This means that they can only show that one thing is associated with another, not that one causes the other.

Not only that, but we’re not always able to relate animal studies to humans. Whilst there may be some evidence that a diet high in protein may cause a problem for rodents and those already suffering from kidney disease, there is nothing to suggest that it is harmful to healthy people.

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Anything else?

Additionally, if we were to look at some randomized-controlled studies, almost all of them showed that a high protein diet has no negative effect on kidney function, in people who have healthy kidneys.

Many other studies conducted by a team of researchers at Nova Southeastern University found that protein intakes of 1.5-2 grams per pound of body weight, per day, consistently showed results of no adverse effects.

So, even though it may have sounded a little scary earlier, it’s quite simple really. Yes, our kidneys may have to work a little harder to remove the urea from large amounts of protein, but it is still well with their capabilities.

Too much protein isn’t the only thing that people say is bad for your kidneys, apparently drinking too much water is too. Now, you wouldn’t hear anyone telling you drinking less water is better for your health, would you? Eating protein and drinking water are things that are kidneys are more than equipped to handle.

Protein: how much do we really need?

The amount of protein we need to consume varies from person to person.

It is recommended that people aged between 17-90 years old eat at least 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. Eating the correct amount means you’ll maintain muscle; however if you’re wanting to boost muscle growth, you’ll likely need to eat more.

If you’re someone who is physically active, especially if you lift weights, then you’ll need to eat more than the above amount to help your body repair and build new tissues.

However, the exact amount is unclear and part of a continuous debate amount scientists and is dependent on your body’s goals.

Protein intake whilst cutting

When you’ve restricted your daily calorie intake in order to lose weight, your body then doesn’t have tonnes of fuel to use. As fat and glycogen stores are likely also limited too, our bodies are then forced to use muscle as an energy source.

Well, eating protein would prevent this so it would then make sense to increase your intake whilst in a cut.

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

There are also plenty of other reviews and guides out there telling you just 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.

How much protein do we need whilst bulking or maintaining?

When you’re maintaining your weight or bulking, you can take it a little easier with your diet with regards to protein as 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 stated that 0.55-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is plenty to support muscle gain as long as your daily calories are at or above expenditure.

As eating at the top end of the range will likely maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain, this is a rather sensible thing to do.

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We’d recommend between 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day while you’re bulking or maintaining.

The bottom line

So, as we’ve now discovered, there is no evidence to suggest that too much protein is a problem if you’re a healthy person with no kidney conditions.

We’ve given you some great guidance on the right protein intake if you’re cutting, bulking or maintaining so you can adjust accordingly. Just make sure 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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