What Happens To Your Gut When You Eat Too Much Protein

When you're on a diet that promotes increasing your protein intake (like Paleo, Atkins, or Keto) or you're simply a fan of reducing your carb intake and focusing more on protein, you may have wondered how this macronutrient is affecting you inside. For regular athletes, weightlifters, and runners, the advice is to load up on protein for muscle recovery and growth. But while protein is essential for healthy hair, skin, nails, muscles, bones, and overall health, it is easy to get carried away and consume too much (there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, after all). 

One of the ways in which too much protein can impact your life is through your gut health, especially if you're getting your protein from animal-based products. Fiber is an essential nutrient when it comes to healthy digestion, and animal protein doesn't contain fiber. Relying on a largely animal-based protein diet, therefore, can lead to constipation, and if it's red meat, bloating and diarrhea. However, that's not the only thing that happens to your gut when you eat too much protein

Excessive protein consumption can alter your gut microbiome activity

The topic of gut microbiome, their composition, and how bacteria, fungi, viruses, and bacteriophage live in harmony with one another is both a burgeoning and interesting one, mainly because your gut health is thought to affect your overall health in so many ways. It's not just your digestion that your gut bacteria take care of. Want great immunity? Wish to ward off inflammatory health conditions? Crave better sleep? Like being in a better mood? Your gut microbiome can have a say in all of that and more. 

According to a 2022 study done on mice and published in the journal Nature Communications, consuming a diet high in protein can alter the way your gut microbiome acts, and this could lead to an inflammatory response triggered by your immune system. Basically, too much protein in your system is linked with elevated levels of bacterial extracellular vesicles, which your body considers a threat.

Commenting on the study, lead author Jian Tan shared (via The University of Sydney), "By increasing antibodies in the gut you may see strong protection against potential pathogens, for example salmonella, but on the downside, an activated immune system could mean you are at increased risk of colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, or autoimmune conditions like Crohn's." Now that you know how being focused on one nutrient can harm your health, you're probably wondering how much protein is too much

How to handle your protein consumption

Although there is a recommended daily allowance for protein (56 grams a day for adult males and 46 grams for adult females), your age, activity levels, body weight, and other factors also come into play when the topic of daily protein intake comes up. If you're unsure, work with a dietician to come up with a rough figure that fits your lifestyle. The USDA DRI Calculator is a good place to start, too. Registered dietitian Kate Patton told the Cleveland Clinic that getting in about 10% to 35% of your daily calories as protein (with adjustments for overall health and activity levels) is also a good measurement.

That being said, for meat eaters out there, it's probably a good idea to try and diversify your sources of protein. All-meat diets can deprive you of many crucial vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you can get from a balanced diet of whole foods, grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein.

Ultimately, what happens with too much protein (and not eating enough carbs and other nutrients) is not just about your gut health. It could put stress on your kidneys and affect your energy levels too. Understanding the positive (and negative) implications of all that we put into our bodies is a good way to work the scales in your favor.