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.
Despite the fact that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends consuming between 10 and 35 percent of the daily calories from protein (equivalent to 50 grams to 175 grams), people often adopt high-protein diets in the hopes of losing weight or toning up. A 2022 review published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle found there is no benefit to consuming more protein than recommended as increased consumption had no significant improvement on athletic performance—it only led to minimal muscle gain in healthy adults who were involved with resistance exercise training.
In fact, eating too much protein will do more harm than good for healthy individuals, often compromising at the expense of fiber, carbohydrates or other necessary nutrients. Eating too much protein for a prolonged period of time can place a burden on the kidneys, liver and bones, as well as potentially increase the 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.
1. You Always Have to Pee
If you feel like you always have to pee, it could be due to eating too much protein. Our kidneys can only process so much protein at once, so the waste from the protein that is being broken down may build up.
In a 2020 study published in Nutrients, researchers also found that those who adopt plant-based and low-fat dairy protein diets had a lower risk of developing kidney stones than those who eat a high meat, animal-based protein and low calcium diet. This phenomenon could be explained by the increased uric acid production for those who eat a high animal-based protein diet, leading to a greater risk of developing kidney stones.
According to a 2019 review in Nefrología, excess waste buildup from eating too much protein also creates a much more acidic environment, causing you the urge to pee all the time. Increased acid production over time may also cause problems in the bones and liver.
2. You Feel Like 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 contribute to your blue mood? Maybe, especially if your protein-to-carb ratio is way off base.
A 2018 study from Lifestyle Genomics found high protein, low-fat diets may increase the risk of depression in healthy adults. A 2020 study in Qom University of Medical Sciences Journal also revealed that a low-carb diet might also be associated with anxiety, depression and stress. These results agree with the theory that carbohydrates are responsible for releasing serotonin—your body’s “feel good” hormone, so eating a moderate amount of carbs may reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.
Still, this area of research is still underway as there are also conflicting findings, such as the 2021 study from Nutrition Reviews that showed that low carb, moderate protein and high-fat diets had no impact on the mood of non-depressive individuals. Nevertheless, focus on eating balanced portions of carbs, protein and fat by following the USDA MyPlate.
3. You’re Constipated
High-protein diets are often low in fiber, especially when your main protein sources are animal products—which can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Fiber helps move everything along your intestines, and it can only be found in plant-based foods, including whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Consider mixing up your protein intake with foods that deliver both fiber and protein, like whole grains, beans or tempeh, which can make a huge impact. You can 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.
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 to maintain it. Opting for restrictive diets—like keto—may not be your best bet for long-term health.
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 strain your kidneys, liver and bones—causing them to work overtime. Also, eating too few carbs can affect our brains, preventing us from being sharp, focused and energized each day.
5. You’re Tired All the Time
Since carbs are your brain’s main energy source, 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 heard 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 produce ketones that smell awful, like acetone (yes, the ingredient in nail polish remover!)
Trying to find a more balanced approach to macronutrient consumption will help your body get up and running on carbs again and get your breath nice and fresh once more. Try swapping out several sources of animal protein for plant versions, like whole grains and beans. You can still keep your protein intake at the high end of your daily needs while increasing your intake of healthy carbs.