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Protein: How much is too much and will eating a steak give me cancer?

Convenience and impatience may convince you that spontaneously drinking protein shakes will pack on muscle, giving you big(ger) biceps; a wide chest and huge, bodybuilder-like legs. Fact is, unless you push your chest, legs and bicep muscles to their maximum capacity – breaking them down at a cellular level — all of your protein consumption will be converted to energy in the form of calories. And, if you aren’t burning those calories, guess what? Those spontaneous protein shakes will not only not build muscle, they will make you fat.

Protein consists of amino acids. Eight are what we sometimes hear referred to as “essential amino acids.” Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from the food we eat.

Furthermore – and this is critical — all eight amino acids must be at the cell at the same time; otherwise protein cannot be made (by our body). It will be converted into energy, i.e. calories. And, if this energy is not used (if you sit around a lot), it will be converted into fat. So, consuming a protein shake for lunch, following the one you had for breakfast with insufficient exercise might explain why you are getting fat as opposed to muscular.

How much protein is too much protein?
My recommendation, and this is for the gym-going individual, is 1g of protein per pound of body weight. Men’s Health magazine recommends eating protein at every meal: “protein is the best nutrient for jumpstarting your metabolism, squashing your appetite, and helping you eat less at subsequent meals.”

Like all things pertaining to individuality, how much protein you need varies from person-to-person. If you workout every, single day (I do), then that ratio may work for you. However, you should always check with a doctor before engaging in any diet change. Now, back to “how much is too much,” according to the American Council on Exercise, “excess protein may lead to dehydration, because protein metabolism requires extra water for utilization and excretion.” Joanne Larsen, a registered dietician, states on her website, “Protein should comprise ten to 15% of total calories.” Ms. Larsen’s recommendations for athletes are less aggressive than mine, suggesting, “1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.” A kilogram is roughly 2.2lbs.

Power of Protein

  • Roughly 70 percent of our body weight is water, about half of the non-water mass is made up of protein.
  • Hair, nails, skin, organs, bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles are mostly made up of protein.
  • If you work out either a lot or a whole lot, the more protein your body will need. If you work out a lot or a whole lot, you probably already know this.
  • Unlike fat or carbs, protein cannot be stored for later use. The body will convert unused protein into fat.
  • Our body will let cells die, break down muscle and tissue if there is a protein deficiency to accommodate the lack. This, could quite possibly lead to – and explain — premature aging.
  • Most vegetarians are protein deficient solely as they do not eat a balanced vegetarian diet consisting of “complete” proteins. If you plan on being (a healthy) vegetarian, you should first research what foods are essential, those groups to combine and critical diets to follow.
  • One-third cup of nuts provides about five grams of protein and is equivalent to one ounce of lean meat.

Protein Content in Everyday Foods:

Eggs: One egg has about 6g of protein. Egg protein is”complete,” providing all eight of the body’s essential amino acids (See for more information on eggs)

Chicken (breast): a three ounce serving (a typical serving size) has a whopping 30g of protein. Chicken wings? Not so much; they’re mostly fat.

Steak: six ounce (the size served by most restaurants), contains about 35 – 40g of protein. However, steak is significantly high in saturated fat – 16g of it – a staggering three-fourths of the recommended daily intake. That’s a huge amount of fat to ingest in one meal, folks. Incidentally, eating too much red meat has been linked to colon cancer. See “The Protein Package

Salmon: six ounce (served by most restaurants) about 30 – 35g of protein (4g of saturated fat). Choose wild salmon. Farm raised, means the fish is packed with growth hormones. Farm raised salmon also does not always have omega 3 fatty acids (good for us!). I doubt the waiter will know if the salmon was raised on a farm, however.

Tuna: six ounce can (what you typically buy) packs 40g of protein. Beware of the mercury content. I do not recommend eating cans of tuna daily as your primary source of protein. For more information, see “Eating Tuna Safely” which includes a useful reference on how much tuna is safe.

Bacon: one slice, 3g of protein (but with all the fat, why bother?). It amazes me that people eat fried pork meat.

Milk: one cup (eight ounces) 8g of protein. (!) According to the Harvard School of Public Health “proteins found in cow’s milk have been implicated in the development of type 1 diabetes.” The article states that ongoing research “has yielded inconsistent results.”

Yogurt: varies widely. Check labels. I recommend Voskos Greek yogurt. One variety contains an incredible 24g of protein. Follow Voskos on Twitter, tell them I sent you and you could get a coupon to try this outstandingly healthy yogurt. @GoVoskos

Peanut Butter: one tablespoon contains 4g of protein. Makes an ideal snack mixed in yogurt! I recommend these brands.

Soy: there are simply too many conflicting reports on the true, if any, benefits of soy; I prefer not to recommend soy at all. Beneficial claims come from preliminary studies that are now well over a decade old; new, unbiased research have either mitigated any of those initial claims or proved them entirely inconclusive. See “What exactly is soy milk and is it really good for you?”

Just in! According to new research on, “a high protein diet during development primes the body to react unhealthily to future food binges.”

More on Protein in my book

Fat-to-Fit: 50 Easy Ways to Lose Weight, published by Vook, is now available for the iPhone, iPad, iTouch and Barnes&Noble Nook. Coming soon for the Amazon Kindle. Click here for more information and to purchase.

  • Thanks for reposting this. Some people and I this morning were just discussing the amount of protein needed. This really helps give an understanding of protein in foods along with the better choices if trying to avoid saturated fat as well.


    3:06 pm

  • Found out something interesting yesterday. Too much protein and not enough fiber can lead to kidney-stones.


    11:42 am

  • I love pork, basically cause the meat itself has less fat than beef, and I cut the fat off. Usually I do it on the braai (BBQ), but, if I have to do it indoors, I use olive oil non-stick spray instead of oil. And bacon is a little treat once in a blue moon.


    11:27 am

  • Yeah, I’ve heard about those ratios. It’s kinda hard to get that much protein in one day. What protein powder do you use after you workout? Ever try ProMaxx?

    Michael H.

    2:35 am

  • Thanks for always posting current topics as they apply to food. It is great to come back to the site and have an important article that offers insight to what we eat. It is like having a personal trainer and life coach 24/7.

    David Schoner

    2:03 am

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