Tracking macros targets like protein can be a delicate balancing act and may leave you wondering whether it is ok to go over them.
Is it okay to go over protein macros? In terms of body composition, so long as you remain within the calorie targets for your goals, going over your protein macros will have little impact on muscle gain or fat loss. Progress isn’t about perfection, it is about consistency. So if you go over protein macros occasionally you won’t ruin your diet.
With that said, going over protein targets regularly could (1) compromise nutrients that come from other food or macronutrient groups; and, (2) have impacts on how your body processes protein.
Therefore, in this article you’ll learn about:
- How much protein is too much protein over your macros?
- What will happen to your body when you go over your protein macros?
- Whether you should be concerned if you go over your protein macros? And
- What to do if you go over your protein goal?
How Much Protein Is Too Much Protein Over Your Macros?
If you’re at a point where you are eating so much protein over your macro target that it is displacing nutrients from other macro groups, and you are doing this often, then you may be eating too much.
So what does that look like in a practical sense?
General protein guidelines are:
- For your everyday healthy adult, dietary recommendations suggest protein intake of around 15-20% and that it shouldn’t exceed 22-25% of your daily caloric intake.
- For people participating in a structured training program, a daily protein intake of between 20-30% will provide them with ample amounts to support muscle development and performance goals.
- For endurance and strength athletes, however, daily protein could consist of up to 30-35%, depending on exercise duration and intensity.
The 30-35% protein target for athletes is a significant amount of protein and while close to double the recommended amounts for everyday adults, is still within Recommended Dietary Allowances as defined by the National Academies Institute of Medicine.
So if your daily consumption of protein exceeds 35% of your diet, you are eating too much protein than you likely need. More protein doesn’t mean more muscle growth. In fact, you are limiting your ability to consume other essential nutrients your diet needs to support training goals.
Research has found consuming 5.5 times the recommended protein amounts did not result in any additional benefits to body composition changes for people participating in resistance training.
Protein intake within the recommended ranges allows you to optimize muscle building while still leaving adequate room for fiber, grains, fruits, vegetables, and fats, which all combined, play an important role in:
- Supporting muscle growth and recovery;
- Driving healthy body function; and
- Providing efficient energy sources to influence muscle changes.
What Will Happen To Your Body When You Go Over Your Protein Macros?
When you go over your protein macros a day here or there, not too much is really going to happen.
Your body adapts through changes occurring over time. So, providing you aren’t frequently eating above your daily protein targets, it’s unlikely you’re impacting your progress.
However, if you’re finding you are going over your protein macros frequently, the following things could happen:
- If you are eating over your protein macros and eating over your daily caloric needs, then over time this could lead to weight gain. When we chronically consume over our daily energy expenditure, energy will be stored, leading to weight gain, regardless of what we are consuming.
- If you’re eating protein over and above your dietary needs and at the expense of carbohydrates and fats, your body will start to break down protein as an energy source to fuel its function and performance. You don’t want your body to get good at this. Instead, it is better to source energy from carbohydrates and fats, allowing protein to be directed to primarily supporting muscle growth and maintenance with other macronutrients used as an energy source.
- An excessively high protein intake over time has been linked to possible kidney damage, because excess pressure is placed on the kidneys to break down protein.
- Constantly eating over your protein macros will mean you are missing out nutrients from other key food groups like fiber, fruits, vegetables, fats and grains. All of which are necessary to support muscle growth, performance and healthy body function.
- If other macronutrients have been compromised because you are eating over your protein targets, you might find yourself constipated. This happens because of what you’re not eating. Protein sources like whey, chicken and red meat etc, have no fiber, and you need fiber to help fill out your stool. Fiber draws water into your gastrointestinal tract allowing waste to pass through more freely.
You’re unlikely to experience any of those things, except maybe some difficulty on the toilet, if you have gone over your protein macros for one or two days. Though, be mindful of what could happen if you keep opting for high protein consumption above everything else.
Curious to learn more about carb to protein ratios? Check out my other articles:
Should You Be Concerned If You Go Over Your Protein Macros?
There is no need for concern if you go over your protein requirements particularly if this is infrequent and in small amounts.
When using nutrition to influence changes in your body and optimize your health, being consistent most of the time will drive your progression, not perfection. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to account for every gram of food, every day for as long as you need in order to reach your goals. This is a rigid mindset not conducive to your long-term success and it will result in an unhealthy relationship with food.
If you go over your protein macros, keep the following in mind:
- Going over your protein macros for one day isn’t really going to matter in the grand scheme of things;
- There is no ‘hard and fast limit’; and
- Focus on weekly totals versus daily totals;
Going over Your Protein Macros for One Day Isn’t Going to Matter
It would be great if your body responded to changes overnight but adaptation like fat loss and muscle gain takes time.
Deviating slightly of course for a day or two won’t impact the big picture of body composition progression.
If you’re consistent with your goals for the majority of your time, going over your protein macros for one day isn’t going to matter.
There Is No ‘Hard and Fast Limit’
Dietary guidelines are provided in ranges. There is no definitive protein number to prescribe, so while you may eat over your protein target, it’s likely that it still sits within an acceptable range.
Where you have eaten over your protein goal for a day, it is unlikely to be outside of recommended dietary ranges to the point it would have an adverse impact on your health or nutrition.
Focus on Weekly Totals Vs Daily Totals
The law of averages is important to remember when you think about nutritional habits, like your protein intake. Looking at your average protein intake over the course of a week is a helpful tool when assessing your progress towards body composition because you’re able to see trends.
Your body doesn’t reset itself overnight, it needs time to accumulate benefits and changes.
Viewing your protein intake as a weekly total is a good guide to evaluate:
- whether your protein intake is cumulatively too much over the course of a week; or
- where you have eaten over your protein on one occasion, when looking at it in the context of your total protein intake for the week, its impact will likely be negligible on your weekly protein total.
What To Do If You Go Over Your Protein Goal?
In instances where you have gone over your protein goal and you are worried about possible impacts, the best course of action is to reset and just go back to your usual nutrition and protein goals the next day. Largely consistent periods over time, not acute periods of perfection, will drive your results.
Having said that, many questions around what you should do if you go over your protein often pop up, which I’ll attempt to clarify:
- Should you reduce your other daily macros if you go over your protein goal?
- Should you reduce your protein intake the next day if you go over your daily limit today?
- Should you increase your fibre intake on high protein days?
Should You Reduce Your Other Daily Macros If You Go Over Your Protein Goal?
If your goal is fat loss within a constrained time frame, then energy balance is a priority because you need to maintain a deficit. So if you are able to reduce other macros to ensure you stay within your calorie target, this is an approach you could employ to meet that goal.
This approach is not always necessary though and may cause disordered eating as it suggests certain foods should be restricted when other foods are increased.
Should You Reduce Your Protein Intake The Next Day If You Go Over Your Daily Limit Today?
It isn’t necessary to reduce your protein intake the next day when you have eaten in excess of your protein target the day prior. Going back to eating in line with your usual protein intake is the best course of action.
Making daily adjustments to your protein and other macro targets based on your intake from the previous day is time-consuming and causes unnecessary complications. Diet recommendations are guides, not hard and fast rules.
Some strategies to help guide your mindset with this are:
- Tolerance ranges; and
For daily protein intake, give yourself a buffer of 5-10g over or under your recommended amount. This tolerance pendulum won’t be detrimental to your overall goal as you’re still encouraging continued progress over time.
Reflecting on your average protein intake for the course of the week can be helpful too. For example, using a protein target of 200g a day over a 7 day period:
- Hitting this target for each of the 7 days your average would be 200g.
- Eating 240g of protein on one of those days and maintaining 200g for the rest, your average becomes approximately 206 grams.
- Eating varying protein amounts over the week of 190, 200, 230, 200, 210, 220 and 200 grams, still gives you an average of 207g for the week.
When looking at your average intake you’re able to identify you are still in line with the target set and while having one high day can feel excessive in the moment, in the context of how you have performed over a week, that higher day, is relatively negligible.
Related Article: 30 Ways To Increase Protein Intake Without Protein Powder
Should You Increase Your Fiber Intake on High Protein Days?
Sometimes higher protein intake can wreak havoc on your guts and back you up a little.
By preferencing higher protein foods, you’re likely to limit carbohydrates which include fiber. We need fiber because it draws water into our gastrointestinal tract, helping waste pass through more easily.
If you are having a higher protein, aim for 25g-30g of fiber a day to promote healthy digestion.
Don’t pick out curtains for a house that hasn’t been built yet, you need to get the important stuff right before worrying about the details. The important stuff is knowing the nutritional protocols required to meet your goal, and following through with those protocols most of the time.
So if you are focusing on excessive protein consumption to get massive before understanding your caloric and macros needs in the context of muscle building then you have missed the point.
Going over your protein macros here and there is a minor detail in the context of a consistent approach to your nutrition goals. If you’re still left wondering what macros and protein targets are right for you, arrange a consult with a nutrition coach or dietician to assist you further.
What To Read Next
- What Happens If You Go Over Your Carb Macros (Is This Bad?)
- What Happens If You Go Over Your Fat Macros (Is This Bad?)
- How To Count Calories Without Labels (4 Ways)
- Is It Better To Hit Your Macros or Calories? (What’s Best)
- I Ate 1000 Calories Over My Limit, Now What?
- I Ate 2000 Calories Over My Limit, Now What?
- Do Macros Matter for Weight Loss? (Yes, Here’s Why)
- How To Count Calories Without Getting Obsessed (5 Tips)
- 1 or 2 Scoops of Protein Powder: How Much Is Right For You?
About The Author
Steph Catalucci | Nutrition Coach
@macronutritionau | macro-nutrition.com.au
Steph Catalucci is an online nutrition coach from Australia, working with clients all over the world. Her passion for nutrition was born through wanting to treat her body better, for health and performance. She is a strong advocate for understanding nutrition to develop informed nutritional habits that go beyond just food. Steph leverages a decade of her own nutritional experience to help people make sense of the noise and carve a path forward with their nutrition, supporting clients with whatever body composition goal they have. When not coaching or writing, you’ll find her training for her next powerlifting competition.