Protein Diet

High Protein Diets and the Risk of Dehydration

Dehydration is more than just the feeling of being thirsty, although doctors are quick to remind patients that once they have felt thirst, it is too late- they are already well on the day to dehydration. The actual condition of dehydration is an abnormal loss of body fluids which can be caused by a number of reasons. While low level dehydration can be remedied at home and typically does not cause any long term damage, moderate to severe dehydration can cause an electrolyte imbalance that can lead to a number of other more serious problems including:

– Irregular heart beat

– Shock

– Acidosis (depletion of the body’s alkali reserve which can in turn lead to acidemia)

– Acute uremia (a clinical syndrome related to renal failure)

– Possibility of death especially in infants, the aged and those in poor health.

The average woman loses about three pints of fluid each day in urine, an additional varied amount in the feces, and another two pints from the combination of perspiration and expiration. Additional fluids can be lost each day through increased heat, increased activity and through mild bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. In most cases, these additional losses will cause the body to react by feeling thirsty and having a dry mouth, especially the lips and the tongue. Drinking additional fluids, especially those with electrolytes in them can replace this lost fluid with no physical consequences. However, if the fluid deprivation is serious enough or is prolonged, it will become more serious and medical intervention will quickly become necessary.

A high protein diet, especially when it is being used by an endurance athlete may be problematic for a number of reasons including the increased risk of serious dehydration. A moderately increased protein intake may be beneficial for the athlete in training, however, once it becomes greatly increased, the risk of serious dehydration becomes increased as well. Studies have shown that a possible three out of every four Americans are chronically dehydrated to begin with. A small loss in body fluid, as little as 2-3% can lead to a negative impact on cardiovascular health and athletic performance.

The Many Roles of Protein in the Body

Most people think that protein’s only role is to build and repair muscle and that is all. These same people also think that protein is a magical element that you can eat all you want of and never get fat, but that is not correct either. Protein can be stored in the body as fat if you eat more than you need; that myth has been destroyed time and time again. Protein is also far more important than it is often given credit for being, including some very vital roles that can be negatively impacted by dehydration. These functions include:

– Maintaining ph balance of the blood

– Formation of enzymes and hormones

– Plays a role in the immune system

– Builds connective tissues

– Forms the cell membranes

– Plays a role in the central nervous system

– Helps to maintain the fluid balance in the body.

Acidemia is the abnormal acidity of the blood which can be caused by a number of factors including increased lactic acid in the muscles (Increased lactic acid build up is what makes you sore after an intense workout). Another cause for this condition is prolonged and severe dehydration especially when it is caused by intense athletic effort- for instance a strength training or endurance athlete.

Extreme Protein and Decreased Hydration in Athletes

A study working with endurance athletes showed that an average to moderately increased protein diet was acceptable but that once the intake reached what could be deemed “high”, dehydration risks increased greatly. Using 150 pounds as the average weight for the study, the participants were divided into three groups. The first group, the “low” protein group was given a diet that provided about 68 grams of protein per day. The second group, the “moderate” group were given about 123 grams of protein per day and the third group, the “high” protein group were given 246 grams of protein per day, the total making up about 30% of their daily calories, an amount that is consistent with that of the average high protein diet.

On conclusion of the study, researchers found that as the protein level went up, the hydration level went down. Standard blood work showed some troubling results as well. The blood urea nitrogen level (BUN) was abnormal, showing that there was a decrease in kidney function. Urine tests showed that the increased protein level also lead to a more concentrated urine as well.

Too much protein in the diet can be harmful for the endurance athlete as well as for the average person. The right amount of protein should be found and maintained for everyone. Increased protein can also lead to:

– Decreased levels of glycogen in the muscles and liver, further leading to dehydration as glycogen helps the muscles to retain water.

– Decreased endurance

– A lessened maximum effort

– Decreased serum glucose levels

The American Heart Association recommends that the diet contain no more than 35% of its daily calories from protein, a safe amount for anyone, including elite athletes. There are some medical conditions that should get increased protein amounts, however those people should only do so on the advice of their own doctors.

The Best Suggestion for Prevention of Dehydration

Protein is vital to everyone, from the couch potato to the weekend warrior to the marathon master- but everyone needs different amounts and levels of protein. It is very important to find the right amount for your owner personal health and activity needs, however there is also a warning that should go to everyone – drink more liquids whether you are increasing proteins or not.

Unless you are on a fluid restriction from the doctor, you should be getting enough liquids every day. (A bonus of drinking enough water is possible weight loss- many people mistake feelings of thirst for feelings of water and eat when all they needed was a glass of water).

How Protein Supplements Can Fit In

Although the suggestion of adding addition protein to the diet is not the goal, finding the right amount is. A protein supplement, especially one that has additional vitamins and other benefits, can be a good way to hit that intake goal without having to consume a lot of extra calories to do so. For the elite athlete, a quick protein supplement can be a great between-meal snack or can serve as part of the after workout recovery process.

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