Considerable debate has taken place over the safety and validity of increased protein intakes for both weight control and muscle synthesis. The advice to consume diets high in protein by some health professionals, media and popular diet books is given despite a lack of scientific data on the safety of increasing protein consumption. The key issues are the rate at which the gastrointestinal tract can absorb amino acids from dietary proteins (1.3 to 10 g/h) and the liver’s capacity to deaminate proteins and produce urea for excretion of excess nitrogen. The accepted level of protein requirement of 0.8g · kg−1 · d−1 is based on structural requirements and ignores the use of protein for energy metabolism. High protein diets on the other hand advocate excessive levels of protein intake on the order of 200 to 400 g/d, which can equate to levels of approximately 5 g · kg−1 · d−1, which may exceed the liver’s capacity to convert excess nitrogen to urea. Dangers of excessive protein, defined as when protein constitutes > 35% of total energy intake, include hyperaminoacidemia, hyperammonemia, hyperinsulinemia nausea, diarrhea, and even death (the “rabbit starvation syndrome”). The three different measures of defining protein intake, which should be viewed together are: absolute intake (g/d), intake related to body weight (g · kg−1 · d−1) and intake as a fraction of total energy (percent energy). A suggested maximum protein intake based on bodily needs, weight control evidence, and avoiding protein toxicity would be approximately of 25% of energy requirements at approximately 2 to 2.5 g · kg−1 · d−1, corresponding to 176 g protein per day for an 80 kg individual on a 12,000kJ/d diet. This is well below the theoretical maximum safe intake range for an 80 kg person (285 to 365 g/d).
Bilsborough is an independent researcher with B Personal Pty Ltd. Mann is with the Dept of Food Science, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia.