A lot of low carb dieters worry about eating too much protein. What is the recommended low carb diet daily protein amount to avoid gluconeogenesis?
Is it possible to eat too much protein on a low-carb diet? Will eating lots of protein if you’re low carb lead to gluconeogenesis? If your body goes through gluconeogenesis, does that defeat the purpose of eating low-carb? If so, how much protein is too much? And, what is the recommended low carb diet daily protein amount?
Lots of questions to consider here if you’re thinking about going low-carb. But first, some basics….
Protein is a critical macronutrient along with carbohydrates and dietary fats. Are you trying to lose weight? Specifically, more body fat? Then maybe you’re considering going to a low-carb diet plan. And, perhaps you know that the goal of a low-carb diet for many is to achieve a state of ketosis.
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is when your brain and cells are supplied with enough energy from bodyfat. It’s said that your brain’s preferred energy source is carbohydrates (this has been recently debated as some say the preferred source is fat). That’s a problem if you’re eating a low-carb diet. A low-carb diet is generally considered around 50 grams or less per day of carbs.
(Fun cocktail party fact: a 16 oz. serving of ginger ale has almost 50 grams of carbs, all from simple sugars. And ginger beer contains even more carbs; tell all your Moscow Mule loving friends!)
But the body has an ingenious way of burning fat for fuel if it’s deprived of carbs. It’s likely that our cave-dwelling distant ancestors went through periods of ketosis before the agricultural revolution. So you could say it’s in our DNA to experience ketosis.
And what do you think prehistoric clans ate to break a fast? Protein … and lots of it! Was the prehistoric caveman concerned with eating too much protein? Of course not. If anything, prehistoric man was concerned with eating too little protein. And was prehistoric man concerned for their health because of low-carb intake? Nope. (Although it’s probably true that if prehistoric man discovered how to cook pasta, they’d have eaten lots of it.)
If you’re going low-carb you’ll likely eat more protein. At least more so than you did before starting a low-carb diet.
Prehistoric tribes ate lots of protein when they could. Other than wild grasses and berries, for the most part, they ate low-carb. So it goes without saying that prehistoric people were not concerned about gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis is when the amino acids from the protein you eat is used for fuel. It’s the body’s way of saying, “Wait a minute, I haven’t been fed enough carbs to make it through the day. So I’m going to convert these protein building blocks into fuel.”
It’s sort of like processing discarded vegetable oil from a fast-food french fryer and using it for car fuel. Your car is used to burning unleaded gasoline for fuel. But in an energy pinch, will gladly convert spent vegetable fuel.
The conventional theory is that gluconeogenesis defeats the purpose of being on a low-carb diet. And, many limit the low carb diet daily protein amount to ensure ketosis is not affected protein being converted into fuiel. If you’re going low-carb you don’t want your bloodstream (your fuel line, so to speak) being flooded with glucose. That could potentially lead to stored glucose (glycogen) in the liver. Having excess glycogen leads to belly fat.
Say you manage to conquer the 72-oz Big Texan while on a low-carb diet. Does that mean that some of the protein from the massive steak will convert to glucose? Will your body start the gluconeogenesis process?
Yes. But one ketogenic low-carb diet blogger says that the dangers of gluconeogenesis are overblown and not properly understood. Though not a scientist, Amber Wilcox-O’Hearn, runs Ketotic.org and has studied gluconeogenesis [GNG] extensively. In her meta-analysis of GNG studies, she concludes in a blog post on gluconeogenesis:
“There is no evidence that we could find that consuming excess protein will increase glucose production from GNG. On the other hand, there is much suggestive evidence that it does not.
Further experiments need to be carried out to answer the question completely. We would like to see a comparison of the rate of GNG in keto-adapted dieters consuming no protein, adequate protein, or a large quantity of protein, with and without dietary fat.”
Wilcox-O’Hearn points out that this study on gluconeogenesis says that when it does occur, the rate is slow, steady and stable.
“The rate of gluconeogenesis remains remarkably stable in widely varying metabolic conditions in people without diabetes,” the authors conclude.
Wilcox-O’Hearn points to another study in her blog. This study also seems to dispel the myth that eating lots of protein will invariably lead to gluconeogenesis. It concludes, “Our data so far indicate that under almost any physiological situation, an increase in gluconeogenic precursor supply alone will not drive glucose production to a higher level….”
What is a safe low carb diet daily protein amount?
Before humans became high-carb eaters, our distant ancestors likely went through interval periods of ketosis. While in ketosis and feasting on a wooly mammoth carcass, prehistoric peoples probably didn’t get obese from eating lots of protein. These societies most likely had very effective fat-burning metabolisms. The only exception to this would be during periods of cold weather when they needed to preserve bodyfat to survive. But even during the last great Ice Age, humans weren’t excessively fat, for the most part.
Food quality is obviously directly related to health. If you’re going to eat animal sources of protein, do it from grass-fed/wild/pasture-raised sources. Quantity is probably also important. It’s probably not necessary to eat a 72-oz steak. And it’s certainly not healthy if it’s a grain-fed 72-oz steak. If you did manage to conquer a 72-oz 100% grass-fed piece of beef, would it cause gluconeogenesis? Probably. But the question remains if it’s enough of a concern if you’re on a low-carb diet.
So, what is a safe low carb diet daily protein amount to avoid gluconeogenesis? The recommended intake is approximately two-thirds to nine-tenths of a gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, you’re probably safe eating 100-135 grams of protein. Just make sure you’re eating lots of healthy natural fats. You may not crave lots of protein if you’re eating enough fats. And then you won’t have to worry about gluconeogenesis.
Are you concerned about gluconeogenesis? What’s your low carb diet daily protein amount? Let us know below….