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May 17, 2000

Complications, Exercise and Sports

Question from Colorado, USA:

I am a fit, active, long distance runner who is a type 1 diabetic. I am 41 years old and have had no complications. I have had diabetes for 23 years. Recently I have been concerned about protein intake. I ingest about 100 grams per day. I feel I need it for muscle repair and recovery. I am concerned about protein and kidney damage. Is there a urine test I could take for proteins? If your body needs this much is it hard on your kidneys? Are there better proteins than others? I use high protein meal replacements 1-2 times per day.

Answer:

Depending on your workouts, you might well be needing 100 grams of protein daily. This is especially likely if your workouts are long, intense or involve heavy weights since these things involve more muscle breakdown as a rule than shorter, less intense workouts.

I know of no reason that this would be harmful to your kidneys as long as you are actually using the protein you ingest for protein uses. The extra load on the kidneys occurs when protein is broken down and used for energy instead of being use to build/rebuild muscle. You body will do that with any protein that you eat in excess of your actual needs (as well as doing it when your diabetes is out of control). I know of no simple home test to see if that is the case. However, doing a urine ketones test might be of some use. You would want this test to be completely negative — i.e., no ketones. This would not be a very sensitive test of whether you are eating too much protein but it would raise a red flag if you were putting a significant extra load on the kidneys.

As for the kind of protein to eat, there is some research that suggests that vegetable proteins are “kinder” to the kidneys than animal proteins. You might want to routinely get a portion of your protein intake from soy, soy beans or dried beans and lentils.

Be sure to ask your doctor to test your urine for microalbumin at least yearly. This is an early indicator of kidney stress.

BB