We’ve discussed in past posts why protein is important. But how do you know if you are getting enough.
Before we dive right in and talk about whether you’re getting enough protein in your diet, it’s important to point out a few groups of people who are at risk straight away.
Pregnant and Lactating Women
The body needs extra nourishment, calories, and yes… protein during this time in a woman’s life. Not only does her body need extra nutrition to manage the extra load on her body, the fetus also needs nourishment. Generally speaking, pregnant and lactating women need about 70-75 grams of protein a day.
Athletes need additional protein to repair muscle and tissue damage incurred during exercise. For example, a runner goes for a long run and as part of that exercise they experience small muscle tears (which are natural and normal).
To repair those tears and become stronger, protein is required. It’s even more important for athletes that do any type of strength training. The amount of additional protein that’s required depends on the type of exercise, the intensity, and of course the age and gender of the athlete.
“The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that although athletes only need about 1 gram of protein per kilogram to maintain muscle mass, they require 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram to build muscle mass; this is equivalent to about 0.64 to 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day.”
When you’re sick, it’s often a good idea to make sure you’re giving your body a little extra nourishment. However, nourishment for the common cold is much different than it might be for someone who has a chronic illness or is dealing with something more serious, like cancer. In fact, cancer and chronically ill patients have a much higher need for protein. Having enough protein is important for healing, fighting infection, and having enough energy.
Beyond these three potential situations, there are times when you may not be getting enough protein. If you’re dieting, a vegetarian, or just super busy, you may fall below your daily protein requirement.
Signs You’re Not Getting Enough
- You’re getting sick too often. Sure, everyone gets one or two colds each year. However, if you find that you’re sick more often than usual or you get sick after a big workout, then it’s a good sign that you’re not getting enough protein.
- You’re exhausted. Your body needs protein to thrive and survive. If you’re chronically tired, take a look at how much protein you’re consuming. It also makes sense to look at what else you’re eating. Starchy carbs, for example, can cause blood sugar fluctuations that can lead to fatigue.
- You’re always hungry. If you find that you’re always hungry, try fueling with protein. It leaves you feeling full longer and helps balance your blood sugar levels.
- You’re craving meat. If you’re craving meat, there’s a very good reason why – you need protein. Now, you don’t have to eat meat to get protein. Remember that beans and rice in combination provide a complete protein.
- You’re sore. If you have sore and achy joints or muscles from exercise or illness, try increasing your protein intake by a few grams.
- Hair, nails, and skin are suffering. These tissues need protein to stay healthy and strong. They’re also one of the first signs that you’re not getting enough protein.
- You’re healing from illness or injury. We talked about the fact that an athlete who undergoes a strenuous workout needs extra protein to heal those damaged tissues. The same is true if you’re healing from an injury, illness, or surgery. A broken arm requires extra protein. A surgery, even a minor surgery, puts stress on your body. You need a little extra protein.
- You’re under chronic stress. Stress puts a heavy burden on your body. If you’re under chronic stress, please make sure you’re eating nutritiously and getting enough nutrients, including protein.
If you recognize any of these signs, symptoms, or issues in your own health and wellbeing, then the solution is relatively simple. You’ll want to add a bit of protein to your daily diet and then assess how/if things improve. Keep in mind that some symptoms may improve within a day or so, other symptoms may take a bit longer.
Tips to Get More Protein in Your Diet
If you’re not sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet and you have weight loss or health goals that require more protein, then there are a few simple steps that you can take.
- Eat breakfast. If you are a breakfast skipper, simply adding this meal to your day can help ensure you’re getting enough protein. If you aren’t an “eggs and toast” kind of person, you can get protein from nut butters, whole grain hot cereal, yogurt and fruit, or even a simple smoothie.
- Swap snacks. Eat nuts, yogurt, cheese, and other protein heavy snacks instead of carbohydrate heavy snacks.
- Eat more vegetables and grains. When we think about protein we often focus on eating meat, dairy, and eggs. Yet as mentioned, there are many veggies that are high in protein, including beans. And grains like quinoa and spelt are high in protein. If you’re looking to increase your protein and improve your health, then explore alternative sources of protein.
- Protein at each snack and meal. Make a commitment to eat protein with each snack and meal. It’ll help you consume less because it’ll fill you up faster and keep you full longer.
- Greek yogurt. This handy little snack is packed with protein. It makes a terrific snack or even a good breakfast with fruits, nuts, and/or seeds. Top it with a bit of granola for crunch.
- Protein powder. There are many different types of protein powder to try. Some powders are strictly vegan. They’re made from rice protein, pea protein, hemp protein and so on. There are powders that are also exclusively soy. Make sure you don’t have a soy problem before you try this route.
Whey protein is popular because it’s relatively inexpensive, it’s a dairy protein, and many people find it to be more palatable than other protein powders. And then there is egg white protein to consider as well. You can put protein powder in smoothies, on your yogurt, or just mix with a glass of water and have as a snack or post-workout supplement.
- Eat protein at the right times. In addition to consuming protein with each meal, (and again, we’re not saying you have to eat meat at each meal – protein comes in many different forms), you also want to make sure you’re getting protein when you most need it.
The best/most important times to consume protein include:
- Post workout – help your body begin the repair process by consuming protein within 30 minutes of your workout.
- Before and after surgery – If you’re going to have surgery, try to bulk up on protein before your surgery and then again afterwards. It’ll help you recover more quickly.
However, if you’re going to be completely sedated or on opioids while in the hospital, then it’s important to know that your digestion slows down dramatically on these drugs. Try to avoid heavy protein like beef.
- When you’re sick or under severe stress – Illness and stress take a toll on your body’s tissues. You need extra protein and nourishment to help combat the effects on your system.
Okay, so you now know that protein is imperative for your health. You have some signs and symptoms so you know if you’re not getting enough protein, and some suggestions on how to add more protein to your diet.
Protein plays an important role in your health and wellbeing. Determine your goals and evaluate your current protein intake. Discover if you’re getting enough for your personal health needs and make adjustments as necessary. Remember to pay attention to your body. It sends signals when it’s not getting what it needs. Finally, have fun with protein. There are so many different sources of protein that boredom shouldn’t be a problem. Embrace variety and enjoy the health benefits.