Everyone needs protein, whether you’re an athlete or simply trying to lose weight. But why is protein so important? Protein works as the fuel that supports your body in building healthy tissues and cells. It is present in foods that help boost metabolism and aid in fat-burning. Proteins are long chains of amino acids that can be found in several different foods, like vegetables, beans, and seeds, but the highest sources of protein come from animals, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish.
Proteins are incredibly beneficial to the body, from our skin and hair to our digestive enzymes and immune system antibodies. Vital organs, muscles, tissues, and even some hormones in the body are made from proteins. They are involved in nearly every aspect of the body’s functions, from controlling blood sugar levels to healing wounds and fighting off bacteria.
Do You Have a Protein Deficiency?
The average person needs to eat 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, and by consuming the proper amounts of protein daily, you can burn fat and build muscle the right way. If you’re not eating enough protein, you may experience the following symptoms:
- A sluggish metabolism
- Trouble losing weight
- Trouble building muscle mass
- Low energy levels and fatigue
- Poor concentration and trouble learning
- Moodiness and mood swings
- Muscle, bone and joint pain
- Blood sugar changes that can lead to diabetes
- Slow wound healing
- Low immunity
Signs You Aren’t Getting Enough Protein
- You Have High Cholesterol
High cholesterol and triglycerides are not just caused by eating food high in fat, but can also be a result of increased inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and high-sugar diets. If you are likely to replace foods rich in protein with sugary snacks, refined carbs, and packaged convenience goods, your cholesterol can start to rise, as your liver and cells process fats less efficiently.
- You’re Feeling Increased Anxiety and Moodiness
Amino acid is the foundation for neurotransmitters, which control your mood. Proteins help the brain synthesize hormones like dopamine and serotonin that help bring positive feelings.
- Your Workouts Are Suffering
You might already be aware that protein is instrumental when building new muscle mass, but it’s also important for sustaining your energy and motivation. A diet low in protein can result in muscle wasting or muscle atrophy, fatigue, and even fat gain. No matter how frequently you work out, if your diet isn’t adequate to support tissue repair, you might not see the results you hoped for.
- You Aren’t Sleeping Well
Poor sleep and insomnia can, at times, be linked to unstable blood sugar levels, a rise in cortisol, and a decreased production of serotonin. Eating foods with protein as the last meal of the day can help with tryptophan and serotonin production, and they have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels; in fact, protein can slow down the absorption of sugar during a meal.
- You Have “Fog Brain”
Brain fog, poor concentration, lack of motivation and trouble learning new information can be signs of low levels of neurotransmitters that help you focus, including dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Neurotransmitters are synthesized in the brain using amino acids, and studies have shown that balanced diets with adequate protein can boost work performance, learning, and motor skills.
- You’re Gassy and Can’t Go to the Bathroom
There are many metabolic and digestive functions that depend on amino acid intake. If you begin to feel fatigued due to protein deficiency, your enzyme production, GI tract muscle contractions, and digestion will suffer.
- Your Pants Feel Tighter
Although they may be higher in calories at times, foods high in protein can cause satiety, so they prevent overeating and snacking. They can also help stabilize your blood sugar to allow you to retain and gain more muscle, which burns more calories all day.
- Your Menstrual Cycle Is Irregular
One of the most common reasons women experience irregular periods and infertility is due to a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The two major risk factors for PCOS are obesity and pre-diabetes or diabetes. In fact, insulin resistance affects 50-70 percent of all women with PCOS. Low protein, high sugar, or high carb diets can contribute to insulin resistance, fatigue, inflammation, and weight gain that can disrupt the balance of hormones for women.
- You’ve Been Getting Injured Frequently and Heal Slowly
A low protein diet can put you at a higher risk for muscle loss, slow bone healing, bone weakness, fractures, and even osteoporosis. Protein is required for calcium absorption and helps with bone metabolism. Research has shown that a diet high in amino acids can help treat muscle loss brought on by aging.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Every person is different and needs an exact protein level unique to them. There are several factors that play a role in your required protein consumption like weight, gender, age, and activity levels.
According to the USDA, the recommended daily minimum intake of protein for adults who are at an average weight and activity level is 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women. However, these are considered to be minimum amounts, so they may be too low if you are very active, pregnant or ill. If a woman weighs 150 pounds, she should be consuming 75 grams of protein daily, and a man who weighs 180 pounds should be eating about 90 grams. Try to remember that experts recommend getting 20-30 percent of your overall calories from foods with protein.
Top Protein Foods
Vegetarian and vegan protein options that can still provide a good deal of amino acids include all types of beans and legumes, especially adzuki beans, mung beans and lentils; nuts and seeds such as almonds, flax, chia and hemp seeds; and unprocessed ancient grains like oats, buckwheat, amaranth, farro, and quinoa.Related: 7 Longevity Benefits of Eating Plant Protein
Vegetables have a high concentration of protein, especially considering how low in calories they are. Veggies that can help boost your protein intake include spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms.
There are numerous benefits of consuming protein powders like pea protein, cricket protein, and protein made from bone broth that offer more than just protein. For instance, bone broth also supplies collagen and glucosamine, which is great for the GI tract, joints, and skin.
For meats, the best forms of protein are grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and turkey, as well as wild-caught salmon.
Protein Health Benefits
Be careful when it comes to which types of proteins you consume, as restaurants and certain grocery stores sell conventional protein that is loaded with hormones, antibiotics, steroids and other chemicals that destroy your health.
Getting sufficient protein in your daily diet can help your cholesterol levels, rebuild muscle, help with brain function, and help fight diabetes.
Try keeping a food journal for a few days to see if you are getting the necessary amount of protein in your diet. Visit websites like nutritiondata.com to check the amount of protein in the food you are eating to alter your food intake to healthier foods.Related: 10 Fat-Burning Plant Foods That Have More Protein Than an Egg