Signs You Aren’t Getting Enough Protein & Top Tips to Eat More from a Registered Dietitian

Have you ever noticed that you are hungrier than usual on days that you haven’t consumed as much protein or that your cravings are out of control? Well, these could be signs that you aren’t getting enough protein in your daily diet. There are other signs that you aren’t getting enough protein that I think you should check out if you are focused on health goals and haven’t seen or aren’t seeing as many results as you’d like. Below I’ll dive into what protein is/does for the body, how to learn to be intuitive with what you need, and tips to get more protein in on a daily basis.


What is Protein?

Protein has many functions in the human body that range from cellular growth, repair, and maintenance, enzymatic and hormonal reactions, fluid and electrolyte balance, immune support, transport and storage of nutrients, energy source, nerve function, wound healing, and blood clotting. Protein is broken down into 20 different amino acids, and nine of them are essential: they can only be obtained through our daily diet. Dietary protein can be categorized into two different types: complete protein (high quality) and incomplete protein (low quality).

Some specific roles include:

  • Eating protein can help to activate the release of satiety hormones in our brain that give us the feeling of being full.
  • When protein is broken down into amino acids, they become the building blocks for neurotransmitters that help relay information between our cells, too little can leave us feeling depressed or anxious.
  • Amino acids are also the building blocks for our muscles and aid in tissue repair, especially in times of metabolic stress/illness.


Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Protein:

  • Feeling extreme hunger or not feeling satisfied
  • Mood swings, easily irritated, enhanced experiences of depression and/or anxiety
  • Muscle loss or weakness
  • Lack of muscle growth despite weight training/regular exercise
    • Note: When our muscles and tissue aren’t replenished, we see loss of muscle mass and overall decrease in strength and physical performance. Low protein intake can also impede our recovery time because protein is present in collagen and other enzymatic reactions
  • Fatigue
  • Brittle hair, nails, and skin
    • Note: these body parts are made of proteins that include keratin, elastin, and collagen. With inadequate protein intake you may notice that your hair is not growing or is brittle and thinning, your fingernails have become ridged or misshapen, and/or your skin is flaky and dry.
  • Abdominal, wrist and ankle swelling due to low circulation of protein


How Much Protein Do You Need?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for high quality protein is 0.8 g/kg body weight per day for most healthy adults or 10-35% of total caloric intake. These values can be increased or decreased based on age, health conditions, or fitness-related goals. To find your exact needs, I would recommend talking further with a registered dietitian, like myself. 


Tips to Increase Your Protein:

As mentioned previously, protein is broken down and categorized into two different types: complete protein and incomplete protein.

  • Complete Protein: normally comes from an animal source and usually contains all the essential amino acids needed to maintain healthy growth and maintenance.
    • Animal Examples: Chicken, Beef, Turkey, Eggs, Dairy Products and Seafood
    • Plant Examples: Soy Products, Quinoa, Tofu, Tempeh, Edamame, Amaranth, Ezekiel Bread, Spirulina, Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds, Nutritional Yeast
  • Incomplete Proteins: are usually plant-based, and don’t provide all the essential amino acids needed for growth. However, they can be paired with other items to get all protein (in the science-y world this is referred to as protein complementation).
    • Examples: Vegetables, Grains, Beans, Seeds, Nuts/Nut Butter, Legumes, Chickpeas

My Recommendations:

  • Aim for 20 grams or more of protein in each meal
  • Use protein powder to supplement a protein deficiency just like you’d use a multivitamin to supplement your vitamin deficiencies. You want to aim for shakes or mixes that include high quality protein and provide at least 20 grams of protein. If using a powder form you can add additional protein to your shakes by using Greek yogurt, milk, soy milk, or a protein milk like Fairlife or Good Karma +Protein
  • Pairing incomplete proteins together to create a complete protein is not only going to give you more protein, but plant proteins are associated with decreasing inflammation, risk of heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers, and a longer life.
    • Oatmeal with a scoop of nut butter topped with seeds
    • Hummus with vegetables and pita to dip
    • Beans and rice
    • A Salad with nuts and seeds as toppings
    • Lentil soup made with vegetables like corn, tomatoes, onion, and carrots
  • Eating high protein snacks such as a hard boiled egg, trail mix, protein bars, apples and peanut butter, or roasted chickpeas.


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