6 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Protein

Plus the best sources of both animal and plant-based protein.

By: Bianca Peyvan, MS, RDN

Wondering what the hype surrounding protein is all about? Some overrate it while others underrate the benefits. Some want to believe that you can consume unlimited amounts without gaining a pound, while others insist that plant-based proteins are superior and better for the environment. Let’s take a look at the role protein can play in supporting your health and six signs of not eating enough protein. 

What is Protein?

protein-rich foods

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. We use proteins and amino acids to create various reactions in the human body, such as making enzymes, DNA, hormones, neurotransmitters, hair, blood, connective tissue, and of course, muscle.

Protein & Satiety 

Another important thing to note about protein is that it promotes satiety.

A research study found that consuming a protein-rich breakfast resulted in increased satiety throughout the morning. 

The takeaway? Getting enough protein in our meals and snacks is a key part of keeping us nourished and satiated throughout the day. 

How Much Protein Do You Need?

In spite of the value of protein, some of us may not be getting enough without even knowing it. Scientists don’t always agree on how much is enough; somewhere from 0.8 — 2 grams per kilogram of body weight is recommended depending on age and athletic status. Additionally, people with wounds, low stomach acid, gut damage, or other gastrointestinal conditions require even more. 

Calculate How Much Protein You Need 

Step #1: Calculate your weight in kg by taking your weight in pounds and dividing it by 2.2

Step #2 f you fall into the average range when it comes to recommended daily protein intake, then take your weight in kg and multiply that by 0.8 grams. 

Here’s an example of what this looks like: 

  • 150 lbs. divided by 2.2= 68 kg
  • 68 kg times 0.8= 54 grams of protein per day 

Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Protein

plant-based protein

True protein deficiency is typically seen in developing countries leading to serious conditions like Kwashiorkor or stunted growth in children. Less extreme symptoms, while more common, are easily dismissed or confused by something else. Below are several telltale signs that you may not be getting enough protein.

#1 Muscle Loss & Weakness

Our muscle tissue is mostly comprised of amino acids. To grow and restore our muscles, we need adequate protein to spare our own muscles. A lack of protein will signal the body to use stored lean muscle mass which leads to muscle loss or wasting. It can also lead to muscle weakness that can result in pulling a muscle and muscle atrophy.

#2 Bone Injuries and Fractures

We require amino acids to build and repair not just our muscles but also our bones. Building bone density is closely related to how much muscle you have, as bones get stronger when muscle mass increases (as a way to meet muscular needs). Insufficient protein intake has been linked to lower bone mineral density, decreased bone strength, increased risk of fractures, weakened joints, and in extreme cases, Osteopenia.

#3 Slow Recovery

If you find your cuts and wounds are taking longer to heal, it could be related to your protein intake. A lack of protein slows down recovery time from injuries and wound healing. The same can be true about recovering from surgery, fractures or sprains, and other exercise-related injuries.

#4 Weak Nails, Skin & Hair

Nails that have ridges or are weak and brittle, skin that is dry and flaky, and hair that is brittle or thinning could all be early signs that your body is not getting enough protein. Skin is made of proteins such as keratin, collagen, and elastin, and hair is made up of keratin. When these proteins are lacking in the diet, your nails, skin, and hair pay the price.

#5 Poor Immune Function

Proteins are essential in supporting the immune system by making antibodies that signal white blood cells to fight off intruders, bacteria, and viruses. Proteins also play a critical role in various detoxification pathways to transport waste and toxins. Even the master antioxidants glutathione is made of amino acids. So, make sure to eat enough protein, especially if you are prone to getting sick; otherwise, it could result in increased or repeat infections.

#6 Mind & Mood

Another symptom could be poor mood. A lack of protein could mean that your body cannot make enough hormones and neurotransmitters that relay information between cells and nerves, respectively. An example of this is serotonin and dopamine, which are made up of amino acids and regulate our mood and happiness. 

Best Sources of Protein

The best sources of protein 

Animal Protein Sources

The best sources of protein include animal products like eggs, beef, poultry, pork, fish, shellfish, dairy such as cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, whey protein, and cheeses. 

These animal-based options are complete proteins, which means they have all nine essential amino acids your body needs and offer anywhere from 10 – 28 grams of protein per 3 oz portion. 

Animal Protein Hack 

If you eat animal-based proteins, adding collagen or gelatin to coffee and smoothies is also another easy way to up protein intake without altering the taste.

Plant-Based Protein Sources

The best plant sources of protein include tofu, tempeh, seitan, lentils, beans, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and even some vegetables like broccoli and kale in large quantities.

These plant-based options are not always complete proteins, which means you will have to eat them with other foods to make them complete and able to be utilized by your body (e.g., beans and rice). 

Plant-based proteins offer significantly less protein than animal-based proteins, which means you will have to eat more of them to get adequate intake. 

Plant-Based Protein Hack

Other great ways to sneak more plant-based protein could include adding hemp seeds to soups, tahini to vegetables, edamame to salads, and spirulina. Also, keep your eye out for pasta made of lentils and other legumes, as they are also great high protein additions.

Adding a scoop of plant-based protein powder to your smoothie is another great way to sneak in some added protein. Need a new delicious plant-based protein powder? Try the JS Health X FitOn protein powder in two yummy flavors — cinnamon roll and cookies and cream.

Final Thoughts

Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders and professional athletes; it’s important for all of us striving for a healthy lifestyle. The good news is that consuming enough protein doesn’t have to be overly complicated. There are endless animal and plant-based options to meet your protein needs. By including protein-rich foods in every meal, you are creating a foundation for a healthy mind and body.

Ready to see just how delicious healthy eating can be? Consider joining FitOn PRO for access to personalized meal plans and exclusive recipes to reach your fitness goals faster without counting calories and with foods you’ll love to eat.