Protein is a cornerstone of healthy eating and weight loss and is readily available in a lot of the foods you eat every day, including poultry, meat, dairy, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and even whole grains. Research shows higher-protein meals or snacks can also help reduce hunger and extend the feeling of satiety.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for men ages 19–50 is 56 grams per day, and it’s 46 grams per day for women. To get a more specific recommendation for what you need, you can calculate it based on your body weight says Lindsey Kane, RD. “Generally speaking, you need .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (which is about .4 grams per pound of body weight).” This translates to about 56 grams of protein for someone who weighs 154 pounds. You can track your protein intake with an app like MyFitnessPal and also pay attention to the following signs you might not be getting enough in your diet:
YOU’RE LOSING MUSCLE MASS
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are essential for building muscle. This means that if you’re not getting adequate protein, your muscle mass could suffer. “You might notice this as decreased strength, change in weight or even how your clothes are fitting,” says Randy Evans, RD.
YOU’VE BECOME PRONE TO STRESS FRACTURES
In addition to calcium, research shows a protein-rich diet is beneficial for overall adult bone health. “Without sufficient protein to provide energy to our organs and brain, the body will look for other sources, and one place it borrows from is skeletal muscle tissue,” says Cheryl Mussatto, RD, author of “The Nourished Brain,” and “The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook.” “If you are consistently running low on protein, over time, your bones will be susceptible to injuries such as stress fractures and breaks.”
YOU’RE ALWAYS IN A BAD MOOD
Have you snapped at your significant other or the guy at the coffee shop who wrote your name wrong? “Irritability is one of the signs of low protein,” says Jamie Hickey, registered dietitian and personal trainer. “By mitigating the effect of carbohydrates [that can spike blood sugar], slow-digesting protein helps keep your mood stabilized.”
YOU’RE CONSTANTLY GETTING SICK
If you’re always under the weather, a lack of dietary protein could be to blame. “Protein is a building block of antibodies that are produced by our immune system, helping us fight off bacteria and viruses,” says Mussatto, who adds that now is a super important time to be mindful of protein consumption with cold and flu season lingering. “A diet deficient in protein also results in a reduction in T cells, which fight off germs and enhance our immune system.”
YOUR NAILS ARE BRITTLE AND HAIR GROWTH IS SLOW
When protein is lacking, nails can become brittle — breaking off easily — while your hair not only loses its luster, but also may stop growing, says Mussatto. Too little protein shifts the body’s focus from growing strong nails and hair to conserving protein.