1. You have high cholesterol
High cholesterol and triglycerides are not just caused by eating fatty foods — they are also a result of increased inflammation, hormonal imbalances and high-processed/high-sugar diets. If you tend to replace protein foods with sugary snacks, refined carbs and packaged convenient goods, your cholesterol can start to rise as your liver and cells process fats less efficiently. Some studies have even found an inverse relationship exists between protein intake and risk of heart disease.
2. You’re feeling more anxious and moody
Amino acids are the building blocks for neurotransmitters which control your mood. Proteins help the brain synthesize hormones like dopamine and serotonin that help bring on positive feelings like calm, excitement and positivity.
3. Your workouts are suffering
You’re probably already aware that protein is needed to build new muscle mass, but it’s also important for sustaining your energy and motivation. A low protein diet can result in muscle wasting (or muscle atrophy), fatigue and even fat gain — it can also be behind female athlete triad. In fact, you can workout more, but see less results if your diet isn’t adequate to support tissue repair or your energy needs.
4. You aren’t sleeping well
Poor sleep and insomnia can sometimes be linked to unstable blood sugar levels, a rise in cortisol and a decrease in serotonin production. Blood sugar swings during the day carry over through the night. Carbohydrates require much more insulin than fat or protein does. Eating foods with protein before bed can help with tryptophan and serotonin production, and they have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels; in fact, protein slows down the absorption of sugar during a meal.
5. You have “brain fog”
Protein is needed to support many aspects of healthy neurological functioning. Brain fog, poor concentration, lack of motivation and trouble learning new information can be signs that you’re low in neurotransmitters you need to focus including dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Neurotransmitters are synthesized in the brain using amino acids, and studies show that balanced diets with enough protein can boost work performance, learning and motor skills.
6. You’re gassy and can’t go to the bathroom
Many metabolic and digestive functions depend on amino acid intake. If your body feels fatigued and run down in general due to protein deficiency, enzyme production, muscle contractions in your GI tract and digestion in general will suffer.
7. Your pants are feeling tighter
Although sometimes higher in calories than carbs, high-protein foods cause increased satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrates or fats do, so they can prevent overeating and snacking. They also help stabilize your blood sugar, allow you to retain more muscle which burns more calories all day, and can reduce cravings.
8. Your menstrual cycle is irregular
One of the most common reasons women suffer from irregular periods and infertility is the condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). 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/high-carb diets can contribute to insulin resistance, fatigue, inflammation and weight gain that disrupts the delicate balance of female hormones (including that of estrogen, progesterone and DHEA) needed to sustain a regular cycle.
9. You’ve been getting injured more often and are slow to heal
A low protein diet can raise your risk for muscle loss, falling, slow bone healing, bone weakness, fractures and even osteoporosis. Protein is needed for calcium absorption and helping with bone metabolism. Studies show that older adults with the greatest bone losses are those with a low protein intake of about 16–50 grams per day. Research also shows that a diet high in amino acids can help treat muscle loss due to aging (sarcopenia).
How Much Protein Do We Need, Exactly?
Each person is unique in terms of their exact protein needs; your body weight, gender, age, and level of activity or exercise all determine how much protein is best for you, and your needs likely vary a bit day to day.
- 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 minimum amounts, so they might be too low if you’re very active, pregnant or ill.
- These amounts are equal to eating about 0.36 grams of protein for every pound that you weigh, however some people find that they feel better when they increase their protein intake and aim to eat about 0.5 grams of protein for every pound.
- This higher recommendation would translate to a woman who weighs 150 pounds eating about 75 grams of protein daily, and a man who weighs 180 pounds eating about 90 grams.
- If all the math seems confusing, remember that most experts recommend consuming about 20–30 percent of your overall calories from protein foods.