If you've been feeling tired, rundown, and kind of shaky, it might be a sign that you need to eat more protein. Of course, there are a million other causes for fatigue and a general overall crappy feeling. But sometimes, these subtle symptoms can be blamed on your diet.
This is especially true for those of us who rely on muffins for breakfast, granola bars for lunch, and bowls of pasta for dinner. Without healthy sources of protein — like fish, nuts, eggs, beans, and soy — it's nearly impossible to function at optimal levels. And your body's gonna let you know.
"Healthy protein and carbohydrates are both needed to burn fat within our bodies," health and fitness coach Mary Caroline Craig tells Bustle. "Without proper amounts of each, your body cannot function properly and turn what you eat into fuel." Hence that awful, rundown, tired feeling you seem to have 24/7.
To make sure you're eating enough, aim for some protein at every meal. "The two most important times are within the first two hours of waking up and within the first hour after a workout. But a little bit in each meal and snack keeps the body, brain, and muscles happy," says fitness coach Carrie Harper.
Keep in mind, however, that protein is not the be all and end all. You need a balanced diet (yes, those carbs are necessary) to feel your best. But this doesn't mean you have to eat a steak at every meal. If you can get about 46 grams of protein a day — whether from meats or vegetarian sources — you should be good. Read on for some signs it's time to up your intake.
1. You Have A Cold That Won't Go Away
Believe it or not, protein intake plays a major role in your immune system. As nutrition and wellness coach Liz Blom, RD says, "Vitamin C does not take all the credit here. Low protein can result in immune-related problems." So take note if you always feel rundown, or have a cold you just can't shake.
2. You Feel Hungry Again Right After Eating
Protein also increases that feeling of fullness — otherwise known as "satiety" — that you get after eating. That's because, as personal trainer and health coach Dorian Johnson says, "Protein takes longer to break down than carbs and other foods." It sticks around in your system longer, thus keeping you full and giving you energy for hours.
3. You Crave Candy And Carbs All The Time
If you had sugary cereal or a muffin for breakfast (instead of, say, an egg), don't be surprised if you're starving an hour later. Unlike protein, sugars and carbs spike your blood sugar, health counselor Claudia Matles tells me, leaving you craving more sugars to stay energized. If this happens to you, try eating more protein instead. Your cravings should go away.
4. You've Been Feeling A Bit Foggy
While a lack of sleep may be to blame, there's a definite connection between protein intake and your ability to concentrate. "When we do not supply our body with enough protein... we have a more challenging time concentrating and focusing," says Craig. She tells me it can feel like a lack of clarity, or a delayed ability to get things done. Sound familiar?
5. You Can't Seem To Gain Any Muscle
If you aren't seeing any results at the gym, check your protein intake. When you don't have enough, your body might resort to burning its own muscle tissue in order to get through an intense workout, Craig tells me. This can result weakness, as well as a lack of muscle mass. And that's not good.
6. You Take Forever To Recover After A Workout
Do you feel like complete jelly after a workout? It may be that you pushed yourself too hard. Or it could be your body's lack of nutrients needed for recovery. As Blom tells me, slow recovery after a workout, as well as slow muscle repair, can be a sign you aren't getting enough protein.
7. Your Nails Are Bumpy
Here's an easy test: Rub your finger across your nails. "Do you feel ridges? This can indicate a protein deficiency," herbalist Karen Brennan, MSW, NC tells Bustle. "The more ridges you feel and the deeper you feel them, the more deficient you may be."
8. Your Moods Have Been All Over The Place
While there can be any number of explanations for moodiness (PMS, depression, etc.), it's possible a protein deficiency can make things worse, fitness trainer and nutritionist Lea Thompson tells me. Have you been feeling extra irritable? Try eating a more balanced diet and see if things improve.
9. Your Hair Seems To Be Falling Out
It's normal to lose up to 100 hairs a day, but take note if you feel like it's falling out in clumps and/or clogging your shower drain on the regular. "It might happen slowly, but a severe lack of protein means your body will distribute what little nutrition it has to the most important functions — and hair growth isn't one of them," says certified personal trainer Jessa Mehta.
10. You Have Dark Circles Under Your Eyes
OK, so dark circles can be due to thinner skin. Or, you know, your tendency to go to bed at 2 a.m. However, dark circles under the eyes can also be a sign of low protein levels, Dr. Shakti Mishra tells me. Talk to your doctor, of course, and definitely think about adding some more nuts, eggs, or lean meats to your diet to see if things improve.
11. You Seem Can't Get To Sleep
How's that sleep schedule of yours? If you cannot get to sleep, or find yourself waking up all the damn time, it may be related to your diet. As nutrition coach Matthew Walrath says, "Melatonin (the sleep hormone) is derived from the amino acid Tryptophan. Too little protein means too little tryptophan, which can effect sleep via melatonin production." Pretty interesting, right?
12. Your Skin Feels Less Toned
Your skin has a way of telling you something's up with your health, either by breaking out, wrinkling prematurely, or losing its tone. If the latter is true for you, take it as a sign. "Protein is needed to build collagen, and so losing tone in your skin can be related to protein deficiencies," says certified nutritionist Samantha Attard, PhD, RYT, in an email to Bustle. Eating a more balanced diet may help get things back on track.
13. It Takes Forever For Your Wounds To Heal
Did you nick yourself while shaving, like, two weeks ago and it still hasn't healed? If so, it could be a sign that you're a little low on protein. "Proteins are integral to the function of our immune system, and to the healing of wounds," say Walrath. Just another way your body can reveal it needs a little TLC.
14. You've Been Craving A Burger
Whether you've been lusting after a Big Mac or a delicious bean burger, don't let your cravings go on unchecked. "Cravings are your body's way of telling you what it needs and shouldn't be ignored," says Mehta. So go fire up the grill. (Or, you know, hit up the drive-thru.)
15. You Feel Jittery All The Time
If you put down the coffee hours ago but still feel jittery, it may be low protein that's to blame. As certified holistic health coach Molly Cutler tells me, jitteriness is a sign to watch out for when determining if you need more protein in your life. This is all thanks to its ability to regulate your blood sugar. So, if you're feeling wobbly, grab some almonds and eat up.
While you don't need to pack yourself full of protein, it should be a part of a balanced diet. If you aren't eating enough of it, your body will let you know. So be sure to pay attention and make some healthier changes.
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