WHY WE NEED PROTEIN
Protein is essential for a variety of bodily functions, including building and repairing muscles, curbing hunger and stabilizing blood sugar, and growing healthy hair and nails. So if you're not getting enough protein, it can impact everything from your weight to your mood. Look out for these red flags:
1. You're working out but that belly fat won't budge.
When you weight train with Natalie, muscle fibers break down. To help you repair muscles and make them stronger than before, post-workout protein is paramount. If you don’t refuel with protein after weight training, you’ve only broken the muscle down, which results in muscle loss. Be sure to eat a protein-rich snack within 4 hours of your session.
2. You're constantly craving sugar and carbs.
When you eat a meal that lacks enough protein, you're more likely to feel unsatisfied and reach for sugary, fatty foods. Protein stabilizes blood sugar, stops cravings, and keeps us full longer. Be sure to consume enough protein at every meal to keep your sweet tooth in check. If you’re out for a splurge, “chasing” a special high-carb treat with chicken, eggs, or tuna can keep your blood sugar from spiking as high and helps your insulin recover more efficiently to alleviate crash symptoms.
3. Your skin is dry and flaky.
If you used to have plump, glowing skin that's now dull and flaky, it might be a sign. Protein makes up collagen, the building blocks of our hair, nails, and skin. If you’re not getting enough, you might develop brittle, dry hair or dry, flaky skin. You don’t have to shell out big bucks for the fancy collagen powder; increasing your protein intake throughout the day would be enough to bring back your youthful glow.
4. You feel tired all the time.
If you’re skimping on protein, you may feel brain fog. Protein stabilizes your blood sugar while carbs shoot up and then crash, leading to a mental lull. An iron deficiency, also known as anemia, can also cause extreme fatigue. Some foods high in iron happen to also be high in protein, such as beans, quinoa, beef, and chicken liver.
5. You're losing weight, but your clothes are still tight.
It's possible to weigh less but look like you haven't lost a single pound if you're losing muscle instead of fat. Also, we tend to lose muscle mass with age. Preserve hard-earned muscle by piling on the protein and nixing empty calories from sugary and highly processed foods.
6. You're moodier than usual.
Protein can boost your mood by providing the amino acids to make feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Without these, you are likely to experience depression, mood swings, and anxiety. Next time you’re feeling down, reach for a hard-boiled egg or heart-healthy nuts before grabbing candy or cookies.
7. You're always bloated.
Even if you already avoid bloat-inducing beverages and foods, you can still experience swelling in your belly, legs, and ankles due to lack of protein. Protein is necessary for fluid balance. So without it, your body can retain the water longer than intended. Bring your body back into equilibrium by incorporating more protein into your dishes, like swapping Greek yogurt for sour cream or chocolate protein powder for cocoa powder while baking.
8. You’re taking more sick days
Protein powers the antibodies that fend off sickness, making it a major immune booster. If you keep feeling sick, you may need to add more protein. Most high-protein foods also contain zinc, which helps fight infection and heals wounds.
So how much protein should you be intaking to promote health?
Protein needs vary by age, gender and activity level. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American College of Sports Medicine, athletes should aim for 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (60% to 100% of the RDA for non-athletes).
Distribution of protein intake is key—it should be spread out evenly throughout the day with 15g to 30g following exercise. Our bodies can absorb only 20g to 30g of protein at once, so try getting at least 20g protein at each meal. Remember, it is best to include some fat and carbs with your protein. That breaks down to 40% protein, 30% fat, and 30% carbohydrate per meal. Consuming this amount will help you stay satisfied and have enough energy to power through your day.
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JACQUELINE CORBETT, MS RD LD
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Women's Health & Fitness Specialist.