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   Oct 22

The SEVEN signs you’re not eating enough protein

Government says protein consumption should be 0.8g per kilo of body weight

Despite this, countless people regularly fail to eat anywhere near this amount

Here, nutritionists Rick Hay and May Simpkin share their advice on getting more

Whether you’re the type that shuns carbs or the one that avoids all fat, one food group that’s probably on your radar is protein – but it can be confusing.

Not if you read this need-to-know guide.

In recent years, protein has become the macronutrient literally on everyone’s lips. But according to new research by , more than 90 per cent of us don’t know how much we need.

Here, British nutritionists May Simpkin and Rick Hay reveal the seven signs you’re not eating enough protein.

You’re craving salty or sweet foods

‘Protein slows down the release of sugars into the blood stream, and therefore helps to ensure blood sugars are balanced,’ says Ms Simpkin.

‘A low protein, high carb diet will release sugars quickly into the blood stream. Once insulin is released to remove these sugars, cravings will kick in as blood sugars quickly drop’.

Your muscles are flabby

If you’re not eating enough protein, your body will have no choice but to break down muscle to ensure its needs, Ms Simpkin asserts, an effect that will be pronounced if you exercise a lot as your body will be using muscle as fuel which is not a good idea.

‘This will result in weakened muscle tone, reduced muscle mass and weak joint support.

Without enough protein, your body will also take longer to recover following injury you may also get increased muscle and joint aches,’ says Ms Simpkin.

Your hair’s failing out

Okay maybe it’s not that serious but if your hair skin and nails aren’t as radiant as you would like, your protein intake might be the reason.

‘Lack lustre or thinning hair, weak or brittle nails, nail ridges and dry, flaky skin are all initial indicators of lack of protein, as the body is unable to regenerate the cells efficiently to replace dead cells,’ says Ms Simpkin.

Poor immune health

Getting sick often is an indicator of poor immune health and can be as a result of lack of proteins, as immune cells are all made up of protein.

‘Without enough protein, immune cells cannot repair and multiply quickly enough to combat bugs and germs,’ says Ms Simpkin.

Brain fog

Can’t concentrate? Blame your lunch. ‘Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are all made up of proteins.

‘A lack of protein can lead to low mood, poor concentration and reduced mental alertness and these can also be exacerbated with similar symptoms of poor blood sugar balance if you’re not eating enough protein’.

Poor sleep

Can’t sleep? Blame your dinner. Without enough protein, hormone production is compromised and cause imbalances that will ultimately affect sleep quality and disrupt your night’s sleep.

‘Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps to induce sleep and eating a little protein around bedtime can help to improve sleep quality,’ says Ms Simpkin.

Find tryptophan in protein foods such as seeds and nuts, turkey breast, some cheeses, beans and lentils and eggs.


The release of stress hormones can increase muscle and tissue breakdown and it is important to note that this can be either physical stress (from over-exercising) or emotional stress, Ms Simpkin asserts.

If you’re not getting enough protein in your diet, there will be nothing to rebuild your tissues that are suffering as a result of your stressful lifestyle.

Why is protein so important?

While a third (31 per cent) of survey respondents said they knew protein was good for them but they didn’t know why, a fifth (19 per cent) couldn’t name a single protein benefit.

It’s hard to over-estimate the importance of proteins, says Ms Simpkin. We need protein for virtually every process that takes place in the body.

‘Firstly, protein is an important component of every cell in the body and is an important building block for hair, skin and nails as well as muscle and cartilage.

‘It is therefore crucial for tissue and muscle repair and a deficiency in protein intake will compromise the efficiency of this process. You also need protein to produce enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters, all essential to the body’s day to day functioning’.

How much protein do you actually need?

According to government guidelines, your protein consumption should be 0.8g per kilogram of body weight. For an average sedentary woman, this is around 46g of protein per day (56g for men).

‘This is a minimum daily average and should be considered a starting point,’ says Ms Simpkin. ‘Your protein requirement will be based on your personal health goals and lifestyle and factors such as activity levels, age, muscle mass and current health status need to be considered’.

In the following scenarios, Ms Simpkin has recommendations for protein needs:

– If you’re an average healthy woman with a sedentary lifestyle: 1.0g/kg of body weight.

– If you exercise regularly: 1.1-1.6g/kg of body weight.

– If you’re very active and focusing on resistance training for around an hour a day: 1.2-2.0g/kg of body weight.

– If you want to lose weight and training/exercising around three times per week: 1.2-1.5g/kg of body weight.

– If you’re an endurance athletes: 1.3-1.6g/kg of body weight.

How to get enough complete protein


Eating quality proteins from lean beef, fish, poultry, eggs and diary as well as plant-based sources will provide all the essential amino acids that your body needs to function properly.

‘In nutrition terms, the word ‘essential’ means these amino acids must come from the diet because your body can’t make them,’ says Ms Simpkin.

‘Animal proteins are ‘complete’ proteins as they contain all these essential amino acids, whereas plant proteins are not all complete and will need to be combined to ensure an intake of all the essential amino acids.

‘Foods that provide all eight essential amino acids include meat, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy as well as wholegrains like quinoa and brown rice,’ Ms Simpkin asserts.


Eating eggs and dairy (and fish if you’re a pescatarian) will be a good source of first class protein alongside wholegrains to ensure variety in food choices,’ says Ms Simpkin.

Whilst grains do contain all of these essential amino acids, they are in varying amounts and therefore combining these foods in reasonable quantities will ensure adequate intake of each (see below).


‘Ensure protein from a variety of sources, mixing for example soy foods and grains or beans/pulses where you can,’ Ms Simpkin advises. ‘This will ensure adequate intake of the essential amino acids the body needs’.

Other complete protein combos include: wholegrains such as brown rice and quinoa and beans/pulses such as chickpeas, soybeans and lentils.

Adding nuts and seeds will provide varied amino acids and essential fatty acids for optimal health.

When should you get most of your protein?

Like most of our readers we were baffled by protein – especially when to eat it. The survey results for example, also found that nearly two thirds of us get their protein fix only at dinner.

‘Most people have a huge protein fix at dinner but very little throughout the day,’ says Rick Hay nutritionist and lecturer in weight management at the College of Naturopathic Medicine.

‘This not only puts pressure on the body’s digestion it also doesn’t give your body the best chance to use the protein and break it down into amino acids needed to rebuild and reshape the body.

‘If you have too much protein all at once, your body will likely excrete all those precious amino acids through your poo and may store the excess as fat,’ says Mr Hay.

Have protein at every meal

Ms Simpkin agrees. ‘Research has shown that eating your protein, spread out throughout the day is more effective when building muscle than eating the majority in the evening meal,’ she explains.

‘Protein is a complex nutrient and requires more energy to break down than carbohydrates,’ says Ms Simpkin. That means simply eating it can boost your metabolic rate, helping with weight loss.

‘Furthermore, as this complex nutrient also takes longer to break down and process as part of the digestion, there is the additional benefit of helping you to feel fuller for longer, curbing cravings and reducing appetite – another good reason to have a little at every meal’.

A 2018 review confirms that there is good evidence to suggest that eating protein pre and/or post workout helps significantly with muscle building.

‘It has also been shown that protein intake immediately after exercise (within 1 hour) plays an important role in ensuring optimal recovery and generally optimizing physical performance,’ says Ms Simpkin.

This article originally appeared on and has been reproduced with the permission of .


‘As a rule of thumb aim to eat two palm sizes portions per day whether it be meat, fish, poultry, nuts, tofu, tempeh, beans or pulses,’ says Mr Hay. Then you can add small amounts of protein to other meals.

‘If you’re a meateater this might be chicken or turkey breast as part of lunch and grilled salmon as part of dinner.

‘If you’re vegetarian, scrambled organic/free range eggs with avocado as breakfast, falafel wrap for lunch and tofu or tempeh stir fry or lentil/ bean casserole at dinner.

‘Meateaters or vegetarians can supplement with a high quality protein bar as a snack or post exercise,’ says Mr Hay.

‘KIND Protein bars are low sugar and pack in 12 grams of protein per serve.

‘Vegans can try beans on toast for breakfast and lentil, tempeh and vegetable soup/stew or chickpea and tofu veggie curry served with a quinoa/brown rice mix for dinner, Mr Hay asserts.

Source: Daily Mail

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