From the recent Paleo Diet boom to the ever-growing smoothie trend—it’s safe to say that our culture is totally obsessed with high-protein food. In fact, 25 percent of all adults say they look for protein on nutrition labels, according to recent findings from market research firm The NPD Group.
But despite our collective preoccupation with protein, some of us are still slipping through the cracks—namely chronic crash dieters and uneducated vegans and vegetarians, says registered dietitian Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN. What’s worse: They likely don’t realize they’re not getting enough of the vital nutrient. Most people don’t keep tabs on their protein intake, and far fewer folks know how much protein is ideal for their weight, activity level, and fitness goals.
Afraid you’re coming up short? Look for these telltale signs that you need to up your intake:
Your Hair Is Falling Out
“Protein is the building block of all of our cells, including those that make up our hair follicles, explains Smith. “When someone doesn’t eat enough protein, their body will try to hold onto their stored proteins by shifting growing hairs into a resting phase. While hair loss or thinning may occur immediately for some, other may not notice any change for months, if at all,” says Smith. The goods news is that once your protein intake is back up to snuff, the normal hair-growing process will resume as normal. Phew!
Sick of popular protein sources like chicken and eggs? Grab a few of these Surprising High-Protein Food for Weight Loss next time you’re at the store.
You’re Constantly Getting Sick
Sure, protein helps your muscles look ripped, but more importantly, it helps us remain healthy. “Protein is needed to keep our immune system running,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Elisa Zied. “If you don’t get enough protein from your diet, the proteins in your body that fight off invaders like bacteria and viruses will be broken down and used for fuel. This makes it more difficult for the body to heal wounds and fight infections so you might find that you experience more frequent colds and illnesses.”
You know those sculpted abs and legs you worked so hard to achieve? If you don’t get enough protein, you can kiss those goodbye. “If you don’t consume enough protein, your body will be forced to break down muscle to create energy and fuel,” says Zied. “Not only does this diminish lean muscle mass, which can slow metabolism, but it also prevents important enzymes in our bodies like collagen and hemoglobin (a protein that transports oxygen) from doing the important jobs they’re meant to. This can be dangerous in the long run.”
If carrying your groceries from your car to your refrigerator feels like a challenge, your diet may be to blame. “When you don’t eat enough protein, the body will start to break down stored proteins in the form of muscle and other tissues,” warns Smith. “This can shrink your muscle mass and diminish your strength gains, making workouts and everyday physical activities more challenging.”
To keep your weight room—and grocery lugging—game strong, be sure to eat these must-eat Foods for Muscle and Strength.