A recent client came to me asking for help. Her weight was slowly creeping up. She was feeling awful and tired all the time.
She woke up every night around 3:30 am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. She dragged herself through her days completely exhausted. She didn’t like to go out because her clothes didn’t fit well, and she didn’t feel good about how she looked.
She was anxious about a lot of things and was feeling pretty unmotivated. She was irritable and quick to snap at her husband and kids in the evenings. She kept catching whatever cold was going around and it lingered for weeks. Coffee was carrying her through every day – about 4 cups. She had cut some calories in attempts to lose weight, but it didn’t seem to be working.
Her daily meals looked something like this…
- Breakfast – a bowl of cereal and coffee with lots of sugar and creamer
- Mid-morning snack – coffee with sugar and creamer
- Lunch – a salad, some crackers and almond butter, more coffee with sugar and creamer
- Mid afternoon snack – some chocolate and coffee with sugar and creamer
- Dinner – Pasta with meatballs
- Bedtime snack – chocolate and peanut butter
Our very first step was to add in protein. She was hesitant at first, but we started slowly with curiosity. She tried it and learned how to listen to her body to see how it was responding to the foods she was giving it. I taught her how digestion works in her body and how she can optimize it. Little by little I guided her and she made changes that were manageable. She never had to eliminate any food groups.
After three months, she was like a new person. Her extra weight was coming off. She looked and felt good. Her relationships at home were better because she was happy and her moods were even. She slept great every night and woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. And she knew how to enjoy and savor sweet treats never feeling deprived.
It all started with protein…
Why does my body need protein?
Proteins are the basic building blocks for nearly our whole bodies. They make up many parts of our bodies:
Proteins also make up many of the unseen parts of our bodies that allow it to function:
Proteins are absolutely critical for proper functioning of our:
- Immune systems
- Endocrine systems
- Inflammation management
Your body needs protein for pretty much everything!
How do I know if I am eating enough protein?
Unless you are being intentional about eating protein, nearly everyone is not getting enough. Take a look at this list and count up how many signs you have of inadequate protein intake.
- Feeling hungry all the time
- Craving sugar
- Trouble losing weight or gradual weight gain
- High cholesterol or triglycerides
- Feeling tired all the time or having no energy
- Frequent colds or infections
- Menstrual abnormalities or other hormonal issues
- Muscle loss, weakness, or trouble gaining muscle mass
- Feeling achy or having joint pain
- Trouble focusing, concentrating, or learning
- Feeling irritable or unmotivated
- Feeling sad or depressed or having mood swings
- Having anxiety
- Not sleeping well – trouble falling asleep or waking up in the night
- Slow wound healing
- Dry or sagging or peeling skin
- Loss of bone mass or frequent fractures
- Brittle fingernails or hair
- Hair loss or thinning
How did you do? You might be thinking – can’t these signs also indicate other things going on in my body? The answer is yes!
This is just a piece of the puzzle. Set this aside for now and let’s look at how much protein we actually need.
How much protein do I need?
If you do a general internet search you will find a variety of answers, many of them on the lower end of recommendations for protein intake. I have some amazing colleagues who have dug into what scientific studies actually say about how much protein we need. I really encourage you to read about how much protein we need and why we actually need more than the government’s current recommended daily allowance.
The basic recommendation for daily protein needs is:
1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
This means that if you weigh 160 pounds, your average daily protein need would be 160 grams of protein. How much protein do you need each day? Write it down someplace.
Now, let’s compare that to how much protein you are eating.
How much protein am I eating?
Take a minute to calculate a rough estimate. Think of the foods that you have eaten either today or yesterday and let’s do a quick estimate. You can either look on the packages to find the number of grams of protein in the food you ate or you can do a google search.
Here are some common protein rich foods to get you started:
- Tuna – 4 oz – 34 grams
- Venison – 4 oz – 34 grams
- Chicken – 4 oz – 34 grams
- Beef, grass fed – 4 oz – 32 grams
- Sardines – 4 oz – 23 grams
- Salmon – 4 oz – 29 grams
- Lentils – 1 cup – 18 grams
- Whole fat, Greek yogurt – ¾ cup – 16 grams
- Tofu – 4 oz – 9 grams
- Cheese – 1 oz – 7 grams
- Egg – 1 egg – 6 grams
- Spinach – 1 cup – 5 grams
- Broccoli – 1 cup – 5 grams
- Crimini mushrooms – 5 oz – 4 grams
- Cauliflower – 1 cup – 2 grams
What did you come up with? How does that compare with how much protein you need each day? Now is the time to glance back at the signs you are having that could point to inadequate protein intake.
Compare that with the amount of protein you are eating. If you are eating enough protein, those signs could either be pointing to some difficulty digesting protein or you could likely have other things going on.
If you are NOT eating enough protein, I encourage you to slowly increase your protein intake over the next 2-3 weeks, then take a look back at the signs and see if any have resolved.
Now that you know you want to eat more protein, you might wonder how to even fit that much protein into your days!
How do I eat that much protein?
Take your recommended amount of protein per day and divide that by 4. Then try to get that many grams of protein in 3 meals and 1 snack spaced out throughout the day. If you are aiming for 160 grams of protein per day, aim for 40 grams at your meals and snack.
It is very important to have good protein at breakfast as that helps your body to actually function like it needs to in order to make it through the day well. It is important to try to spread your protein intake out over the day as your body can only digest so much protein at one time.
My recommendation is to eat breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, then dinner.
What should I eat?
Eat foods rich in protein. This includes:
- Dairy products
- Nuts and nut butters
- Some vegetables
- Some unprocessed grains
Now you might be wondering if it is even worth it to go through the trouble of eating more protein. I would say that if you want to nourish your body to help it function optimally, it is worth it.
Why should I be intentional about eating protein?
Eating enough protein will help reduce the signs of inadequate protein intake listed above. Here are just a few of those that I want to highlight:
- We can start to lose muscle mass as early as our 20’s! This alone has huge ramifications for our health as we get older, contributing to more injuries and aches and pains and weakness. In this study low protein intake is associated with frailty in older adults.
- Also, as we approach the cold and flu season, we need good antibodies to fight off illnesses. Antibodies are specialized proteins that fight to keep us healthy.
- Finally, eating enough protein will help reduce sugar cravings! We are approaching a season full of delicious sweets and candy everywhere we turn. When we eat enough protein, we are able to better choose what to eat and when. And protein allows us to enjoy those sweet treats with a much less negative impact on our bodies – more about that at another time!
Even if you know why something is important, it can still be hard to do!
Help! I’m not sure if I can do it!
“I don’t know if I am eating enough protein” – I encourage you to get a small, basic kitchen scale and weigh the protein containing foods so you can get a better idea of how much protein you are eating.
“I don’t feel good when I eat a lot of protein” – it is a good idea to gradually increase the amount of protein you eat. You could be having trouble digesting protein. If this is the case, reach out to me for some help. There are a number of relatively easy things that you could do to help improve your digestion of protein. I can either help you or point you to some resources.
“Protein does not sound appetizing to me” – try a variety of proteins cooked in a variety of ways. This could also be due to a basic nutrient deficiency that could be corrected. I can help with that! I’m trying to be environmentally conscious and don’t eat meat – do your best to get protein from other sources. Also check out The Sustainable Dish for ways to eat better for your health and for the planet.
“I just have too many questions and I don’t really know what to eat or if this is what I should do” – fill out this Apply for Coaching form to set up a free 15 minute meeting with me to chat about your needs and how I could possibly help. You definitely don’t have to do this on your own!
I’d love to hear from you – did you learn anything new about protein? How are you doing with your protein intake? What is your biggest struggle? Send me an email or comment below.
Also, stay tuned for some exciting news about some fun ways you can learn to nourish your body in the new year.