Not enough protein? Does that really happen? Protein comes in just about everything we eat, right? Right! This means a person who is low on protein is probably undernourished in general. That said, being on the low end of the protein spectrum can happen as we get older. Here are the signs, why it occurs, and how to adjust your intake to make sure you have a high protein diet.
As a bonus, we include a simple, satisfying, and protein-packed recipe: Luscious Lentil Soup.
Feeling a Bit Tired? Could Low Protein Be the Culprit?
If you’re really taking exercise to the hilt, you might feel tired a lot of the time. Maybe you’re starting to run low on energy, even on your easy days.
If your diet is comparatively low on protein, fatigue can be a sign that you’re approaching a protein deficiency. The reason is simple. Prolonged, high-energy activities raise our muscle building rate.
So, exercise stimulates the body to use up protein, and integrate it into our muscles. This is called protein synthesis. And the amino acids in protein are the fuel for this wonderful process.
Working Out Regularly? Boosting Your Protein Level Is Easy.
If you’re concerned about being too close to a protein deficiency, eat an hour before you exercise. Oatmeal for breakfast is a good protein replenisher. Inside one cooked cup of oatmeal is 6 grams of protein. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests 46 grams of protein for women daily.
In a hurry to get going? You could just have some peanut butter on crackers. Peanut butter has 4 grams of protein in each tablespoon.
Later, after your workout, enjoy a dinner that includes plenty of protein.
Within two weeks, you should experience a regular, deep and refreshing nightly sleep, and feel noticeably more energetic — even if you are burning more calories.
The reason? Protein before and after your workouts fortifies you with essential amino acids when your body needs them most.
Not All Fatigue Signals a Protein Deficiency.
Regardless of your activity level, maybe you are just plain tired. A number of reasons could be at play. Here are some common issues to troubleshoot.
- Could you be low on your caloric intake in general? For active women, an appropriate calorie consumption total can be as high as 2,400 per day, before dropping to 2,000 after age 60.
- Are you getting ample hydration? Drink plenty of fluids and focus on well-balanced meals, including some raw vegetables and fruits, to help restore your balance.
- Maybe your sleep patterns are stubbornly out of whack. A white noise machine with waves (or a “wave” app downloaded on your tablet) can help you drift off to a sound, refreshing sleep.
Of course, no general advice can substitute for an individual exam and instructions from your doctor. Write daily notes about what you eat, the supplements you take, your exercise patterns, how you’re sleeping, and how you’re feeling. It will help you prepare for your appointment, and enable you to give valuable information to your doctor.
Concerned About Muscle Loss? A Protein Diet Matters.
Once you pass 70, your protein needs really change.
Current research indicates the over-seventy crowd needs to raise daily protein intake to slow muscle loss.
Adults 50+ lose somewhere from .5 to 1% of our muscle mass each year. The older we get, the less protein our muscles can integrate. When our muscles naturally become less efficient at integrating amino acids, we do need more protein for muscle maintenance.
So, while 46 grams of daily protein is standard for women, you might need a boost when you’re over 70. Your body will take what it needs, and then excrete the excess protein.
Read more here: How Much Protein do you REALLY Need?
What Are the Most Healthful Protein Sources?
Eggs are protein-packed, with about 6 grams concentrated in every egg. Some athletes use eggs to raise their protein intake.
That said, you can focus wholly on non-animal sources and still have plenty of protein. As we’ve noted previously, animal protein could be leaching calcium out of your bones. In contrast, there is readily absorbable protein and calcium in plants.
Contrary to popular belief, plant-based proteins do not have to be mixed and matched in any certain way. The American Dietetic Association, citing research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tells us we don’t need to get a complete profile of amino acids (“complementary proteins”) in one meal.
Simply enjoying a varied diet with enough calories should, at least until you’re 70, support your protein needs. The key idea is to prepare foods with a range of protein sources throughout the day. Rest assured that most foods (but not fats or sugars!) contain protein. Tempeh, beans, broccoli and tofu are especially high in protein. So is quinoa, which was a South American staple for centuries before it became popular in the global north.
Let’s look at specific foods in a little more detail.
Have a Plentiful Protein Diet with These Nutritious Picks.
Peas and beans
- Peas are great as a side dish, and a nice addition to soups and stews. Enjoy cannellini beans with anything Italian. Try edamame in Asian-style dishes or with riced cauliflower. Chickpeas blended with tahini, lemon and garlic make a classic hummus dip. Kidney beans make a hearty addition to fresh salads. Pinto or black beans, or even lentils, are perfect for tacos. Lentils are protein powerhouses. They also give you calcium and magnesium, iron and phosphorus, folacin and potassium. There’s everything to like about lentils.
- Walnuts, almonds, pecans, or pistachios, cashews or peanuts — all are good protein sources. Chopped nuts make a nice topping for salads, oatmeal, shakes or desserts. Sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds are little protein superstores. Chia seeds have 4 grams of protein in every ounce, and 18% of your recommended daily calcium. That beats milk three times over!
- Have you tried tempeh, fermented tofu? It has a nutty taste and works well when soaked or simmered in a sauce of your choice. And compared to most vegetables, which offer 1 to 2 grams of protein per cup, tempeh has a formidable 15 grams of protein in just a half-cup serving. It’s fantastic when crumbled into chili, or marinated and broiled into high-protein croutons for your salads. Sliced and browned tempeh, lettuce and tomato is the new BLT!
- The protein total in one avocado is 4 grams, according to the folks at Rodale. Chop one up to garnish that chili. Slice one to enjoy on a piece of whole-wheat toast. One reason avocados are so popular has to do with their famous protein. It has the full spectrum of essential amino acids — just the kind of portfolio that supports your muscle mass. Avocados also offer Omega-3 fatty acids, so your heart and brain will thank you.
Now for that Luscious Lentil Soup recipe we promised. This is as simple and as healthful as it is delicious. We hope it becomes a go-to soup for you, and keeps you in protein for years to come!
This soup is wonderful on its own or served with a Mediterranean-style lunch or dinner. Makes 3-4 servings.
- A package of steamed, ready-to-eat lentils (or you can cook and drain 1½ cups dried lentils)
- 2 large carrots, 1 medium yellow onion, and 2 stalks of celery, all chopped
- 1½ cups stewed or diced canned tomatoes
- A dash of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste
To prepare your soup:
Simmer all ingredients in one cup of water for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir often, adding water as needed as the soup thickens.
Feeling fortified? Lentils will do that. With each tablespoon of lentils comes 1.1 grams of protein. No wonder lentils have served as a key protein for thousands of years!
PS: As Winter Approaches, There’s One More Reason to Appreciate Protein.
A protein diet maintains our muscles and organs. It does something else, too. It plays a key role in a strong immune system. So, especially during the colder seasons, your daily protein intake is bringing you amino acids that are critically necessary for immune protein synthesis. And that helps you feel your best when the weather’s at its worst.
What you eat can make a big difference in your immune system’s health, and can help your body respond faster and better when challenged. So enjoy your soup. Share it with friends. Make enough for tonight, and tomorrow night as well.
If you want to add a variety of protein to your diet and want to talk to other women who are doing the same join Prime Women’s PLATE. PLATE is a weight management program for women over 50 that encourages eating a variety of proteins. And you’ll become a part of a group of women who have similar goals to talk about your weight loss journey with. Learn more about PLATE or become a member today!