You may know that extra protein intake will help you build muscle mass and may also help with weight loss, but what are your body’s actual protein needs?

Before you start adding protein shakes to your diet or dumping protein powder into your oatmeal, it is important to understand how much protein your body needs to maintain the muscle mass you already have. That will help you determine a healthy amount of protein to add in order to reach your specific fitness goals.

The exact amount of protein needed to sustain your body today depends on many factors, including your age, height and current body weight. In general terms, most people need approximately 50 grams of protein per day. Men may need a bit more, and women may need a bit less. You should aim for at least 10% of your daily caloric intake to come from protein, so that will help you determine the minimum grams you might need each day.

If your fitness goals include weight loss and muscle development, then you may want to get 30-40% of your calories from protein. If you are concerned that your protein needs are not being met, your body may be trying to send you signals. The following five signs will help you diagnose a protein deficiency if you have one.

1. You lack energy, tire out easily, or feel weak in general.

Is lethargic the perfect word to describe you much of the time? Can you only handle so much activity before you are ready to collapse for a long nap? Your body may be trying to tell you to bump up the protein to match your energy output. Protein supports your muscles and keeps them strong and healthy. When you break your muscles down through workouts and daily life, protein helps build them back up. Muscles without this support get weak and that makes you tired.

2. Your ankles, wrists or other body parts are swollen.

Fluid retention under the skin is one of the most common, but least recognized, symptom of protein deficiency. While building your muscle so you are strong and well-defined, protein helps regulate fluids inside your body. When you lack protein, the fluid builds up and creates that unattractive puffy look. If this gets too bad, your skin may feel tight and uncomfortable. You may also be dehydrated, so increasing your water intake may help as well.

3. You notice your hair falling out, or your hair just seems to get thinner by the year.

There are other medical conditions that may cause your hair to fall out, so you don’t want to assume this is all the protein and avoid seeing your doctor. Of course, you may lose hair as an unpleasant side effect of the natural aging process, especially if you are a man. It is always a good idea to go in for a checkup if you notice substantial or sudden hair loss, but it might turn out to be a simple problem that can be fixed with protein powder.

Your hair is largely made up of protein, so it needs to be replenished with fresh protein in order to remain healthy and alive. When your protein intake is not adequate, your hair suffers along with your muscles.

4. Your fingernails have rough lines running from the top cuticle to the ends of the nail.

This is one of the simplest signs that your protein needs are not being met. The lines may travel across the nail if you once had a protein deficiency but have already corrected the problem, at least temporarily. The lines or rough ridges are signs that your nails are not receiving the protein they need to remain thick and strong. This weakens the nails and leaves them at greater risk for breaks and splits.

5. You tend to heal slowly when you injure or overwork a muscle. You may also notice slower than usual healing for cuts and other bodily injuries.

This is a symptom often noticed with more substantial protein deficiencies, but it is a fact that your body will struggle to heal itself when its protein needs are not met. Your muscles depend on protein to heal and grow, so the healing process is much slower when protein is lacking. That is enough to motivate most people to start getting more protein because they don’t want to sit on the sidelines of life any longer than possible when they are injured.

Simple cuts and injuries to the skin may also heal slower if the skin does not have the protein needed to repair and generate new tissue. The longer it takes a cut to heal, the more risk you have of developing an infection.

Isn’t it amazing how much of an affect protein has on your overall health and the functioning of your body?

You may think of your protein powder as a tool to get larger, better defined muscles that turn heads, but it is actually much more than that. It is a way to ensure your body’s protein needs are met without going over your calorie limits or sabotaging your progress toward fitness goals.

Your body needs protein, so drink up!

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