Not eating enough protein can stop you from keeping muscle while losing fat

A man eating a chicken and bean curry with brown rice.
Chicken curry with beans and rice is a great protein-rich meal. Getty
  • If you don’t eat enough protein, you may find it harder to reach your fitness goals.
  • Protein is satiating, so keeps hunger pangs at bay, registered dietitian Alix Turoff said.
  • It also uses more calories being digested than carbs and fat.
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Protein is one of three macronutrients which, alongside fat and carbs, make up all foods.

The recommended daily amount for US adults is 0.8g protein per kg of bodyweight a day, but active people require more to help with muscle growth and repair.

Registered dietitian Alix Turoff told Insider she thinks of this as the bare minimum.

“It’s important to note that adequate doesn’t necessarily mean optimal, just that this amount of protein has been shown to be the minimum needed to prevent a protein deficiency,” she told Insider.

A post shared by Alix Turoff MS, RD, CPT (@alixturoff_rd)

A 2019 study of 11,680 participants conducted by Ohio State University found that 1/3 of US adults over the age of 50 aren’t eating adequate protein.

If you don’t consume enough protein your health could suffer, and you might also find it harder to reach your fitness goals. Here are the risks to watch out for.

Your muscles won’t recover well without protein

Even if you’re not aiming to build muscle while working out, you still need to consume adequate protein.

“Getting enough protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis, is essential for tissue turnover, aids in recovery, and can help us get stronger and increase our muscle mass,” Turoff said.

Exercise tears the muscle fibers, and protein helps them repair so you can get stronger and train again.

You’ll be hungrier

High-protein diets are more satiating than lower protein diets, according to Turoff, which means you can eat less without getting hungry.

Higher-protein foods are usually higher in volume than fat or carb sources which means you can eat more of it for the same amount of calories, further increasing your satiety levels,” she said.

In addition to keeping you full, protein has a higher “thermic effect of food” (TEF) than fat and carbs – this means that it uses more energy to be digested, Turoff said.

While the impact of this on fat loss isn’t huge, it plays a role.

It’ll be harder to lose fat and keep muscle without adequate protein

Weight loss is a common goal, but what many people actually want is fat loss and muscle maintenance, thus changing body composition.

Protein plays an important role in holding on to muscle while in a calorie deficit.

“Higher-protein diets for fat loss can also lead to more weight lost from fat than muscle, leading to a better body composition,” Turoff said.