Getting Enough Protein

Are You Getting Enough Protein After Weight Loss Surgery?

February 21, 2024

Are You Getting Enough Protein After Weight Loss Surgery? Protein is an essential nutrient found in food. It plays a vital role in many functions of the body, including tissue repair, hormone synthesis, and immune system support. After bariatric surgery, its importance cannot be stressed enough.

Bariatric surgery reduces the size of the stomach and ultimately, the amount of food that can be consumed at one time. Additionally, surgery impacts the body’s ability to digest and absorb macro and micronutrients. With limited portion size and caloric intake, protein takes center stage. It plays the starting role in the diet, serving as the cornerstone to preserving muscle mass, supporting metabolic function, hair growth, hormone production, balancing blood sugars, and more. 

Reaching Your Protein Goals

The daily recommended amount of protein for a bariatric surgery patient is a minimum of 60-80 grams per day. Changes to stomach capacity, taste preferences, hunger levels and appetite can all impact an individual’s ability to meet their daily needs. To reach the goal of at least 60 grams per day, individuals must focus on eating adequate portions of high quality protein sources at every meal and snack.

Many individuals aim to eat a diet with a combination of both animal and plant sources to meet the recommended targets for protein. Good sources of protein include foods such as lean meats, fish and seafood, eggs, dairy products, beans, tofu, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Additionally, individuals can use protein supplements to meet their protein needs.

Examples of some animal and plant protein sources:


3 oz chicken
3 oz ground beef
3 oz salmon
3 oz shrimp
3 oz canned tuna
1 egg
1 oz low-fat cheese
½ cup Greek yogurt
½ cup cottage cheese
½ cup black beans
¼ block tofu
1 oz pumpkin seeds
1 oz chia seeds
1 oz almonds


23 grams
22 grams
17 grams
20 grams
16 grams
6 grams
7 grams
12-14 grams
14 grams
8 grams
7 grams
5 grams
4.7 grams
6 grams

While the daily recommendations for protein are at least 60-80 grams per day, individual needs may vary. Some individuals may need additional protein due to high activity levels, lean body mass goals, and health needs. Your medical team or dietitian should be able to help you assess your individual needs. However, if you are worried you are not eating enough protein, these are some potential signs or symptoms of inadequate protein intake:

You’re constantly hungry

Adequate protein at meals and snacks has the added benefit of helping to keep you full longer between meals because it requires significant energy and time to digest. If you are eating meals with no or low amounts of protein, you may feel hungrier soon after eating. Aiming for 15 grams of protein, or more, at each meal or snack can ensure you feel satiated between meals and hit your target by the end of the day.

You are “hangry” or feeling tired

If you are skipping meals or going too long without eating, you might experience changes to your mood, including irritability. This irritability, or “hanger” as some label it, is due to the rapid decrease in your blood sugar level. You may also experience a decrease in energy, weakness, or an increase in cravings. Eating protein-packed, balanced meals throughout the day will minimize the risk of these mood and energy imbalances.

You are losing muscle or strength

Muscle is the foundation for an active metabolism. The more muscle you carry on your body, the more calories you burn throughout the day, regardless of activity levels. If you are not eating enough protein to support your needs, your body will begin breaking down your muscle to access protein and amino acids for other essential functions. Muscle loss can present as body aches, decreased strength, and weakness. You can see these changes with the help of body composition assessment using a smart scale or DEXA scan.

You are experiencing changes to the quality of your hair, skin, or nails

Inadequate protein intake over time may also lead to hair loss, brittle nails, or impaired wound healing. While some of these changes are common and expected within the first 3-4 months after surgery, they should resolve over time. However, if these issues persist or new concerns develop, it may indicate that you are not consuming enough protein, calories, or micronutrients. It would be important to talk with your doctor about these concerns.

7 tips to help you meet your daily protein targets:

  1. Aim for a protein-rich meal or snack every 3-4 hours.
  2. Eat protein first at every meal and snack.
  3. Use protein supplements if you are unable to consume enough solid protein food, have intolerances to food, or as a convenient option when you are on the go.
  4. Track your protein intake in a phone app such as Baritastic, as needed, to ensure your typical intake is enough to meet your daily needs.
  5. Regularly assess your body composition to ensure you are not losing skeletal muscle.
  6. Practice meal planning to have easy access to a variety of protein-rich foods.
  7. Store non-perishable protein snacks in your car, desk, or purse for convenient options that are easy to reach when time is limited. These might include meat sticks, dehydrated edamame, pumpkin seeds, or protein shakes.

Protein intake is important in both the weight loss and weight maintenance stages but, your needs may change over time. Be sure to follow up with your dietitian and surgical team to assess your body composition, labs, goals, and protein needs.

Megan Moore, RDN, CD is a registered dietitian with over 10 years of experience specializing in bariatric nutrition. Her website is

Getting Enough Protein
Megan Moore


Megan Moore, RDN, CD is a registered dietitian with over 10 years of experience specializing in bariatric nutrition. In her virtual private practice and as the best-selling author of "The Complete Bariatric Cookbook and Meal Plan," she has supported thousands of individuals on their post-bariatric surgery weight loss and wellness journeys. She empowers individuals to reclaim their vitality and health by offering personalized nutrition guidance and support, both pre-and post-operatively. Megan is a passionate advocate of the bariatric community and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with clients through speaking engagements, social media content (@mybariatricdietitian), and her website, Read more articles by Megan!