The benefits of protein are numerous, from helping build muscle to ensuring that meals keep you feeling full longer. Protein provides essential amino acids to the body, so it affects every system’s health. Needless to say, it’s one of the most important parts of a healthy diet.
However, many people are deficient in protein without realizing it. This deficiency can affect people with many different lifestyles and diets, so it’s essential to know what signs to look out for if you think you may not be getting enough.
9 Symptoms of Protein Deficiency
1. Increased or Consistent Hunger
While feeling hungry can happen throughout the day, especially if you wait a long time between meals, it shouldn’t happen consistently or increasingly. If you notice that you get hungry faster than normal or have more intense hunger pangs, then it’s likely your meals haven’t had enough protein.
While the amount needed varies based on a lot of individual factors—like sex, weight, and activity level—it’s important to get enough to ensure your body gets the lasting nourishment it needs. Ideally, each meal should include protein instead of getting the recommended daily amount in just one sitting.
Alongside hunger come cravings. Sometimes, yes, you might just really want a chocolate bar. However, if you often find yourself craving the same types of foods, like protein or sugar, then there may be an underlying issue.
When you lack protein, your body will crave protein, but sugar cravings are just as likely. This is because sugar provides the instant energy your body may need to combat the protein deficiency.
3. Slow Wound Recovery
Protein helps the body produce collagen, a factor in skin’s healing and elasticity, which means a deficit can show up in your skin. One of the ways this appears is that wounds, such as cuts and scrapes, might take longer to heal than you feel is your norm.
4. More Frequent Colds and Illnesses
Amino acids from protein help your immune system create antibodies, making them one of the building blocks of your overall health. When your diet lacks protein, it might mean that your body can’t protect itself against viruses and infections as easily as it should.
5. Lack of Muscle Growth
Protein, alongside exercise, is the key component to building strong, healthy muscles. If you have been increasing strength training and exercise without seeing noticeable gains, you might not be eating enough protein to match the exercise that you are doing. If this deficiency lasts long enough, you may also begin to lose muscle mass.
6. Skin and Hair Issues
Protein is important for collagen and amino acid production in the body, ensuring the immune system and other vital functions work properly. When the body lacks the necessary support, it’ll prioritize those needs over other areas, like skin and hair.
This can result in increased acne or eczema, brittle hair, and even hair loss, as well as brittle fingernails that are more prone to breakage. Having healthy skin and hair can sometimes be as simple as a dietary change.
7. Fatigue or Weakness
Skipping meals or omitting protein from them can deprive your body of the nutrients and calories needed for energy, and you may get tired more quickly.
Furthermore, protein deficiency can lead to increased fatigue and weakness over time. When the body experiences a prolonged deficiency, it can eventually begin to break down muscle mass as a source of protein and energy to sustain vital organ function.
8. Mood Instability
You’ve probably heard or made jokes about feeling hangry before, but a protein deficiency really can cause serious mood changes throughout the day.
When your body lacks a sufficient supply of amino acids, it can affect the neurotransmitters that help supply serotonin throughout the body and support your mood.
9. Bad Sleep Quality
Tossing and turning at night or not getting enough restorative sleep can affect your whole day. Amino acids do more than support immune system function and mood regulation—they also help deliver tryptophan throughout the body. Tryptophan is key to helping you enter deep sleep during the night, producing more normal, restful sleep cycles.
How to Improve Your Protein Intake
Now that you know what to look out for, it’s essential to know how to ensure that you are getting enough protein during your day. Solving the problem is easier than you might expect: Add a source of protein to every meal, get your recommended daily amount, and diversify your sources (yup, you’ll be going beyond meat or eggs).
The recommended amount of protein per day is roughly 0.8 grams for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. If you weigh 160 pounds, you should try to consume about 58 grams of protein a day. Typically, you should eat more in the first half of your day rather than at dinner so your body has time to process the protein before starting its rest cycle.
Starting your day with protein-rich Greek yogurt is a great option, especially if you top it with a high-protein cereal. Can’t live without a classic bowl of cereal and milk? Try adding a spoonful of protein powder to your leftover milk for some extra morning fuel without the afternoon crash.
In addition to adding more protein to your diet, talk to your doctor about any protein deficiency symptoms you may be experiencing. They can guide you through meaningful lifestyle changes that keep you feeling satisfied and healthy.