6 Signs You Might Have a Protein Deficiency 


Throughout the course of human evolution, we have continually sought out diverse, protein-rich foods to fuel our large brains and active bodies. We’ve known for a long time that protein is essential to almost all bodily functions, and that amino acids are the building blocks of human life. However, modern diets often lack the diversity and nutrition that our ancestors were biologically adapted to eat.

As a result, many of us are protein deficient and don’t even know it! Protein can come from many different sources- meat, dairy, plants, seeds etc. The important things are to make sure that you’re getting enough of it, and that you are getting a good balance of all the different kinds you need to function at your best.

So how can you tell if you’re protein deficient? These subtle cues can be a good indicator that you need to up your intake:

Your hair and nails are brittle, weak and dry

Nails that easily break and that have an uneven “ridged” texture can be a giveaway that you’re not getting the protein that you need. Hair that is constantly dry, breaks off easily, and lacks luster can also be a tell-tale symptom. Hair and nails are primarily made of protein, so it’s important to get enough for healthy growth. There are, however, other underlying health problems that can cause these issues, so it’s still important to consult with your physician if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Your skin is swollen and puffy

Severe protein deficiency often causes edema,  a build-up of fluids in the skin and muscle tissues. When you don’t get enough of a protein called human serum albumin, which regulates the absorption of fluid from tissues to blood, these fluids begin to build up in excess in body tissue, causing swelling and puffiness. Though relatively rare in the western world, edema can be a symptom of a very severe protein deficiency and should be addressed with your physician.

You feel weak and lethargic all day long

Weakness and lethargy can also be caused by a variety of health issues, but is frequently a sign that you aren’t getting enough protein. This is due to low protein stores in the body. The body converts protein into energy, so if you’re not getting enough, you’re not going to feel your best. Weakness and lethargy caused by a protein deficiency is often coupled with the inability to stay warm, and general irritability.

Your bones break easily

If you’ve experienced more bone breakage than average people, it may indicate that you are protein deficient (unless you ride dirt bikes or are a stunt double). When the body is protein deficient, it draws on reserves in the musculoskeletal system, leaving those areas depleted and prone to breakage.

Weakened Immune System

Are you constantly getting sick, or does it take you an unusually long amount of time to recover from infections and colds? This is a classic symptom of protein deficiency. Lack of protein can compromise the immune system, leading to longer recovery times and increased susceptibility to illness.

Loss of Muscle Mass

If you’re losing weight without trying, a variety of underlying health issues could be at play (especially if it happens rapidly). One of these reasons could be a protein deficiency. When the body is not getting enough protein, it pulls it from muscle tissue to maintain vital brain and organ functions. If you’re experiencing weight loss and decreased muscle tone, it’s definitely worth seeing your doctor, and also worth assessing your protein intake.

So How Much Protein Do I Need?

Protein intake varies from person to person, and needs are calculated based on age, weight, activity level, and medical needs. This Healthline article gives a good breakdown.

If you think you might not be getting enough or you’re looking for a convenient way to ensure you meet your daily needs, considering supplementing with a high quality whey protein or vegan protein. Fresh meats, dairy, legumes, and certain types of plant proteins will always be your best bet, but a high quality supplement can do wonders for your body when used consistently.

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