Protein is essential for living organisms. It gives us energy, helps our bodies recover, and keeps our tummies satisfied. Protein is composed of long-chain amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle. Your body produces 11 amino acids, and the others—the nine essential amino acids—you must consume from food.
That said, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Below are some symptoms of protein deficiency—keep in mind that as with any nutrient deficiency, symptoms can have other causes, so this is a general list and not to be used to self-diagnose.
1. You have high cholesterol
High cholesterol and triglycerides are not just caused by eating fatty foods — they are also a result of increased inflammation, hormonal imbalances and high-processed/high-sugar diets.
If you tend to replace protein foods with sugary snacks, refined carbs and packaged convenient goods, your cholesterol can start to rise as your liver and cells process fats less efficiently.
Some studies have even found an inverse relationship exists between protein intake and risk of heart disease.
2. Your pants are feeling tighter
Some research show that diets deficient in protein often lead to an increase food consumption, body weight and fat mass.
Although sometimes higher in calories than carbs, high-protein foods cause increased satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrates or fats do, so they can prevent overeating and snacking. They also help stabilize your blood sugar, allow you to retain more muscle, which burns more calories all day, and can reduce cravings.
3. You aren’t sleeping well
Poor sleep and insomnia can sometimes be linked to unstable blood sugar levels, a rise in cortisol and a decrease in serotonin production. Blood sugar swings during the day carry over through the night.
Carbohydrates require much more insulin than fat or protein. Eating foods with protein before bed can help with tryptophan and serotonin production, and they have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels. In fact, protein slows down the absorption of sugar during a meal.
4. You’re feeling more anxious and moody
Amino acids are the building blocks for neurotransmitters that control your mood. Proteins help the brain synthesize hormones like dopamine and serotonin that help bring on positive feelings like calm, excitement and positivity.
5. You have “brain fog”
Protein is needed to support many aspects of healthy neurological functioning. Brain fog, poor concentration, lack of motivation and trouble learning new information can be signs that you’re low in neurotransmitters that you need to focus, including dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and serotonin.
Neurotransmitters are synthesized in the brain using amino acids, and studies show that balanced diets with enough protein can boost work performance, learning and motor skills. Bone broth and its l-glutamine can help with brain fog.
6. You’re gassy and can’t go to the bathroom
Many metabolic and digestive functions depend on amino acid intake. If your body feels fatigued and run down in general due to protein deficiency, enzyme production, muscle contractions in your GI tract and digestion in general will suffer.
7. Your menstrual cycle is irregular
One of the most common reasons women suffer from irregular periods and infertility is the condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Two major risk factors for PCOS are obesity and pre-diabetes or diabetes — in fact, insulin resistance affects 50–70 percent of all women with PCOS.
Low-protein, high-sugar/high-carb diets can contribute to insulin resistance, fatigue, inflammation and weight gain that disrupts the delicate balance of female hormones (including that of estrogen, progesterone and DHEA) needed to sustain a regular cycle.
8. You’ve been getting injured more often and are slow to heal
A low-protein diet can raise your risk for falling, slow bone healing, bone weakness, fractures and even osteoporosis. Protein is needed for calcium absorption and helping with bone metabolism.
Studies show that older adults with the greatest bone losses are those with a low protein intake of about 16–50 grams per day. Research also shows that a diet high in amino acids can help treat muscle loss due to aging.
9. Your workouts are suffering
Studies generally show that among athletes, a higher protein diet is superior to a lower protein diet in terms of increasing fat-free mass. You’re probably already aware that protein is needed to build new muscle mass, but it’s also important for sustaining your energy and motivation.
A low-protein diet can result in muscle atrophy (wasting), fatigue and even fat gain. It can also be behind female athlete triad, a problem that contributes to irregular periods and loss of bone mass. In fact, you can work out more but see less results if your diet isn’t adequate to support tissue repair or your energy needs.
10. Your hair, nails and skin aren’t as youthful and strong
Connective tissue, skin, hair and nails are mostly made up of protein, including collagen and elastin. When your diet lacks collagen and certain amino acids, it can be harder to repair wounds, keep skin’s youthful texture, and to maintain thick hair and prevent breakage.
Sources: mindbodygreen.com, draxe.com