THE POWER OF PROTEIN AND TOP 6 SYMPTOMS OF PROTEIN DEFICIENCY
THE POWER OF PROTEIN
Protein is a rich source of amino acids needed in the body for several processes from structural support to transportation of oxygen into lungs and tissues. From a structural standpoint amino acids are needed to fuel and support the skeletal muscular system as well as structural support on a tissue and cellular level from every thing to cellular membranes to hair and nails. It is important to note amino acids act as a major building block for almost every biological process in the body. For instance; amino acids are also the building blocks of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. For this reason those deficient in protein are also deficient in neurotransmitters that can drive hunger and cravings leading to weight gain and can even impact mood, anxiety and sleep. Amino acids are also a major component of antibodies needed for immune function so it is ideal to ensure proper protein intake to support immune function.
PROTEIN & BODY COMPOSITION
The body has the ability to store sugar and fat but does not have the ability to store protein. In fact the only way the body can “store” or “save” amino acids from protein in through skeletal muscle mass. When we do not feed our body adequate protein like during times of starvation i.e. dieting or extreme calorie restriction our body is forced to break down our muscles for to provide amino acids for other processes in the body. Most importantly; a breakdown of muscles leads to a decrease in metabolic rate meaning we have to eat even less and work even harder to maintain or lose weight. In opposition to stored body fat which does not impact your metabolism in a positive way; the muscle in your body is very metabolically active. For instance; each pound of muscle burns up to 50 extra calories a day. A net gain of 10 lbs of muscle leads to an extra calorie burn of 3,500. A pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories which means gaining 10 lbs of muscle leads to burning of an extra pound of fat per week while at rest and with no change of diet or activity. It is this reason why low calorie or low protein diets can destroy metabolism as the body begins to break down muscle to conserve calories or energy as a protection mechanism during starvation. An added bonus of ensuring adequate protein intake is that your body actually uses energy or burns calories to break protein down into individual amino acids and then to build it back up into amino acid chains. Your body will only actually absorb 80 calories of a 100 calorie protein snack while it will absorb 100% of the calories from pure carbohydrates.
6 PRIMARY SYMPTOMS OF PROTEIN DEFICIENCY
Constant or frequent physical and or emotional hunger is often a sign we are not fueling our body properly. Especially if this hunger is happening after meals or frequently throughout the day regardless of snacking or skipping meals. Protein is needed to promote signals of satiety to the brain and stabilize blood sugar. Precious amino acids from protein are needed for many biological processes in the body as well. Ensure adequate protein by aiming for 20-35 grams at each meal and consider adding protein in snacks when hungry between meals.
2. MUSCLE LOSS
Fatigued muscle , increased body fat and loss of muscle can all be signs of inadequate protein intake as amino acids from protein are the building blocks of muscle. When the diet is low in protein the body is forced to break down muscle mass in order to gain amino acids to use for various processes in the body. Prevent muscle mass loss by aiming for 4-5 oz of biological protein with meals and ensuring repletion of amino acids post workout with a grassfed whey protein smoothie.
Remember amino acids such as tryptophan or tyrosine act as precursors to neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that can lead to depression and changes in mood and anxiety when off balance. Ensure adequate protein intake at meals and snacks to promote a positive mood and prevent cravings.
A deficiency in protein can certainly lead to both muscle fatigue and brain fog /fatigue. As mentioned above inadequate protein can promote muscle wasting leading to muscle cramps and fatigued muscle. Amino acids such as glutamine are used alongside glucose in the muscle for fuel. Also as mentioned above, amino acids are needed to build neurotransmitters involved in cognitive function and memory as well as brain fog.
5. HAIR LOSS
Keep in mind both collagen and keratin are the main components of hair and both of these products are comprised of amino acids from protein. Inadequate dietary intake can certainly lead to hair loss as the body needs amino acids such as cysteine, lysine, arginine and methionine to form hair. If hair loss is an issue consider also working with Collagen Peptides which are naturally found in bone broth ( see our recipe) and is a great source of amino acids to promote both hair,skin, and nail growth.
6. FLUID RETENTION
Protein is necessary to maintain adequate balance of fluid in and outside of the cells. Without proper protein coming from the diet the body often will retain fluid on the outside of cells causing both fluid retention or edema particularly around the abdomen and dehydration of the cells. Ensure proper water balance and reduce fluid retention by aiming for 20-35 grams of healthily sourced biological protein with each meal.
See our blog on calculating your protein needs and best protein sources.
Hey this article was very helpful. I recently found out I am anemic. And I started paying attention to what I eat and I never eat enough protein. So I notice on days especially days I start with protein I am less fatigue and just easier to fight a nap.
Thanks for reading!
You answered my concerns perfectly! I had the gastric sleeve procedure done on 9/14/18. I have since lost 60lbs. Nutritionist kept saying to eat protein, protein, protein, but didn’t explain why. I’ve been so tired, lethargic with painful cramps in my thighs, and depressed. Today I Googled “lack of protein and side effects” and your article came up. Thank you so much for publishing this
Awesome! Happy that it was helpful.
Hi. I changed to a plant based diet 3 years ago. Since then I’ve suffered anxiety and stress that resulted in me having burnout (adrenal fatigue). My sleep is poor whereas it was always decent until around 3 years ago. I’ve suffered muscle spasms and cramps in my legs resulting in me having to give up running (I used to run half marathons regularly) and I suffer terrible back spasms. Protein!! TY
Yes! Listen to episode 46 of the Naturally Nourished podcast to learn about my transition from vegetarianism, I also talk about this in The Anti-ANxiety Diet book!
Low protein due to excessive shedding of skin in, say, psoriasis like conditions, is possible. Does hypoalbunaemia due to this cause lead to oedema?
Yes, low albumin leads to fluid retention. You may focus on gut lining support and a quality grassfed whey to ensure repair of leaky gut and an easy to absorb protein.
I need help. I went vegan in December of last year. I loved the idea of it and I don’t crave meat. But it has been a roller coaster as far as my health goes and it takes weeks/months to see a doctor when you’re a new patient. More recently my muscles have become sore to the touch making me cringe at the thought of working out (I love lifting and roller skating). I also feel more depressed, it’s hard to focus. I just… I’m getting nervous for my health. At first I thought it could be a lack of B12, but as I look over my food diary and how much I am eating (I eat non stop, I can eat a full meal and make another full meal right after) my protein compared to carb/fat intake is extremely low.
We don’t recommend a vegan diet and believe that animal foods are best source of biological protein. Check out this podcast as a reference: https://www.alimillerrd.com/podcast/episode-42transitioning-from-vegan/