10 subtle signs that you have a protein deficiency

ShutterstockNot eating enough protein can lead to protein deficiency.
  • People who are older or have an imbalanced diet are more at risk for developing protein deficiency.
  • The level of protein deficiency can vary.
  • The FDA recommends 50 grams of protein per day.

If you want your body to perform at its best, you need to get enough protein.

Severe protein deficiency is pretty uncommon in developed countries. However, you are at risk of developing some level of protein deficiencyif you’re older or have an imbalanced diet. Regularly scarfing down toast for breakfast, crackers for lunch, and pasta for dinner might mean you’re not getting as much protein as you need.

So how much protein is actually enough? The FDA recommends about 50 grams per day for someone following a 2,000-calorie daily diet. The official FDA advice is that this protein should come from both plant and animal sources, but there are plenty of ways for vegans and vegetarians to get enough protein to fill that daily quota.

Here are a few subtle signs and symptoms that you actually have a protein deficiency.


Your libido seems to have disappeared.

trumzz/ iStockYou need protein to have a sexual appetite.

A waning interest in sex might actually signal a deeper nutritional issue. As Dr. Tina M. St. John explained on Livestrong, protein deficiency can lead to a loss of sexual interest or libido.

For people with vaginas, a lack of protein can also cause menstrual cycle irregularities and even temporary loss of fertility. It’s especially important for pregnant people to get enough protein, as fetal development can be harmed by inadequate maternal nutrition.


You’re constantly snacking and going back for seconds.

Casey Fleser/FlickrInadequate protein leads to increased appetite.

Your raging appetite might have something to do with your protein intake, according to scientists.

One study found that inadequate protein intake might prompt our bodies to rev up our appetite in an effort to get us to munch on something protein-rich. Another study suggested that we might be more prone to snack on savoury things when we’re protein-deficient, as savoury food tends to be higher in protein. Repeat trips to the refrigerator between meals might be a sign that it’s time to boost your protein intake.


You’re losing weight without even trying.

iStockProtein deficiency can lead to muscle wasting and weight loss over time.

Though it might sound like a dieter’s dream, losing weight without decreasing food intake or increasing activity might be a sign that your body is starving for protein.

When you have a moderate protein deficiency, your body may try to keep important tissues and organs healthy by cannibalising protein from your muscles. This can lead to muscle wasting and weight loss over time.

Though the risk of muscle wasting is greater in older and inactive people, anyone with a low protein intake can experience this damaging protein deficiency symptom.


You feel tired and weak throughout the day.

Photographee.eu/ShutterstockFeeling lethargic and tired can come from lack of protein.

One classic sign of a protein deficiency is a feeling of weakness or constant fatigue.

As registered dietitian Erica Wickham explained on Livestrong, feeling lethargic and tired all the time can be the result of low protein stores in the body. This fatigue can also be coupled with an inability to stay warm and general irritability.

Of course, fatigue can have many different medical causes. If you find yourself feeling tired every day, it’s worth scheduling an appointment with your doctor.


You have a cold that you just can’t shake.

ShutterstockOur immune systems don’t function well with low protein.

Catching every bug that goes around the office or battling a constantly runny nose might actually be signs that you’re not getting enough protein.

Several studies have uncovered evidence that our immune systems don’t function as well when we’re low on protein. In fact, even having a mild protein deficiency might significantly reduce your ability to fight infections. If you find yourself taking more sick days than usual, adding a bit more protein to your diet might help.


You’re exhausted and sore long after hitting the gym.

ShutterstockIf you’re still feeling it a couple days after the gym, you might have protein deficiency.

A gruelling workout can definitely leave you wobbly at the knees. But if you’re still exhausted a day or two after leaving the gym, you might want to reevaluate your eating habits.

Slow recovery and muscle repair after exercise can be a key sign of inadequate protein intake. Minor injuries sustained during your workout that would otherwise heal overnight can stick around for much longer if you’re not eating enough protein. If you feel wobbly and sore long after exercising, adding some protein to the mix might a good idea.


You’ve recently suffered a bone fracture.

Wikimedia CommonsProtein helps bones stay strong.

Though you might not link your eating habits to that fracture you got after stumbling during a hike, getting enough protein does play a part in maintaining resilient bones.

A recent research review suggested that eating a diet that is rich in protein can help protect our bones. This may be because our bodies borrow protein from areas such as our skeletal muscle tissue when we’re not getting enough protein from our diet. When skeletal muscle is weakened, it makes us more prone to bone injuries.


Your nails are brittle and or ridged.

dillon gillard/FlickrBrittle nails could be an indication.

The cure for your brittle nails might be a burger. According to Healthline, ridged or brittle nails can be an indication that your body is low in protein. However, other nutrient deficiencies and medical conditions can also cause nail brittleness or ridges, so it’s important to get checked by a doctor or dermatologist if you notice an unusual change in the colour or texture of your nails.


You notice that there’s much more hair in your hairbrush than usual.

Phimsri/ShutterstockYour hair might thin.

If you skimp on protein for long enough, you might end up with thinning hair and increased hair loss.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, two to three months of low protein intake can result in hair loss due to the body’s natural ability to redirect scarce protein where it’s needed most. Hair growth isn’t as essential as other vital bodily functions, so it’s one of the first things to slow down when your body is short on protein. Keep your locks looking great by making sure you’re eating a balanced diet.


Your skin seems swollen or puffy.

mraoraor/ iStockExtreme cases on protein deficiency can lead to swollen or puffy skin.

One symptom of a severe protein deficiency is swollen or puffy skin.

When you don’t take in enough protein, scientists believe that your blood starts running low in a protein called human serum albumin. Albumin helps maintains oncotic pressure, which is the mechanism that draws fluid from the body’s tissues into the blood. When you don’t have enough albumin, fluids can begin to build up in your tissues. This causes edema or swelling.

In severe cases, protein deficiency can lead to a disorder called kwashiorkor in which a large amount of fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity, causing a distended belly.

Though swelling and puffiness usually only present in cases of severe protein deficiency, it’s worth getting checked by a doctor if you suspect you’re having trouble taking in enough protein.

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