What Happens When You Don't Take Enough Protein?

A human body cannot produce everything on its own to function. There are some essential nutrients that a person should consume through a proper nutritious diet to help the body function properly to maintain optimal health. 


These essential nutrients are key to good health, the body's growth, development, and reproduction. The basic nutrients fall into two categories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Macronutrients consist of the nutrients your body needs in larger amounts, including carbohydrates, protein, and fat. These provide your body with energy or calories. On the other hand, micronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in smaller amounts, commonly referred to as vitamins and minerals but as essential as macronutrients. 


It is simpler to have a healthy, balanced lifestyle when you are aware of the various nutrients in foods, how they affect your body, and how to include them in your diet. 

Let's dig deeper into macronutrients and their sub-category protein which is of utmost importance in a person's body. 


Why is protein important?


Since protein is one of the fundamental building components of your body, it makes sense to wonder if protein deficit symptoms could arise if you don't consume enough of it each day.

You may already be aware that protein aids muscle growth and is essential for maintaining satiety throughout the day. Still, it actually accomplishes a lot more than is generally viewed. According to the US National Library of Medicine, every cell in your body has protein. It maintains your overall health on all levels, from your bones to your skin.


A multifunctional macronutrient, protein has a wide range of functions. It gives your body the amino acids (molecules that work together to form proteins), which are necessary for everyone, not just those who routinely use the weight machines at the gym. According to Adam M. Gonzalez, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., associate professor of allied health and kinesiology at Hofstra University in New York, "when most individuals think about obtaining adequate protein in their diet, they start to think about gaining muscle." But many individuals are unaware that many of our bodies' components are formed of protein.


Nine of the 20 amino acids found in protein are necessary. The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that since your body cannot produce essential amino acids, they must be obtained from the diet. Our bodies can naturally create non-essential amino acids or ingest them through diet.


The blood, tissues, muscles, and immune system all depend on these amino acids, according to Andy Brill, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in New York City. Your body struggles mightily to perform what it must to keep you alive when your daily protein intake is too low.

There are many functions that protein plays in your body. It allows metabolic reactions, coordinates bodily functions, and helps repair and build your body's tissues. Aside from providing structural support, proteins also maintain the pH balance in the body. In addition, they are critical for maintaining a strong immune system, storing vitamins and minerals, and acting as a source of energy. This combination of functions makes protein an essential nutrient.


What happens when you are protein deficient?


Whether you're a heavy weightlifter, an avid runner, or a yoga practitioner, your body requires protein to function. Dietary protein serves a variety of vital functions in our systems. Its primary function is to serves as the foundation for skin, bone, cartilage, and muscles. Additionally, it generates digestive enzymes, maintains the health of our immune system, and nourishes our bodies with essential nutrients. As you can see, protein has several advantages for your health besides helping you gain muscle. Therefore, whether you lift weights or not, you must ensure you get enough of this crucial macronutrient.


The amount of protein each person consumes varies depending on their height, weight, body fat percentage, level of activity, and other factors. It is advised to consume.8 to 1.0 g of protein for every pound of body weight. Calculate your macros if you prefer skipping math and considering external factors instead. However, most people don't monitor their protein or macronutrient intake... Although it's not always bad, many people need more protein. It can be challenging to assess whether you are consuming adequate protein in your diet if you are not tracking your intake.


In extreme situations, failing to consistently consume enough protein to meet your body's needs might result in a protein deficit. Before you panic, just because you didn't eat enough protein for a few days doesn't indicate you have a protein deficiency. It applies to extreme situations where dietary protein is scarce, such as in underdeveloped nations. Although severe protein deficiency is rare in the UK, many people consume very little protein in their diets. Furthermore, even though they might not be as severe as true protein deficits, side effects must still be handled seriously.


A wide range of symptoms is associated with protein deficiency, depending on the severity of the condition. Despite the rarity of true deficiencies, the following red flags should be considered:



1.     Increased Hunger


Foods high in protein are reputed to be more satiating than those high in other macronutrients, such as carbohydrates. A meal high in carbohydrates will digest more rapidly than a meal high in protein, which will take longer to digest and make you feel full for hours. This may cause you to feel hungry again soon after eating and to reach for snacks more frequently.

You may need more protein if you notice that you get hungry more frequently throughout the day and feel unsatisfied after eating.


2.     Low on Energy


A low-protein diet can make you feel exhausted or lethargic even after a restful night's sleep. Protein is slowly absorbed, which can aid in controlling blood sugar levels. Being fatigued can result from blood sugar spikes and crashes, but this can be avoided by eating enough protein throughout the day. So, include protein in every meal and snack to help control your blood sugar levels and keep you feeling energetic all day.


3.     Skin, hair, and nail problems


According to a 2019 study in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, persons who consumed less than half of the daily necessary protein limit (i.e., were significantly deficient) experienced skin and hair issues like hair loss, acne, melisma, and premature aging. The study's authors point out that one explanation for this is that protein is a foundational element for strong hair, skin, and nails.


Did you know that protein makes up the majority of your hair? Keratin is a protein that makes up this substance. Your body will begin to save protein if you don't consume enough of it, lowering the amount of keratin available to your hair follicles. This will cause rapid hair loss and/or thin, fragile hair. Consider checking to see if you're getting enough protein each day if you're noticing greater hair loss than usual.


When your body cannot produce enough protein, you may experience dry, flaky skin and deep ridges on your fingernails. Of course, your diet isn't the only factor to consider, but it is something one should consider. 


4.     Slow healing


Cuts and scrapes commonly take longer to heal for those who are poor in protein. The same appears to apply to sprains and other accidents brought on by activity. It can be yet another consequence of your body producing insufficient collagen. Along with your skin, connective tissues also contain it. You also need proteins for blood clotting.


5.     Effects on the Mood


Neurotransmitters are chemicals that your brain utilizes to transfer information between cells. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are used to make several neurotransmitters. Therefore, a deficiency in protein in your diet may prevent your body from producing enough of those neurotransmitters, which would alter how your brain functions. For instance, you might experience depression or excessive aggression if your dopamine and serotonin levels are low.


6.     Edema (swelling)

One of the obvious indicators of kwashiorkor is swelling, which medical professionals refer to as edema. This is a sign of a serious protein deficit. Dr. Brill claims that individuals with a severe protein deficiency can experience edema, or fluid accumulation, in their legs, feet, and abdomen due to abnormally low amounts of albumin (a protein found in the blood). Again, unless you're severely undernourished, this is unlikely to happen.


7.     Getting sick or staying sick


Your blood's amino acids aid in the production of antibodies by your immune system, which activates white blood cells to combat pathogens, poisons, and viruses. You need protein to digest and absorb other nutrients that keep you healthy. Additionally, there is proof that protein can alter the proportions of "good" bacteria in your stomach that prevent disease.


Tips to Overcome Protein Deficiency


You need to add more protein to your diet if you exhibit any of the symptoms mentioned above. Naturally, foods like meat, poultry, fish, lentils, and other high-protein meals are the best protein sources. It's not always simple to add additional protein to your diet, so here are our preferred tips:


Have eggs for breakfast: They are packed with nutrients! Because they include all nine essential amino acids and are rich in choline and electrolytes, they are regarded as a complete protein (supports metabolism and fat transport). If you prefer oatmeal, pancakes, or bagels for breakfast, think about changing it up and adding eggs! Adding eggs to your morning routine will help you consume more protein daily. You can cook them in various ways, including scrambled, poached, fried, or in an omelet. Remember to include some vegetables to increase your consumption even more.


Prioritize vegetables with a high protein content: You probably already know that vegetables are healthy for you, but did you know some are richer in protein than others? It is real! Among the veggies, edamame, asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower have a marginally greater protein content. Give these vegetable top priorities in your meals and snacks if you want to enhance your protein consumption! You can roast, steam, or saute them for lunch and dinner. Edamame also makes a fantastic salty snack.


Eat protein-rich snacks: Eat snacks that are high in protein if you're a big snacker like most people are! Instead of crackers or chips, prepare a protein-rich snack like Greek yogurt with healthy toppings like fresh berries, honey, or chia seeds. Greek yogurt in its plain form is a fantastic snack option because it can have up to 20 g of protein per cup. Take a handful of nuts or a protein bar if you're in a hurry, but check the ingredients to ensure the protein bar only includes a little more sugar than protein.


Add nuts and seeds to your meals as a way to boost the protein in your diet:  You may do this by adding nuts and seeds to salads, yogurt, soups, smoothies, and other dishes. Several foods are great sources of protein and other nutrients, including chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and walnuts. A tablespoon or two extra can significantly improve your meals or snacks.


Intake protein shakes: Protein smoothies are a quick and practical way to increase the protein in your diet. Blend fruits with 100% juice, milk, or water to produce a protein shake, and then stir in a scoop of protein powder. High-protein foods like Greek yogurt, chia seeds, and peanut butter can be used instead of protein powder in smoothies. A protein smoothie for breakfast might satisfy your hunger and keep you from eating in the middle of the day. In addition to being a convenient snack for the gym, a protein shake can also help you maximize muscle growth and repair, according to some experts.


Other research suggests that the greatest strategy to enhance muscle growth and repair is consuming 20–40 g of protein every three-four hours throughout the day. Overall, getting the recommended amount of protein each day is crucial.


Bottom Line

In your body, protein has purposes other than only promoting muscular growth. Pay close attention to your body if you want to increase your muscle mass, alter your body's composition, or improve your health. If you recognize any of the symptoms mentioned above, consider the tips, monitor your protein intake, and up the protein in your diet. However, remember that the listed symptoms can indicate other conditions, so speak with your doctor if you still have them despite increasing your protein consumption.