“Protein is the building block of yourself. It’s the building block of your muscles and also is present in the foods that are going to boost your metabolism and fat-burning potential. Nothing is more important than protein. It really is the fuel that motivates and really supports your body in building healthy tissues and cells.” – Dr. Josh Axe
Protein consists of long chains of amino acids, which are considered essential elements for development, growth, and maintenance of the body. Amino acids are found in several food sources, particularly in eggs, dairy, fish, and meat. Certain plant foods, nuts, and seeds are good sources of protein, as well.
Our muscles, organs, and tissues are all structured from assembled proteins. Functionally, proteins play a role in nearly every way. Protein helps to heal wounds, control blood sugar levels, and neutralize bacteria.
It’s recommended that most people need to eat about 50 percent of their body weight in protein every day. If you’re a 120-pound female, for example, it’s a good idea to aim for 60 grams of protein.
Making protein consumption a priority helps with fat-burning, and with building and maintaining healthy muscles. As a general rule, the more active one is, the more protein required. This is because proteins are always dissipating and must be replenished.
Most people are protein deficient to some degree. As protein is involved in pretty much every bodily function, symptoms will arise that signal a shortage of these vital biomolecules.
In this article, we’ll discuss nine signs of protein deficiency – and how you can replenish your protein levels.
First, here are potential signs that you’re protein-deficient:
1. Anxiety and moodiness
As mentioned, amino acids are the building blocks of just about everything in the body. This includes the chemical messengers within the brain, or neurotransmitters. The synthesizing of amino acids produces dopamine and serotonin, the two brain chemicals responsible for drive, memory, and happiness.
2. Being injured more frequently
Protein is a precursor to calcium absorption; the latter is responsible for strengthening our bones. It is unsurprising, then, that insufficient protein can lead to bone and muscle injury. We’re more likely to develop bone fractures, bone weakness, and even osteoporosis.
3. “Brain fog”
Brain fog is an umbrella term which encompasses several symptoms: fatigue, confusion, lack of focus, trouble concentrating, memory problems, and diminished mental acuity. Almost always, the problem is some sort of chemical imbalance within the brain. Dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are all chemicals within the brain needed to focus. Low protein levels can throw these chemicals off.
4. High cholesterol
Lack of protein in the body is often supplemented with carb-laden or fatty foods. As blood-sugar levels are discombobulated from low protein levels, we’re more likely to crave a sugary snack. The end-result is inflammation and hormonal imbalances; both of which contribute to higher LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
5. Gastrointestinal problems
Healthy metabolism and digestion (surprise!) require plenty of amino acids. When this is not the case, our gut throws a fit by producing fewer enzymes and reducing the contractions necessary for digestion and excretion.
6. Irregular menstrual cycles
Dr. Joshua Axe explains, “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.”
7. Rough workouts
We all know that adequate protein is necessary to gain muscle mass – but it’s necessary for muscle function, as well. Furthermore, even if you do work out on the regular, your results will be adversely affected. This is usually because of one or two reasons: (1) you don’t have the energy needed to go “all out,” or (2) your muscles can not properly recover because of protein deficiencies.
8. Sleep irregularities
There are so many reasons for bad sleep, but one that’s not often considered is inadequate protein intake. The effects of low protein levels on sleep are systematic, and usually follow one of two courses of action. First, carbs take the place of protein, and carbs reduce the amount of insulin necessary to balance blood sugar levels. Or, your protein deficiency is raising the cortisol (“stress hormone”) levels in your system. Neither situation is conducive to a good night’s rest.
Many good protein sources (e.g. fish and eggs) do have a higher fat and calorie count than other carb-based and even fat-based foods. The difference is that protein promotes feelings of fullness (“satiety”) better than most foods consisting primarily of fat or carbs. Further, protein stabilizes blood sugar levels much better than carbs or fats do. This makes it less likely that you’ll snack or have a sugar craving during the day. The end result of adequate protein levels is, oftentimes, a healthier weight.
Good Protein Sources
While we’ve mentioned meat, eggs, fish, and dairy as good protein sources, there are also plenty of good vegan and vegetarian options as well. In fact, some vegan and vegetarian foods, in addition to being a terrific protein source, are rich in fiber and other nutrients.
Almonds, flax, chia, hemp, adzuki beans, lentils, unprocessed oats, amaranth, farro, oats, and quinoa are all good sources. Regarding vegetables broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, mushrooms, and spinach are great choices.
The best types of meat to consume for protein are grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, and organic chicken and turkey.
Supplementing your diet with protein powder is a fine idea, assuming that you’re also getting plenty from food sources.