What are the Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency?
Many athletes, bodybuilders, and active adults are well-acquainted with the general importance of protein for their fitness, health, and well-being. Yet there continue to be gaps in both our understanding of how much protein we need, as well as how much protein we're actually getting.
For example, a study of nearly 12,000 older adults found that 46% of them were not eating the recommended daily allowance of protein. Meanwhile, University of Toronto scientists recently warned that much of the research on protein requirements have focused on young male athletes, which may not apply to demographics like active women.
If you want optimal results in your physical health and fitness, it's therefore important to do two things: Follow the recommended protein requirements for your fitness and lifestyle and also learn how to recognize the signs of protein deficiency.
What is Protein Deficiency?
There are three macronutrients essential for your health:
Protein plays a few key roles in your body, and since it forms the very structure of your cells, it's no surprise that people often refer to protein as the "building blocks of the body."
Getting adequate protein is critical for cellular growth and repair, the basic functioning of every organ and system in your body, and even the maintenance and balance of your hormones. True clinical protein deficiency, where your body is not getting its most basic protein needs met, can lead to significant health problems such as:
- Poor growth, especially in children
- Weaker immunity
- Hormonal imbalances
- Slow healing from injuries
- Loss of muscle mass
While true protein deficiency is a very serious problem around the world, it thankfully is not very widespread in the United States.
However, many Americans might meet the basic daily protein requirements — which we'll define further down in this protein deficiency guide — but still not get enough protein to satisfy their body's unique needs and activity levels. If you aren't getting enough protein each day, you may experience a few of the following signs and symptoms of protein deficiency.
What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency?
1. You're Always Hungry
Protein has a much higher satiety effect than carbohydrates and fats, meaning it helps keep you feeling full longer. If you find that you're constantly hungry, your diet may be too low in protein, or the ratio of macronutrients in each of your meals and snacks is out of balance.
2. You See Changes in Your Hair, Skin, and Nails
Protein is a major component in the growth of your nails, skin, and hair. Researchers have found that not getting enough protein in your diet can quickly show up in your outward appearance, leading to symptoms like:
- Dry skin
- Skin discolorations
- Hair loss or brittle hair
- Slow nail growth or brittle nails
- General signs of premature aging
3. You're Losing Muscle or Struggling With Slow Muscle Growth
It's well-established that eating more protein as your physical activity levels increase leads to increased muscle growth, increased muscle mass, and improved strength.
What many people don't realize is the opposite can also happen. Not getting enough protein can also lead to a loss in muscle mass and strength. This is especially true as you get older.
By the Numbers: How Much Protein Do You Really Need Every Day?
Your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight.
The RDA is the most basic scientific consensus of how much protein you need to simply live. Your protein requirements jump significantly if you live an active lifestyle:
- Strength training and lifting weights: 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Endurance training and cardio: 1.2 to 1.4 g grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
How to Get More Protein in Your Diet
The American College of Sports Medicine reports that even if your protein requirements are in the upper stretches of 1.7 g/kg, most people should have no problems hitting these protein requirements through food alone.
Examples of high-protein foods include:
- 3 oz. chicken: 28 grams of protein
- 3 oz. salmon: 22 grams
- 1/2 cup lentils: 9 grams
- 6 oz. Greek yogurt: 18 grams
- 1 cup yogurt: 11 grams
But don't dismiss protein supplements, either.
High-quality protein supplements made with an easy-to-digest protein source have been shown to significantly improve athletic performance and muscle strength.
Protein supplements are also popular because they're fast, convenient, and quickly fill any nutritional gaps in your diet (after all, drinking a protein shake is much easier than eating the equivalent amount of protein in a full meal).
How to Choose a Protein Supplement
When considering a protein powder, consider the following criteria.
1. Main ingredient
Whey is the standard go-to because it's the most well-researched protein powder ingredient, but other common options include casein, collagen, and plant-based sources such as rice, soy, hemp, or pea protein.
Whey concentrates and other protein concentrates typically clock in at 70% to 80% protein by weight.
Protein isolates are filtered more than protein concentrates, resulting in a supplement that's 90% protein.
A newer form emerging in the supplements industry is protein hydrolysates, which are broken down with enzymes to "pre-digest" the protein and theoretically make it more digestible. However, more research needs to be done in this area.
Carefully read the ingredients label of the protein supplement you're considering. Some athletes and fitness enthusiasts have personal preferences and may wish to avoid:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Artificial dyes
- Fiber additives, such as dextrose
- Thickeners and gums
At Tiger Fitness, you'll find a diverse array of protein supplements from some of the world's most-trusted supplement brands. Whether you're looking for a specific ingredient, like casein protein, or a specific processed form of protein, find it all in our best-selling collection of protein powder supplements.
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