What Happens if You Don't Eat Enough Protein?
by Evelyn Valdez·
It doesn't matter whether you're a heavy weightlifter, a runner, yoga enthusiast - Your body needs protein to function. Dietary protein plays many crucial roles in our bodies. Its main role is being the building blocks of muscles, bone, cartilage, and skin. It also helps keep our immune system functioning at optimal levels, produces enzymes to aid digestion, and supplies our bodies with vital nutrients. As you can see, protein has a wide range of health benefits outside of only building muscle. So, lifter or not, you want to make sure you're getting enough of this important macronutrient.
Everyone's protein intake is different, it depends on your height, weight, body fat percentage, activity levels, and more. It's recommended to get anywhere between .8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But if you'd rather skip the math and also take into account outside factors then calculate your macros! However, most people don't track their macros or their protein intake... This is not necessarily bad, but it's common for people to not get a sufficient amount of protein. And if you're not tracking it can be kinda hard to determine whether you're getting enough protein in your diet or not. Worry no more! We have 6 signs you're not eating enough protein and tips to help you start getting enough of it in your diet!
What happens if you don't eat enough protein?
In severe cases, constantly neglecting to meet your body's protein requirements can lead to a protein deficiency. Before you get alarmed, this doesn't mean you have a protein deficiency just because you didn't eat enough protein for a few days. It relates to extreme cases in which protein is very scarce in one's diet, like in developing countries. Severe protein deficiencies are uncommon in the United States, but many people still get very low amounts of it in their diets. And although side effects may not be as severe as actual protein deficiencies, they should still be taken seriously.
Having one or more of these 6 signs can be an indicator that you need more protein in your diet...
Hungrier throughout the day
Protein foods are known for being more satiating than other macronutrients, like carbohydrates. A carb-heavy meals will be digested quickly, opposed to eating a protein-rich meal which will take longer to digest thus helping you stay full for hours. This can lead to feeling unsatisfied after a meal and reaching for snacks more often.
So, if you're finding yourself be hungrier throughout the day and feeling unsatisfied after eating then it could be that you're not getting enough protein!
Decrease in energy
A low-protein diet can cause you to feel fatigued or lethargic even after a good night of sleep. Protein is digested slowly which can help regulate blood glucose levels. Spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels can cause fatigue, but eating adequate protein throughout the day will prevent that from happening. So, add protein to every meal and snack to help keep your blood glucose levels regulated and keep you energized throughout the day.
Trouble maintaining and building muscle
One of the biggest signs of inadequate protein intake is not being able to maintain or build muscle. A consistent lack of protein in your diet will lead to your body breaking down your muscle for amino acids. Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein and help build muscle mass, along with repair and regrowing muscle tissue. So, if you're not getting enough protein in your diet to get the EAAs it needs, your body will turn to your muscles, which results in a loss of muscle mass.
If you're strength training and feeling like you're not gaining the muscle-building results you want then calculate your macros to see how much protein you need to eat daily and start tracking it!
Experiencing hair loss
Did you know that your hair is primarily made up of protein? It's made up of a protein called keratin! Not getting enough protein in your diet will lead to your body conserving protein thus reducing the amount of keratin for your hair follicles. This will result in losing hair rapidly, and/or thin and brittle hair. If you're noticing more hair fall out than usual then consider looking into whether you're meeting your daily protein requirements or not.
Getting sick more often
Protein is actually responsible for making up cells and antibodies for your body's defence system against germs and illnesses! In fact, research from the Critical Care Medicine Journal links a low-protein diet to a reduction in T cells found in the body, the cells responsible for fighting off germs.  Another study found in the Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss states that people with a protein deficiency suffer a decrease function in the immune system. So, if you're feeling ill more often then it could be a lack of protein in your diet! We suggest eating a high-protein diet to keep your immune system functioning at optimal levels, especially during the height of the cold and flu season.
Eating low levels of protein on a consistent basis can lead to a condition called edema. Edema causes fluid retention which leads to swelling in certain areas, usually the legs and feet. This can happen because protein also plays a role in keeping fluid from accumulating in the tissues. So if you don't have enough protein in your blood, your body can no longer maintain fluid balance, and bloating will occur.
Tips to help you get enough protein in your diet
If you're experiencing any of the above signs then you need to start eating more protein in your diet! The best sources of protein are obviously whole foods, meaning meat, poultry, fish, legumes, and other high-protein foods. It's easier said than done, so to help you even further, here are our favorite tips to sneak more protein into your diet:
- Eat eggs for breakfast: Eggs are a nutrient powerhouse! They are considered to be a complete protein because they contain all nine essential amino acids, plus they're high in electrolytes and choline (supports metabolism and fat transport). If you're more of an oatmeal, pancake, or bagel morning person, consider switching up your breakfast to include eggs! Making the simple switch to eating eggs for breakfast will help increase your daily protein intake. You can make them scrambled, poached, fried, or into an omelet, and don't forget to throw in some veggies to boost your intake even further!
- Prioritize protein-rich veggies: You should already know that vegetables should be a part of your diet, but did you know that some contain more protein than others? It's true! Edamame, asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower are vegetables that are slightly higher in protein than others. If you're trying to increase your protein intake then prioritize these veggies in your meals and snacks! You can saute, steam, or roast them for lunch and dinner, and have edamame as a delicious, salty snack.
- Eat protein-rich snacks: If you're a huge snacker, like most, then sneak some protein-rich foods into your snacks! Instead of reaching for the crackers or chips, prep a nutritious protein-rich snack like Greek yogurt with healthy toppings like some berries, honey, or chia seeds. Plain Greek yogurt can contain up to 20 grams of protein per serving, making it an excellent choice for a snack! If you're in a rush, grab a handful of nuts or a protein bar - just make sure to look at the ingredients list of the protein bar to make sure it's not more sugar than protein!
- Top your foods with nuts and seeds: A good way to sprinkle more protein into your diet is by topping your salads, yogurts, soups, smoothies, etc, with nuts and seeds. Chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, and more, are all excellent sources of protein and other nutrients. Adding a tablespoon or two to your meals or snacks can make all the difference!
- Invest in a tub of protein powder: Always prioritize natural protein sources... but let's be real, it's a lot easier said than done! Some days you might need an extra boost to help, and on those days you can rely on trusty protein powder. Whether you're strength training or not, a protein powder can help you increase your protein intake and ensure that your body is getting sufficient amino acids to function properly. When looking for a protein powder, look for one that contains at least 75% protein content, which is normally around 20 grams per scoop. If you're not dairy-free or vegan, then consider getting a whey isolate protein powder. Its filtered to have fewer carbs and fat which results in higher protein content.
Bottom line is, protein plays a critical role in your body aside from just building muscle. If you want to build muscle and change your body composition, or simply improve your health then pay close attention to your body! If you're exhibiting any of the signs above, calculate your macros, track your protein intake, and increase the amount of protein in your diet by following our tips! But remember, the signs we've mentioned can point to other things so consult with your doctor if you're still experiencing those symptoms even after increasing your protein intake!
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