There are three essential macronutrients that form the bulk of a balanced diet: carbohydrates, fat and protein. Most people get an adequate amount of protein through their everyday meals and supplements, but some may be more prone to developing a protein deficiency, which in turn can lead to health problems. A few risk factors for not getting enough protein are a vegetarian or vegan diet and a strenuous athletic training program.
But how do you know if you’re getting enough? Here are five symptoms of low protein levels that could mean you should up your protein intake.
1. Your Hair, Skin and Nails Aren’t Looking Their Best
Hair, skin and nails are made of protein, so if you’re not getting enough in your diet, they may suffer. Your nails could become brittle and break easily; your hair might thin, look dry and lifeless and could even shed; and your skin might be dry, red or flaky. All of these factors can be caused by reasons not related to your diet, so check with a doctor if a higher protein intake doesn’t change anything.
2. You Often Feel Fatigued
If you’re feeling weak or fatigued more than usual lately, this could also point to a protein deficiency. Protein is a key element of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in our blood cells throughout the body. When our bodies aren’t getting enough oxygen, it can lead to feelings of weakness and fatigue. You may also experience trouble staying alert if your meals don’t contain a healthy balance of carbs and protein. Eating enough protein helps improve mental clarity, boost your memory and otherwise support brain health.
3. You Experience Mood Swings
Your brain cells communicate with each other through neurotransmitters, many of which are made of amino acids. Protein contains amino acids too, so if you’re not getting enough protein in your diet, you may not build enough neurotransmitters like dopamine or serotonin. Dopamine regulates emotion, while serotonin is related to sleep, depression and memory among other brain functions. This means that a protein deficiency could lead you to feel down, angry, or have trouble sleeping.
4. You Struggle to Build Muscle Mass
The average person needs 0.35g of protein per pound of body weight per day to maintain their general health. Any less than that and you could find yourself losing muscle mass, which can make you physically weaker, as well as negatively affecting your balance and slowing your metabolism.
On the other end of the spectrum, those looking to build muscle mass, such as weightlifters, cyclists or runners, will need to increase their daily protein intake to 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. Consuming less than that if you’re an athlete or following a strenuous training program could prevent you from building muscle mass.
5. You’re Always Hungry
We all know that if you don’t eat enough, you’ll be hungry. The fact that consuming too little protein could leave you hungry, even if you think you’re eating a lot, is less common knowledge. Protein is highly satiating, keeping you fuller for a longer period of time. If your meals are higher in fat and carbs than they are in protein, you might be prone to excess hunger and cravings. Protein helps prevent your blood sugar levels from fluctuating too much, so a lack of it can cause you to reach for the sweets.
How to Get Enough Protein
There are a few signs that can point to a protein deficiency, so it’s important to pay attention because adequate protein intake is so crucial for overall health. The good news is that supplementing your protein intake is easy to do and will make for a smoother ride, whether you’re looking to maintain your health or build muscle mass.
If you find that you’re not getting enough protein, first try to balance out your meals with lean meats, fish or eggs. If you’re vegan, get creative with soy proteins, nuts and protein-rich grains like quinoa, beans and legumes.
You can also try supplementing your main meals with a personalized protein powder from Buddy Nutrition to make sure you’re meeting your daily requirements. This powder comes in seven flavor options and provides more health benefits than a regular protein powder because it’s specially made for your needs. There are 17 possible macro ingredients and 10 boost add-ins that are expertly combined to suit you, and can easily be mixed into your drinks, smoothies and even baked goods (protein pancakes, anyone?). It doesn’t get much more convenient than this!
Iris Goldsztajn is a London-based writer and editor with six years of experience creating content for various outlets. Her work has appeared in InStyle, Stylist, SheKnows, Cosmopolitan, Alma, Her Campus and more.