Protein intake demands differ from between person-to-person, largely dependent on your goals, age and gender.
Therefore a protein deficiency is a fairly ambiguous term and in order to fully understand whether or not you are protein deficient, you’ll firstly need to clearly outline what your goal is.
If you’re somewhat sedentary and don’t have any goals related to sports or training (encapsulating weight loss), then understanding your protein intake is relatively straight forward, and you should ensure you’re hitting the recommended daily allowance (RDA) each day as the bare minimum.
If, however, you do compete in a sport or have ambitions to improve upon the body composition of your existing physique, then current protein intake should be examined and alterations made if necessary.
I recently wrote a piece on just exactly how much protein you should consume. I suggest reading through here if you’re unsure on your protein requirements.
If in fact you are protein deficient then you’re body will begin to communicate this to you by expressing some tell-tale symptoms. It’s important to recognize symptoms of protein deficiency early on to prevent cellular damage.
Symptoms of protein deficiency
Aching muscles and joints
Protein is an essential requirement for cell reparation. If you are training hard in the gym then you’re constantly breaking down muscle tissue, in the hope that science will intervene and recover the muscle into a new, stronger version of its previous self.
In order for the muscle to undergo this metamorphosis, it requires a supply of amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Without sufficient intake the muscle will struggle to repair effectively, which can lead to muscle soreness lingering, not only causing muscle discomfort, but also tarnishing training goals.
If aching muscles wasn’t enough to get you eating your chicken, then maybe the inclusion of sore joints is. This is because protein plays a key role in the formation of synovial fluid: the substance which lubricates the joints enabling them to remain mobile. To summarize: insufficient protein intake causes achy, stiff joints. Again, far from desirable when your goal is heavily orientated around training in the gym.
You’re always hungry
Not only is protein superb for muscle recovery, but it also acts as an appetite suppressant. This is due to protein intakes relationship with ghrelin. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone; when ghrelin levels are high your appetite kicks in leading to food cravings. Protein intake suppresses ghrelin secretion far more effectively then meals rich in other macronutrients.
One study conducted by Blom et al examined the relationship between ghrelin and a protein rich breakfast or a high carbohydrate breakfast. The study found that postprandial (the period of time after the meal) levels of ghrelin were a lot lower within the protein group, as opposed to the carbohydrate group. Not only can this have the potential to act as a symptom for protein deficiency, but this can also be factored in when constructing a diet for weight loss.
Brittle hair and nails
It’s not just muscle tissue that is influenced by protein intake and negatively impacted by protein deficiency. All tissue within the body is compromised at cellular with inadequate protein intake, symptoms of which will be seen – over time – with hair and nails, both of which will be structurally compromised, which can actually impact hair growth, or lack there of.
similar to the point above, skin is structurally dependent on an adequate protein intake. This is because skin fullness and elasticity are both reliant on a structural tissue called collagen.
Collagen binds to cells within the body to form structure integrity, and not only assists in this regard with the skin, but also blood vessels, teeth and bones structure. For this reason, collagen is one of the most crucial proteins within the human body.
Collagen is replaced at a slow rate, the rate at which declines further with aging. If protein intake is lower than protein demands, then collagen production will be sacrificed and you’ll be more susceptible to signs of aging, including wrinkles and some other issues named in the aforementioned points.
This is often an issue when people do crash diets, dramatically reducing their calorie and protein intake. They lose a lot of weight, but at the cost of damaging skin structure due to protein deficiency.
My protein intake
As someone who trains on a regular basis, I’m constantly breaking down muscle tissue and thus I have a protein demand that outranks that of someone who sedentary. Based on this, I aim to get… of protein each day to ensure I’m never protein deficient and that my body can function optimally whilst allowing my muscles to recover.
I’ll often consume this amount of protein eating just protein-rich foods, favorites being salmon, mackerel, eggs and nuts. I’ll use protein shakes to bridge any deficits when food isn’t readily available, such as when I’m traveling or have no time to cook.
Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. 2006. Wendy AM Blom, Anne Lluch, Annette Stafleu, Sophie Vinoy, Jens J Holst, Gertjan Schaafsma, and Henk FJ Hendriks. The American journal of clinical nutrition. Vol 83. 2.