Feeling achy and tired? Is your metabolism out of whack? Bumping up your protein intake could work wonders on your mind and body.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients essential for life. It provides the building blocks for cells, tissues, muscles, organs, hormones and enzymes. Protein also helps build muscle and maintain muscle mass, healthy body fat levels and a healthy immune system.
We may unknowingly compromise fitness/weight loss goals and health through poor dietary choices and habits. Over-restricting our calories or resorting to imbalanced diets to lose body fat forces our bodies to turn to protein as a source of fuel rather than allowing it to work at growth and repair. Consuming enough protein is important but consuming “quality” protein makes all the difference.
As a general rule of thumb, scientists recommend that the average person consumes between 0.5 - 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, the “right” amount also depends on your age, body weight, current state of health, and fitness goals.
So, How can I tell if I am not getting enough protein? Here are 10 signs of protein deficiency:
1. Loss of muscle mass and difficulty building muscle
When the body does not get adequate protein from food sources, it turns to the protein in skeletal muscles to maintain basic bodily functions and keep our tissues healthy. When this happens, the muscles shrink (atrophy) which makes us look and feel physically weaker.
2. Trouble losing body fat and maintaining a healthy body weight
Being low on protein causes serious imbalances in our blood sugar levels. Out-of-control blood sugar levels make it easier to reach out for a sugar fix! It does not help that giving in to our constant cravings for sugar expands our waistlines in the long run. Unlike carbohydrates, protein takes a lot longer to digest and keeps us full longer so we do not overeat. It is a lot easier to lose body fat and maintain a healthy body weight with protein.
3. General weakness and lethargy
When muscles breakdown from a lack of protein in our diets, we feel weaker, more sluggish and tired — a bit hard to feel strong and confident if we are running on empty. Healthy and energetic people need a steady intake of protein to stay powerful and productive.
4. Difficulty concentrating and poor memory
Protein is important for brain functioning in areas of memory, learning, attention and concentration. Although not a sole cause, struggling to recall information, learn, block out distractions and focus on tasks could indicate protein deficiency. Dr. Josh Axe, renowned certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist, has identified the critical role protein are critical in producing and maintaining the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and epinephrine — all of which boost concentration.
5. Negative mood
Because protein helps produce and regulate the supply of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in the brain, a lack of protein could negatively impact our mood, causing mood swings and increased anxiety—all of which affect our ability to manage our stress levels and juggle multiple commitments. Cliff Harvey, a naturopath and registered clinical nutritionist based in Auckland, states that “excitatory neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine which are responsible for our sense of alertness and awakening” increase with protein intake.”
6. Workouts have become more difficult
Not only does a low-protein diet contribute to muscle wasting, making us feel weaker and more sluggish, it compromises our mental toughness and stamina. Working out more to combat feelings of sluggishness and weight gain arising (which could easily be remedied by increasing our protein intake) could lead to burnout, overtraining syndrome, compromised immune systems, a string of overuse injuries and eventually quitting exercise all together. Clearly, these are not options for those among us who have made exercise a lifestyle choice. Having adequate protein in our diets aids in tissue repair and can also significantly protect against mental and physical fatigue and injuries.
7. Joint and bone pain
Protein is needed for calcium absorption. A group of Chinese Orthopaedic researchers who conducted a meta-analysis found that a lack of protein consumption compromises bone health making us more susceptible to fractures. Protein is required for calcium absorption and bone metabolism,” says Dr. Axe. If we sustain a bone fracture or break, protein is the nutrient that would help create bone cells, tissues, essentially speeding up the bone healing process.
8. Poor sleep
Restless sleep is a possible sign of protein deficiency. In a 2016 study by Purdue University, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, all participants on a weight loss program who consumed a high-protein diet reported improvements in their quality of sleep. Other studies have shown that tryptophan, an amino acid that can be converted to serotonin and melatonin can improve the quality of our mood and sleep. If you want to sleep better and feel happier, eat protein-rich foods near bedtime to stimulate tryptophan!
9. Weakened immune system
Avoiding illnesses and diseases is only possible with a strong immune system. Aging, a busy and hectic lifestyle and exercise compromise our resistance against infections. According to healthline.com, individuals who are protein deficient are more susceptible to frequent and persistent illnesses such as influenza and the common cold. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition has established clear links between whey protein and immunity as it supports the production of the master antioxidant, glutathione and enhances the function of neutrophlis—both of which have immunomodulatory properties and strengthen our body’s natural defences against intruders.
10. Slow wound healing
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein are critical in repairing damaged tissues. According to the National Institutes of Health, inadequate protein in one’s diet can compromise one’s ability to heal. To speed up recovery, woundsaustralia.com.au recommends that individuals increase their protein intake following a sustained wound or injury to facilitate the production of collagen. The scientists stress the importance of consuming enough calories to prevent the body from using protein for energy rather than wound healing.
Why is protein powder a smart choice?
Protein powder is convenient, effective, healthy and safe when it is organically, naturally produced with no additives to enhance taste and texture. Protein powder saves time and effort on meal planning and preparation. Protein powder provides fast absorbing “quality” protein so you reap the full benefits of your workouts and recover quicker than if you were to you consume all your protein from natural foods and is especially important for vegetarians and vegans in ensuring they get all the essential amino acids to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Do not get the short end of the stick. Amp up your protein today!