Do you get home after work with so little energy that you hardly can drag your feet? Poor sleep and insomnia? Do you lose hair with the same speed you gain wrinkles?
If some of this sounds familiar, you’ll be surprised to know that each of these signals may be related to your (poor) protein intake.
“Most commonly, people consume too much protein,” Aisling Pigott, a dietitian for the UK Dietitians Association, told BBC World.
“But very low calorie or very poorly balanced diets can lead to protein shortages,” says Pigott.
We must know that proteins play a fundamental role.
Our muscles, cartilage, ligaments, skin, hair and nails are basically composed of protein, which is constituted in chains of amino acids.
Smaller molecules of proteins have perhaps less known roles, but vital for the operation of that complex machinery we call the body.
Suffice it to say that hemoglobin, antibodies, certain hormones (like insulin) and enzymes are also proteins.
All this makes the consumption of these chains of amino acids not only vital as a contribution of energy but also for tissue repair, oxygenation of the body and the immune system.
That is why, if our body does not get the amount of protein it needs, it will begin to give us warning signals.
Excessive or chronic fatigue is the first sign of lack of protein.
Since the deficiency of this compound is derived directly from a low-calorie diet, the body does not have enough energy to perform routine tasks.
“There is a minimum of protein that we need to consume every day for the body to function properly.
It is usually recommended to eat between 0.7 and 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of weight. In that sense, a man of 80 kilos, should consume 64 grams of protein a day.
On average, it is considered that men should consume 55 grams, and women 45, every day.
“However it depends on the person’s physical activity or if it is in the stage of growth. The necessary amount of protein may be greater,” says dietitian Aisling Pigott to BBC .
2. Weakness of the hair and skin
A second warning of the lack of protein in the body is the fall or weakness of the hair.
Proteins keep hair healthy and in its growth phase.
Since the hair, and the follicles that support them, are made of proteins, the lack of these molecules weakens them.
This is one of the reasons why people who are doing low protein diets sometimes see their hair growing slowly.
Extremely low protein diets can cause hair loss.
Just as hair, nails and even skin depend on proteins to regenerate.
“Low levels of this protein cause wrinkles and weakening of the skin,” Cleveland Clinic explains on its website.
3. Loss of muscle mass
A third symptom is related to muscles.
Insufficient protein decreases muscle mass and therefore will prevent us from performing physical activities that we could do before without further effort.
These muscular alterations, at a very advanced level, can cause the annoying cramps.
“The type of protein we eat also seems to play a role in preventing muscle loss,” says dietitian Jennifer K. Nelson on the Mayo Clinic website.
This is important, for example, in the case of older people, who tend to lose muscle mass with age.
The proteins we eat contain many types of amino acids.
“The amino acid leucine has been shown to preserve muscle mass,” says Nelson.
Leucine is found to a greater extent in foods from animals, such as meat, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, eggs or dairy products.
It is also found in soybeans and, to a lesser extent, in other beans, nuts and seeds.
4. Frequent sickness
A fourth sign that warns about the lack of protein is the frequency with which we get sick.
“It is impossible for the immune system to function without protein. Antibodies are themselves a protein structure,” Gonzalez told BBC World.
In fact, one of the main functions of proteins is to support the immune system.
Insufficient protein in the diet exposes us more easily to infections and colds.
5. Gases and Constipation
And finally, lack of protein is also associated with digestive problems such as gas and constipation.
For correct digestion amino acids are fundamental and their levels are directly proportional to our consumption of proteins.
Cheap and at hand
Proteins are largely associated with the consumption of animal foods such as meat, milk, cheeses, eggs or fish.
However, for those who carry a vegetarian or vegan diet, the alternatives are several.
Quinoa and soy are two foods that contain all the essential amino acids.
The consumption of protein seems then to be governed by a simple universal rule: Not much, not little. Just what you need.