Protein: these are the signs that you may have a protein deficiency, and what you can do about it

Posted by for Strong Women

Worried about protein deficiency? We asked a nutrition expert to tell us everything we need to know.

With gyms back open for business, many of us have traded in our at-home workouts for the more heavy duty exercise we can do with the weights and machines available on the gym floor. But that’s not the only thing that’s kicked up a gear since lockdown restrictions eased: many of us are busier than we’ve been all year, meaning that our need for a balanced diet is as important as ever. 

Protein is a big part of that, being as it is a key nutrient for the healthy development of everything from our hair and skin to our hormones and cells. It is also absolutely essential if you’re into your fitness, because it plays a big part in helping you to build muscle safely

The recommended daily intake of protein for adults is about 0.6g per kilogram of bodyweight, according to The British Nutrition Foundation. Now, while protein deficiency is relatively rare in the UK, there is still a risk that some people are getting too little of it. So we asked holistic nutritionist Cheryl Telfer to give us an insight into the symptoms of protein deficiency, the long-term effects it can have, and tips on how to add more protein into your diet, so you can ensure you’re getting what you need. 

What are the signs of protein deficiency?

There are a number of different signs that you may be deficient in protein. The wide variety of potential symptoms has to do with the fact that, according to Healthline, protein deficiency can have a negative impact on almost all of your bodily functions. 

Some of the most notable early warning signs include skin problems such as redness and dryness, as well as brittle hair and nails

Moodiness is another tell-tale sign that you aren’t getting enough protein, due to the part it plays in regulating your hormones. And, as Cheryl explains, twitching and muscle loss are other indicators, which may be slightly more serious. 

Woman applying skincare
Protein deficiency: some of the most notable early warning signs include skin problems such as redness and dryness

What long-term effects can protein deficiency have?

As well as the immediate signs of protein deficiency, there are also more serious, longer-term implications. Not having enough protein in your diet “can lead not only to wasting of muscles but also to degenerations of internal organs and systems, including the brain and nervous system”, explains Cheryl. Left unchecked, this could lead to serious neurological conditions and muscular atrophy. 

How can you up your protein intake?

The good news is that it is very easy to up your protein intake, regardless of what kind of diet you have. The best sources are, however, meat. Cheryl recommends “good quality meats like grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken”. Fish is another great choice, “especially oily fish like salmon and mackerel which are also a source of omega-3”. 

If you are vegan or just prefer plant-based options, then you need to make sure you are eating plenty of tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes. Some fruits and vegetables are also pretty high in protein, for example blackberries, avocados and broccoli. However, if you still don’t feel as though you’re getting enough, the Stylist team have done a round-up of the best vegan protein powders

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