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Signs of Protein Deficiency

Signs of Protein Deficiency

Maria Viall CHHP, CHN, ROHP


Protein is an essential part of your diet as it is considered the building block to the body. It has an effect on everything from muscle repair and hair growth to your immune and nervous system. But are you getting enough, too much or the right kind?

The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of protein is .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This number can fluctuate depending on the individual. Age, activity level and certain health conditions will require different protein needs. For example, a younger person requires more protein for muscle building and development versus an elderly person.  Someone who trains regularly will need an increase of protein to help with muscle recovery versus someone who isn’t very active.  Protein needs also increase with certain health conditions such as auto-immune disease to help the body repair. Pregnancy is another health situation that will increase protein needs for proper nourishment and development of the fetus.

Seasonal change can also affect protein needs. During fall and winter, an individual’s protein intake should increase, especially if residing in a colder climate. The colder temperature can increase the rate of body metabolism in efforts to help keep the body warm. This increases the need for nutrients such as protein and healthy fat.

Signs of Protein Deficiency:

For many Americans, protein deficiency is not a serious concern, however, if you do have deficiency, you will be able to identify with these warning signs:

  • Constant craving for carbohydrates
  • Muscle aches/soreness
  • Poor recovery after workouts
  • Dry hair
  • Constant fatigue and lack of energy
  • Anemia (in some cases)

Choosing Protein

There are two different types of protein found in food, complete and incomplete protein. Complete protein, which is mostly animal based protein sources, contains all 9 essential amino acids that the body requires and is not able to manufacture on its own. Incomplete protein, which is mostly plant based sources, contains essential amino acids but either does not have all 9 present or not in the right quantities. An incomplete protein needs to be combined with another plant based protein to make up a complete protein. For example, rice and beans combined make up a complete protein.


Sources of Complete Protein

Fish, eggs, meat, poultry, whey protein concentrate, dairy


Sources of Incomplete Protein?

Nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, vegetables, whole grains.

TIP: Combine a grain with a nut/seed to make a complete protein

There are a few protein rich vegetarian options, besides dairy, that have some of the 9 essential amino acids, but aren’t considered a complete protein.

Sources: Quinoa, avocado, black beans, cauliflower, spirulina, pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds

How much protein at each meal?

I typically suggest aiming for anywhere between 15 and 25 grams of protein at each meal. This isn’t a hard and fast rule for everyone, as amounts will vary person to person.

Here are some examples of protein combinations you could try at different meals to reach that 15-25 gram goal:

  • 2-3 eggs (approx. 14-21grams)
  • 2 scoops Tera’s Whey grass fed whey protein powder (approx. 18-22grams)
  • Palm size piece of chicken, fish or turkey (approx. 20-28 grams)
  • 1 cup black beans with 1 cup cooked brown rice (approx. 19 grams)

When figuring out what to eat, pick out what your protein source will be first and build your meal around it.  This will help  ensure you’re eating some at each meal . Being aware of your own protein needs and what foods can help you acquire them can b helpful in your day to day health. It can also help prevent possible symptoms related to protein deficiency down the road.

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