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Article Series

  1. Proteins And Amino Acids - Building Blocks Of The Body
  2. Protein Requirements Including For Muscle Gain
  3. Protein Deficiency

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Protein Deficiency

Protein Deficiency
Table Of Contents
  1. Causes Of Protein Deficiency
  2. Symptoms / Deficiency Signs
  3. Short Term Protein Deficiency In Athletes
  4. Resolve And Prevent Protein Deficiency

Proteins are essential for many body functions. These include body growth, muscle function, the transmission of nerve impulses and repair of nerve cells. To prevent a deficiency, the daily protein requirement can be covered with 0.8 g per kg body weight for non-athletes and about 1.2 g to 2 g per kg for athletes.

A hazardous protein deficiency occurs extremely rare in our latitudes. Nevertheless, especially vegans are often confronted with the statement that they suffer from a lack of protein, because there were no good vegan protein sources. But this is a widespread myth, because there are many natural foods with high quality plant protein.

Causes Of Protein Deficiency

A food intake, that is generally very low and a diet too unbalanced can lead to a lack of protein, because not all nine essential amino acids are added. Especially crash diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Other causes may be due to organ disorders: kidney problems (nephrotic syndrome), the liver (such as cirrhosis) and intestines (malabsorption of proteins). Often patients with these diseases have a reduced protein plasma level, which is called hypoproteinemia.

Symptoms / Deficiency Signs

Protein is required for obtaining the muscles. If there are no sufficient amounts of protein available for the body, the built-in muscle proteins are dissolved, split into amino acids and reassembled for the preservation of important body functions elsewhere. Besides the use of the amino acids elsewhere, the leached muscle proteins are also used as an energy source in a lack of energy, for example due to intense exercise. The amino acids are converted into carbohydrates then and used to produce energy (catabolism). After a short time, this leads to degradation of the muscles, which consist of about 20% of proteins. The first signs of protein deficiency are expressed in muscle weakness. If the muscle weakness is not remedied, convulsions and movement disorders will occur.

If an protein deficiency over a longer period is not resolved, there may be inter alia to the following symptoms 1 2 3:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • headache
  • hypertension
  • higher morbidity and susceptibility to infection
  • slow wound healing
  • dry skin, pale skin, rashes and skin ulcers
  • apathy
  • disturbance of consciousness (lethargy)
  • brittle nails
  • brittle hair, hair loss, reduced production of pigments, appearance of grey hair
  • loss of libido, reduced fertility

A protein deficiency is also associated with a low bone density and a higher risk of bone fractures 4.

Since proteins are involved in the maintenance of fluid balance in the body, it can also lead to water retention during a lack. Edema, that means fluid retention on the head, abdomen, limbs and bones are possible.

Concerning children and adolescents, a protein deficiency can cause stunting and impaired development (including cognitive development), which may result in a higher susceptibility to diseases and their resulting problems 5 6.

Short Term Protein Deficiency In Athletes

Symptoms in a lack of supply of amino acids concerning fitness are degeneration of muscle tissue, joint pain, loss of power, faster exhaustion, fatigue and longer recovery times after exercising. To avoid a protein-supply gap, it is recommended to provide the body with adequate macronutrients a few hours before the start of loading, especially proteins and carbohydrates. To close the gap for example after a workout, protein supplements are used often.

Resolve And Prevent Protein Deficiency

Healthy people can easily remedy their protein deficiency with a higher protein intake. As it often lacks plant foods at least one essential amino acid, particularly vegans should have an eye on a balanced diet. Thus a protein deficiency can be well prevented. See the list of foods rich in protein right here.

If you have one or more symptoms of protein deficiency although you consume enough protein, better contact a doctor. He can measure the protein levels in blood plasma and possibly initiate the treatment. All of these symptoms may incidentally have other causes and do not have necessarily be due to a protein deficiency.