The Signs of Protein Deficiency and How to Improve Your Protein Intake

Protein deficiency can have severe consequences if not caught early enough. Some signs that you may lack this essential macronutrient include fatigue, impaired immune function, and weak muscles. If you experience any of these symptoms or suspect you are not getting enough protein, it’s vital to take action and increase your daily intake.

Nearly all aspects of body function can be affected by protein deficiency, and therefore it's linked to a broad range of symptoms. Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid protein deficiency and improve your protein consumption. This post aims to inform readers about the signs of protein deficiency, how it affects your body and immune system, and your daily protein requirements.

What Does Protein Do in the Human Body?

Protein is an essential macronutrient; it's the building block for various parts of the human body. Proteins comprise individual amino acids that ensure proper cell functioning and growth. So, you can imagine that when deprived of this invaluable macronutrient, your body can suffer many side effects. Unfortunately, protein deficiency is more common than you might think and affects individuals of all ages.

The Importance of Amino Acids

Proteins are made up of amino acids and are the basic building blocks for various physical body parts, such as muscles, bones, skin, hair, nails, and organs. Amino acids act as messengers in your cells, carrying out instructions and enabling them to do their jobs properly. Amino acids are crucial in synthesizing proteins, hormones, and neurotransmitters.

These essential nutrients can be found in protein-rich foods like meat, fish, and soybeans. Additionally, individuals may improve their diet with specific amino acid supplements to naturally enhance athletic performance or mood. It's also common for people to supplement protein in foods they prepare or add it to recipes to increase their recommended daily protein intake. Amino acids are typically grouped into essential, conditionally essential, or nonessential categories based on various factors.

What are Essential Amino Acids?

Amino acids contain nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen necessary for your body's growth and proper function. Of all the amino acids your body requires, only nine are classified as essential, although all 20 are significant for your health. The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Histidine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Your body can produce some amino acids but can't make essential ones, so you need to obtain them by eating foods in other ways. Nonetheless, several plant-based foods like edamame and tofu are made from soy, which contain all nine essential amino acids.

How Much Protein Should We Have Each Day?

Your daily protein intake depends on several factors, including your body weight, age, and activity level. Generally, most people need at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 g/lb).

For example, if someone is 140 pounds (63.5 kg), they should consume at least 22.9 grams of protein daily to meet their body’s needs. Considering age and activity level, some may need up to 2-3 times more than the minimum requirement, especially if they are athletes. While most people need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, this is the minimum to prevent muscle loss. Athletes need sufficient protein to maintain muscle; they need at least double the amount of protein recommended.

Even then, there are exceptions and cases where individuals might need to supplement their daily protein intake, depending upon factors. The average person has lower protein requirements than pregnant or breastfeeding women, older adults, and individuals with medical conditions such as cancer that heighten their dietary protein intake needs.

Meeting your body's required amount of protein daily is essential for maintaining overall health and wellbeing. To adequately meet your daily protein needs, you should focus on including high-protein sources in your diet and supplementing with protein products like protein powders, collagen gummies, and hydrolyzed collagen.

Is Protein Deficiency Common?

Unfortunately, yes. An estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from inadequate protein intake, with the problem being especially severe in Central Africa and South Asia, where up to 30% of children do not get enough protein from their diet. Limited access to food, in general, is the main reason for inadequate protein intake in approximately one billion people worldwide.

In the United States, protein sources are abundant. Therefore, as the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine reported, it's easy to consume adequate amounts of protein. However, individuals following a restrictive diet can also become protein deficient. It's a problem that should be addressed since inadequate protein intake can lead to several health-related issues.

Let's discuss the signs of true protein deficiency in more detail.

What are the Signs of Protein Deficiency?

We've hinted that without adequate protein in your diet, you may experience symptoms of protein deficiency. Generally speaking, there are common signs of inadequate protein intake but also symptoms of severe protein deficiency. In short, the severity of the protein deficiency determines the severity of symptoms.

Muscle Weakness or Loss of Muscle Mass

Muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass are a normal part of aging. Middle-aged men commonly lose muscle mass and experience Sarcopenia, a natural loss of muscle mass due to aging. If they don't consume enough protein in their daily diets, they may experience even more muscle loss. This doesn't just go for men either, as older women are also at risk for developing muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass.

There is also a reason for this muscle loss; it's not just a random occurrence. When your body doesn't have enough protein from food, it may take protein from your skeletal muscles. This can cause your muscles to break down over time, known as muscle wasting. Remember that your muscles are your body's primary source of protein.

Muscle wasting can occur even with a moderate protein deficiency, particularly in older individuals. Studies have consistently shown that elderly individuals who consume lower amounts of protein experience greater muscle loss.


If you are experiencing swelling in your abdomen, legs, feet, or hands, it could be a sign that you are not consuming enough protein. This is because proteins like albumin help prevent fluid buildup in your tissues. Since protein deficiency can cause fluid to accumulate in the abdominal cavity, resulting in a swollen belly, it's a common symptom of more severe deficiency that we will discuss later.

Weight Loss

Protein deficiency can also cause unintentional weight loss. When you don't eat protein and can't get enough protein, your body may break down your muscle tissues as an energy source. Your metabolism will then slow down since it's not getting the nutrients it needs from protein.

Unexplained weight loss can lead to further health problems. However, it's possible to lose weight without being protein deficient, so you should also look for other symptoms.

Low Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

If you don't consume enough protein, the protein levels in your blood decrease, making your blood thicker and stickier and causing your blood pressure to drop. This can affect various functions in your body by restricting the supply of nutrients to crucial tissues. If you wear a fitness tracker or an Apple Watch that shows your heart rate is below 60 to 100 beats per minute, make an appointment with your doctor. Symptoms of a low heart rate may include shortness of breath, dizziness, and fainting, which can affect your fitness routine.

Hair, Skin, and Nail Troubles

Protein deficiency often leaves its mark on the skin, hair, and nails, which can cause nails to become thin and weak, leading to brittle nails that are prone to breaking. Brittle hair may also be a symptom of inadequate protein intake, as lacking protein leads to more fragile hair strands that are more easily damaged and contribute to hair loss. Your skin is also mainly composed of proteins, so inadequate consumption can put your skin at risk. Protein deficiency can cause skin dryness, flakiness, and wrinkles due to the lack of collagen production.

Slow Injury Recovery

If you have a low protein intake, your body may need more collagen, which is essential for connective tissues and skin. This can cause cuts, scrapes, sprains, and exercise-related injuries to heal slower. Additionally, insufficient protein can affect blood clotting since it requires more protein.

If you notice that your injuries are taking longer than usual to heal, it could be a sign that you don't have enough protein in your diet, and you should take action. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or other signs of protein deficiency, speak with your doctor, who can help diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

Is Severe Protein Deficiency Real?

Yes, severe protein deficiency is an actual medical condition. It's usually caused by inadequate dietary intake of proteins or due to an underlying medical condition that prevents your body from absorbing them properly. Severe protein deficiency can result in Kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition. Symptoms include edema (swelling), skin color and texture changes, stunted growth, and anemia.

Marasmus, another form of malnutrition, can also lead to severe protein deficiency. Symptoms include extreme fatigue and weakness, loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, and slow wound healing. Although both conditions indicate malnutrition and serious protein deficiency issues, they play different roles in determining the causes of the deficiencies.

So let's make a quick comparison:

  • Kwashiorkor - this happens on a low protein diet, but the person gets enough calories, causing a swollen belly.
  • Marasmus - this happens when you consume too little protein and not enough calories and is usually associated with developing countries.

Protein deficiency is rare in developed countries due to the wide availability of food.

How Supplementation Can Improve Inadequate Protein Intake

If you think you might need more protein, there are a few easy ways to increase your intake. Eating more protein-rich food sources, like plant foods and lean meats, eggs, fish, and nuts, can help increase your daily amount. If you're vegan or vegetarian, legumes are an excellent source of plant proteins.

Although it may be more convenient for someone with a busy lifestyle to incorporate various protein supplements instead, certain protein supplements are better, depending on the situation. For instance, whey protein would be a great choice if someone is an athlete or looks to build muscle mass as it's fast digesting and contains essential amino acids that help with recovery and muscle growth. However, plant-based proteins such as peas or hemp protein provide all the necessary nutrients for general-purpose needs without needing extra processing.

Reflect Protein Supplements Can Combat Symptoms of Protein Deficiency

Supplementation is a quick and convenient way to fill nutrient gaps if you think you're not getting enough protein. Of course, eating more high-protein foods is one way. Still, supplementation can also help combat symptoms of protein deficiency by providing the essential nutrients necessary to keep your body healthy.

At Reflect, we have plant and grass-fed bovine-based proteins that are perfect for those seeking a convenient and healthy way to increase their daily intake. For vegan or vegetarian diets, our pea proteins provide all the essential amino acids and other vital nutrients your body needs without sacrificing flavor or texture.

If you're having trouble deciding what you might want to start with, we have numerous options on our site:

  • Vegan Pea Protein (Chocolate) - If you want a delicious and easily-digestible plant-based protein powder rich in essential amino acids, consider trying our Vegan Pea Protein Powder in Chocolate flavor. It's made with 100% pure pea protein isolate and can be added to smoothies or other recipes for an extra burst of flavor.
  • Collagen Coffee Creamer (Vanilla) - Our Vanilla flavored Hydrolyzed Grass-Fed Collagen Coffee Creamer is an excellent option. It's crafted using high-quality grass-fed collagen, which offers better joint health, enhanced skin elasticity, and hair growth. The creamer's rich and indulgent vanilla flavor adds a delightful twist to your morning coffee.
  • Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder - To support your muscle growth and recovery after workouts, try our Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder in Chocolate flavor. Our powder is made with high-quality whey protein isolate, providing essential amino acids to build and repair muscle tissue. You can add it to your favorite smoothies and shakes; there are no added sugars, and it's easy to mix.
  • Biotin Collagen Gummies - Our Advanced D-Biotin Collagen Gummies are a great addition to your daily beauty regimen. They contain collagen and biotin, which help promote healthy hair, skin, and nails. Also, these collagen gummies taste excellent and are simple to incorporate into your daily routine.

No matter which protein supplement you choose, using a safe and high-quality option can help combat symptoms of protein deficiency and improve your overall health. Whether looking to build muscle mass or get the essential nutrients needed for optimal health, Reflect has an array of protein supplements that provide what your body needs. So check out our selection today and get the protein you need to live your best life.