What Happens If You Don't Eat Enough Protein?

Protein is one of three macronutrients you need to include in your diet every day. Protein is found in every single cell and it makes up your body’s organs and tissues. Protein is responsible for helping your bodies recover, providing energy, and keeping you feeling full. Failing to eat enough protein can lead to serious health risks.

What Happens If You Don't Eat Enough Protein?

Not consuming enough protein can lead to multiple consequences.

1.   You Crave Desserts

One of the first things is that you won’t feel full and will crave sweets. That is because protein maintains a steady blood sugar level. When you don’t have enough protein, your glucose varies greatly, making you want to eat candy or sugar.

2.   Your Nails and Hair Get Thin and Your Skin Becomes Dry

Nails and hair are almost completely made from protein. If you do not get enough protein, your hair breaks easily and your nails are ridged. Dry skin with rashes can also occur without enough protein. You may become more vulnerable to sunburns.

3.   You Experience Swelling

Protein helps prevent excess fluid from accumulating in your tissues while blood travels throughout your body. Without enough protein, you may notice swelling in the ankles, cheeks, hands, and feet.

4.   You Feel Gassy

Multiple digestive and metabolic functions rely on amino acid intake. If you don’t get enough protein, your body will run down, causing digestion, muscle contractions within your gastrointestinal tract, and enzyme production to suffer. Therefore, you may feel bloated and gassy.

5.   You Feel Anxious and Moody

The building blocks of mood neurotransmitters are amino acids. Proteins let your brain synthesize hormones such as serotonin and dopamine that bring positive feelings like excitement and calm. Lack of protein can make you become anxious and moody.

6.   You Don’t Sleep Well

In some cases, insomnia and poor sleep are the answer to "what happens if you don’t eat enough protein". These side effects may be related to unsteady blood sugar levels, a decrease in serotonin production, and an increase in cortisol. If your blood sugar swings throughout the day, you will notice the effects at night as well. As a result, you will have poor sleep.

7.   Your Workouts Are Worse

Diets low in protein can lead to muscle atrophy (loss), fat gain, and fatigue. Without enough protein, it is possible to work out more often or harder and see worse results, since you don’t get enough to repair your tissues or provide yourself with energy.

8.   You Feel Your Brain Is in a Fog

Because protein is necessary for your neurological functioning, not getting enough can lead to difficulty concentrating, brain fog, trouble learning new information, and lack of motivation. These symptoms indicate low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. These are synthesized within your brain with amino acids, which requires protein.

9.   Your Bone Health Declines

What happens if you don’t eat enough protein? Protein can also impact calcium levels, since low-protein diets make it harder for the digestive tract to absorb calcium. When you don’t get enough calcium, your body uses your skeletal system to get the rest needed for proper functioning. This leads to decreased bone density and makes losing skeletal mass more quickly.

10.   You Get Ill Frequently

Protein keeps your immune system healthy since it serves as the foundation for antibodies, white blood cells, and red blood cells. These things work together to fight off pathogens like viruses and bacteria.

11.   You Develop Random Allergies

If you haven’t ever had allergies but now suddenly show symptoms, you may be low in protein. Without immune system strength, allergies become more likely.

12.   Your Wounds Don’t Heal 

After an injury, your body needs more protein in the area to replace the damaged tissue. If there isn’t enough protein, this process slows down, meaning injuries take longer to heal.

13.   You Experience Reproductive and Pregnancy Problems

Not getting enough protein can also lead to a lack of libido, irregular periods, or temporary fertility loss. During pregnancy, it can pose dangers to the baby and you. Your baby may not be able to develop normally.

What You Should Do

Anytime you notice the above symptoms, you should visit your doctor. A blood test will let you know if the cause is protein deficiency. Your doctor may ask you how much and what type of protein you eat. Once your deficiency is diagnosed, treatment is easy.

How Much Protein Do You Need to Eat?

Now that you know what happens if you don’t eat enough protein, you need to know how much you should be eating. Official recommendations say that women should have at least 46 grams of protein and men should have 56 grams daily. Those who are lactating or pregnant need 71 grams.

While most adults need 0.4 gram of protein daily per pound of weight, athletes and those who want more muscle should aim for 0.6 to 0.9 gram per pound.