Protein is an essential macronutrient. We can’t make it. We can pull it from our structural tissues – our muscles, our tendons, our organs – if we’re in dire need of amino acids, but that’s not a healthy long term strategy. For all intents and purposes, we need to consume protein to stay healthy, fit, happy, and long-lived. But we need to consume the right amount at the right times.
So what are some common symptoms you might be experiencing a little protein deficiency?
You’re older than you used to be.
The elderly aren’t as efficient at processing protein. To maintain nitrogen balance or tip the scales toward lean mass accrual, an older person is going to need more protein than a younger person – all else being equal. That goes for resistance training oldsters, puttering around the garden oldsters, and taking an hour to walk around the block oldsters. More protein is better than less.
You’re always hungry.
Of all the macronutrients, protein is the most satiating, and high-protein diets (which are usually also low-carb) consistently result in the greatest inadvertent reduction in calories. You don’t consciously stop eating. You’re not fighting your desire for food. You simply don’t want it. That’s the perfect antidote to insatiable hunger. So try it. A piece of salmon, a few eggs maybe. You’ll be fuller, faster.
You’re cutting calories.
Traditional calorie-restricted dieting certainly can help you lose body weight, but it also causes the loss of lean muscle mass. That explains why so many people who simply reduce calories to lose weight end up skinny-fat. Luckily, increasing the amount of protein you eat can offset some of the muscle loss caused by calorie restriction:
You’re lifting heavy things.
Lifting heavy things changes how your body processes protein. On the one hand, resistance training makes you more efficient at protein utilization so that you actually need less protein to maintain your muscle mass. If maintenance is your goal, you probably don’t need extra protein.
You’re on bed rest.
Bed rest eats at lean muscle mass. It makes sense from your body’s point of view; since you aren’t using it, you don’t really need it. In effect, unused muscle on bed rest becomes less responsive to protein/amino acids, or “protein resistant.” Increasing protein during bed rest will slow down (but not completely halt) the breakdown of lean mass and improve muscle function.
You’re experiencing chronic stress.
Stress hormones are catabolic; they increase muscle and tissue protein breakdown. If you’re experiencing an acute stressor, like a tough workout, this catabolism is normal and necessary and gives way to anabolism. That’s how we get stronger, faster, fitter, and more capable. But if that stress becomes chronic, and the stress hormones are perpetually elevated, the balance tips toward muscle catabolism.
You’re coming off surgery, recovering from burns, or trying to heal a wound (or all three).
Most research focuses on the importance of protein intake after severe injuries, burns, and surgeries, but the same principles should hold true for recovery from minor stuff. This is also a good time to increase your gelatin/collagen intake, as those are the primary proteins used to rebuild new skin and gelatin is also a good source of arginine, an amino acid that promotes wound healing.
I hope they’re helpful!
Which of these signs ring true? Are there any I’ve missed? Let’s hear about it in the comment section.
Original Post | Mark’s Daily Apple