Protein is essential for life. It energizes us, helps our bodies heal from injury, and keeps us satisfied throughout the day. Proteins are also the building blocks of muscle. ”Protein is the building block of DNA, and every single part of us has DNA,” says Monica Auslander, founder of Essence Nutrition.

Unfortunately, many vegetarians do not get the protein (and subsequently the amino acids) that they need to stay healthy and strong. Wondering if you’re protein deficient? Here are some of the most common symptoms.


1. Muscle weakness + joint pain

When your body does not get enough protein from food it goes into starvation mode, cannibalizing muscle to supplement calorie deficiency when it should be enjoying your meal instead. When your muscles don’t have fuel, neither do you.

2. Constant cravings

Do you often need snacks in between meals? Chances are, you aren’t getting enough protein to sustain you throughout the day. Proteins even out blood sugar fluctuations, ensuring you don’t get that afternoon crash before dinner.

3. Lackluster hair, skin and nails

Your hair and nails are made from a tough protein called keratin. If your hair is brittle and thinning or you’re seeing ridges or breaks in your fingernails, it’s possible you may not have enough protein in your system.

vegan protein sources

4. Fluid retention

Edema, a condition in which your body retains water in tissue (often your feet and ankles), is partly caused by protein deficiency.

5. Slow recovery from injury

In order for your body to recover from injury, it needs the substance to do so. Protein plays a huge part in rebuilding new cells and tissue, and also assists in building immunity against viruses.

6. Lack of mental energy

Do you often feel as though you’re in a fog, lacking enough mental energy to stay productive? Short bursts of energy followed by a mental fog may be related to fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin caused by a lack of protein.

7. Getting sick often

If you are frequently ill, you may have a weak immune system due to protein deficiency. Remember, immune cells are made from scaffold proteins!

Fitness woman warming up in park


Most people need 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain muscle mass (that’s approximately 65 grams for a 180-pound person). If you’re trying to gain muscle or are working out frequently, you should aim for closer to 0.5-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight, alongside adequate caloric intake for your body type.

That said, protein does not solely come from eating meat or animal products. You can obtain plenty of protein from plants such as nuts, seeds, beans and leafy greens, as they are packed with amino acids. In fact, a person eating a 100 percent whole, plant-based diet will likely enjoy more high-quality protein than someone eating a standard American diet of animal proteins and processed foods.


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