What Do You Have When You Always Crave Protein?

A craving, unlike an urge or desire for a specific food, persists longer than a day or a meal. Constant, pervasive cravings for certain types of foods can indicate nutrient deficiencies. Craving an entire category of nutrients, such as protein, requires careful examination. Besides water, protein is the most widely used substance in your body. Protein-rich foods range from Greek yogurt to steak. Understanding the causes of your constant protein cravings allows you to make healthy and effective dietary adjustments.

Craving steak doesn't necessarily mean your body lacks protein. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Undernourished Athletes

Endurance athletes and growing teen athletes require between 0.7 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain healthy muscle growth. Proteins not only help repair torn, strained muscles, they also form new muscle and tissue fibers. The source of an athlete's dietary protein also affects the body. For example, according to Nancy Clark, author of "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook," your body absorbs animal-based proteins, found in meat and eggs, faster than plant-based proteins, such as nuts and beans.

Dieters

Dieters who restrict carbohydrates and fats force the body to burn protein instead. Without sufficient stores of carbohydrate and fats, the body converts tissue-repairing proteins into energy by turning them into glucose. To continue repairing tissues, muscles and organs, the body requires additional protein. To satisfy protein cravings without sabotaging your diet, eat foods high in protein but low in fat and calories: lean meats, legumes, plain yogurt and low-fat cheese.

Anemia

Anemia results from an inadequate supply of healthy red blood cells. Iron, an essential mineral, enables the production and repair of healthy red blood cells. Insufficient iron in the body decreases production of vital red blood cells, causing anemia. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, headaches, brittle nails and pale skin. In this case, craving a juicy hamburger is your body expressing a need for iron-rich foods, many of which are rich in protein. Foods such as chicken, turkey, egg yolks, legumes and peanut butter contain significant levels of iron, and eating them regularly can reduce your protein cravings.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women notoriously may experience food cravings, sometimes in odd combinations such as meatloaf with ice cream. Since protein enables all cell and blood production inside your uterus, craving additional sources of this vital nutrient is understandable. Indulging these cravings is harmless, reports the Nemours Foundation, provided you choose healthy foods to satisfy your cravings. The healthiest and richest sources of protein include lean meat, egg whites, tofu and beans. Protect your baby's health by avoiding fish containing high levels of mercury, such as swordfish, king mackerel or shark.

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