What Happens If You Don't Get Enough Protein in Your Diet?

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Along with the other macronutrients, carbohydrates and fat, you need adequate protein in your diet to support good health. While a deficiency in protein is rare in the United States, where meat is a mainstay at almost every meal, the UCLA website says that people who are dieting and vegetarians are the populations most likely to be at risk. Not consuming enough protein can have serious effects on your health.

Functions of Protein

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Protein is present in all your cells, making up the tissues and organs in your body. There are many different types of proteins, including antibodies and enzymes, and they are responsible for everything from protecting the body against viruses and carrying out chemical reactions to transmitting signals between cells and transporting atoms and molecules throughout the body. Your body is constantly breaking down proteins and so you need a steady supply of the nutrient in your diet to support proper functioning.

Symptoms of Deficiency

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You probably already know your body needs protein to build muscle. When you don't get enough protein, your body will start breaking down muscle to get what it needs. Your organs and bones are also at risk. You may also suffer from compromised immune function if you don't get enough protein, and you may feel easily fatigued without the energy to carry out your daily activities and exercise. Greater risk of exercise-related injury is also associated with protein deficiency, as is slow wound healing. If your goal is weight loss, don't skimp on protein; compared to fat and carbohydrate, protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, meaning it will help fill you up and keep you feeling full so you avoid overeating and food cravings.

Recommended Protein Intake

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General recommendations for protein intake are 46 grams daily for women and 56 grams daily for men. These recommendations are estimated to meet the needs of the general population, however pregnant and lactating women need more -- 71 grams per day -- and people who are athletes or looking to build muscle may also need more. According to Rice University, growing athletes and adults looking to put on muscle mass need .6 to .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight, compared to all other adults who need about .4 grams per pound.

Make Sure You're Getting Enough

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To be sure you're getting enough protein, track your protein intake for a few days. With an average daily need of 50 grams, it shouldn't be too hard to get what you need. If you eat meat, just one 3-ounce serving of chicken breast has about half of what you need daily. If you don't eat meat, look to beans, nuts and some grains as the best sources. One-half cup of kidney beans has about 8 grams of protein, and 1 cup of amaranth offers almost 3 grams of protein. Include a protein source at every meal and snack to make sure you're getting enough.

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