Lack of protein: Symptoms & Treatments

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

Protein deficiency is a disorder that generally affects developing countries such as Africa. Indeed, malnutrition or undernutrition can cause this lack of protein intake. However, this phenomenon can happen to anyone when the diet does not contain enough protein. Discover the symptoms, treatments and the main foods that contain protein.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

How important is protein to the body?

Proteins represent one of the three main families of macronutrients, along with lipids and carbohydrates. They play many essential roles in the body. First, proteins are involved in the renewal of cells in the human body. Muscle tissue, nails, hair and even skin, proteins are responsible for their regeneration cycle throughout a person’s existence. They also participate in the muscle repair process.

Protein deficiency: Symptoms, treatments & preferred foods
Proteins contribute to the renewal of cells in the human body.

Athletes greatly need it to repair and increase the volume of their muscles. Second, proteins provide energy necessary for the body to function properly. Many amino acids that the body is not able to synthesize are provided by dietary proteins. Finally, proteins make it possible to produce antibodies, hormones and hemoglobins (red blood cells). Adequate protein intake is necessary so that the body can effectively fight disease.

What are the signs of a protein deficiency?

Here are the main warning signs of a more or less severe protein deficiency:

  • Frequent desire to eat: craving for sugar all day long, almost insatiable hunger, these signals often imply that you suffer from a protein deficiency;
  • Pain in the muscles and joints: this results from a lack of nitrogen which can only be obtained by consuming proteins;
  • Greater exposure to disease: lack of protein weakens the immune system. Decreased production of antibodies makes the body more exposed to even the least serious illnesses;
  • Problems with nails, hair and skin: These parts of the human body are made mainly of keratin, a type of protein; a lack of protein intake leads to a reduction in their quality and problems in their growth and regeneration;
  • Frequent fatigue: a lack of energy intake causes fatigue in the body, and difficulty for cells to regenerate properly. The revitalization process is blocked and the body must draw on its reserves to compensate for this problem, which leads to overall fatigue.

How to treat a protein deficiency?

If you feel an increasing protein deficiency, here are the main solutions to remedy it:

  • Enrich your diet with protein: the origin of your severe protein deficiency comes, overall, from your diet. So, if you want to re-regulate the protein intake in your body, it is important to enrich your diet. You will discover below the foods which contain the most;
  • Take food supplements: in order to accelerate the increase in the level of protein in your body, you can consume food supplements with a high concentration of protein;
  • Consult a dietitian nutritionist: calling on a nutrition specialist can also be of great importance in order to quickly rebalance your protein levels.
  • See a doctor: If the protein deficiency is too severe, it is best to consult a doctor to prepare for medical treatment. In the case of chronic deficiency, it is possible that diseases, such as kwashiorkor, may appear, requiring medicinal intervention.
Protein deficiency: Symptoms, treatments & preferred foods.
Protein deficiency can be treated

How much protein is considered “normal” for a person?

The recommended daily protein intake differs from one individual to another, and according to various criteria such as age, physical activities practiced and the state of health of each person. According to nutrition experts, a sedentary person should consume between 0.7 and 1 g per kilogram (body weight) of protein.

For older people, the protein requirement is slightly higher, around 1.32 g per kilogram of body weight. An athlete will also have a much higher protein requirement. Depending on your objectives, the daily quantity to consume can vary between 1.5 g and 2.2 g per kilogram of body weight. This helps athletes promote muscle mass gain.

Where to find protein?

Fortunately, protein is easily found in the foods we eat every day. Proteins can be of animal and plant origin:

  • Proteins of animal origin: the foods that contain the most are meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, etc.;
  • Plant-based proteins: Foods that are rich in plant proteins are legumes, cereals and oilseeds such as peanuts, almonds or pistachios.

Which protein is better: animal or plant?

Proteins of animal origin are richer in amino acids, unlike proteins of plant origin. They are, therefore, more essential to the body and are more versatile. In the case of vegetarians and vegans, it is important to mix the various plant protein sources in order to maximize their protein intake. From a health point of view, plant-based proteins are much healthier than those of animal origin.

Protein deficiency: Symptoms, treatments & preferred foods
Proteins of animal origin are richer in amino acids, unlike proteins of plant origin.

This is why it is strongly recommended to include them in your diet without limiting yourself to animal protein sources. In addition to being excellent sources of energy, plant-based proteins also help with digestion and reduce cardiovascular problems.

For high-level athletes wishing to quickly gain muscle mass, proteins of animal origin are the most recommended for their richness in amino acids. However, it is important to balance their consumption to avoid negative repercussions on health. It is advisable to carry out regular medical and nutritional monitoring.

Spirulina: an interesting protein resource

Spirulina is a food particularly rich in plant proteins. Moreover, it is the plant food that contains the most. Spirulina is a real concentrate of plant proteins, much more than soy or rice. 100 g of spirulina contains up to 70% protein, or 70 g.

On the other hand, it is strongly recommended not to consume an excessive quantity of spirulina in one day. In fact, depending on each person’s activities, the daily requirement for spirulina can range from 3 to 10 g. Spirulina alone does not represent a sufficient source of protein. Spirulina is one of the most recommended foods for those who want to quickly gain muscle mass.

Protein deficiency: Symptoms, treatments & preferred foods.
Spirulina is a food particularly rich in plant proteins.

It also contains a significant amount of iron, which helps prevent cramps. Finally, spirulina is one of the main foods used by humanitarian organizations around the world to feed children suffering from malnutrition and severe protein deficiency. Even people suffering from kwashiorkor recover quickly thanks to the consumption of spirulina.


To conclude, there are varying degrees of protein deficiency. Manifestations can range from simple food cravings to the onset of serious illnesses such as kwashiorkor. Proteins are essential, even vital, elements for the body. Therefore, as soon as you feel the first symptoms of a protein deficiency, consult a doctor without delay to prevent your situation from getting worse.

Adopt a healthy diet, and above all, combine the consumption of plant and animal proteins wherever possible to avoid any imbalance. Finally, do not hesitate to consume food supplements and spirulina to boost your protein levels, especially if you are athletes.