5 Side Effects of a Low-Protein Diet for Athletes

Most people generally know that protein is related to building muscle, even if they don't understand the science behind it. Protein is a critical macronutrient necessary for maintaining athletes' bodies and helping them keep up with their workouts. A high-protein diet tends to generate some controversy (how much protein is too much?), but undoubtedly, a low-protein diet can have negative, harmful and potentially life-threatening side effects for athletes, which is why it's almost never recommended for those who are especially active.

Even if a low-protein diet doesn't cause severe health problems, going too low can still bring about many unpleasant and unenjoyable side effects. Here are some of the classic symptoms of a low-protein diet to watch out for.

1. Low energy

Tired Gym

Protein has 20 types of amino acids, which are essential for moving oxygen around in the blood. Oxygen is critical to all the functions in the body. Without enough of these amino acids, the body starts to experience the subtle signs of low oxygen, which typically manifests itself as low energy levels, fatigue and tiredness. As a result of not consuming enough protein, you can experience muscle atrophy, struggle with weight gain and feel a constant need to sleep. On top of that, low protein has negative effects on everything from your liver to your skin to your hair to your brain. The resulting damage to your body also produces the effect of low energy, as your body attempts to function without enough protein to power your muscles and organs.

2. Loss of muscle mass

Athlete in Mirror

For athletes, undoubtedly the worst symptom of a low-protein diet is the loss of muscle mass. Protein is necessary for the construction of healthy muscles. Conversely, when your dietary intake doesn't give your body the amount of protein it needs to function, it will begin to cannibalize the protein in your muscles in order to sustain itself. Your muscles begin to atrophy, in the absence of SARMs, even if you continue to work out and try to build them up. The loss of muscle leads to slower metabolism and weight gain, creating a cycle of weight gain that no amount of exercise can effectively combat. The loss of muscle mass also aggravates fatigue and makes you feel weaker, and it can produce uncomfortable symptoms like muscle cramps that cause pain and make it harder to exercise.

3. Weakened immune system

Athlete Tired

A low protein diet can have a harmful, weakening effect on your immune system. Without the full range of amino acids, particularly glutamine and arganine, your immune system cannot function effectively. The absence of protein can deplete your white blood cell count, making it difficult for your body to fight off infection. Researchers have linked a deficiency in protein to HIV infections, as the body is less prepared to fight off the virus, leaving you more likely to become infected.

4. Edema

With a low-protein diet, your body may begin to retain water, which can cause weight gain and uncomfortable bloating; this is called edema. This is because the amino acid albumin found in protein is normally used to help keep fluids from passing through the cells of the blood vessels. When you don't have enough of this amino acid, fluids begin to seep through and escape into your tissue, flooding it and producing swelling and pain. It typically goes down to your lower extremities, causing swollen legs, ankles, feet and hands. An increase in protein would help introduce the albumin your body needs to treat the edema.

5. Blood sugar problems

Protein Shake

Insufficient protein in your diet can lead to blood sugar problems, particularly if carbohydrates are replacing the protein in your diet. Protein is broken down into glucose, which helps your blood sugar, but it is broken down slowly, which prevents the need for a sudden spike in insulin levels. Protein also keeps you fuller longer, which helps stabilize blood sugar. An erratic and frequent change in blood sugar is linked to increased rates of diabetes, whereas regular blood sugar, controlled by a diet rich in protein and complex carbohydrates, can help keep your blood sugar stable.

Protein is necessary for virtually all your organs to function well, and for the health of your muscles. Don't neglect this macronutrient in your diet, or you may find it harming more than just your workouts.

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Topics: PROTEIN | DIET | CARBOHYDRATES | AMINO ACIDS | GLUCOSE | INSULIN | SUGARS