Do you ever find yourself craving protein?
Maybe it’s a late-night energy bar or that plate of chicken nuggets fries at lunch.
You might wonder why this is the case and why now, when you don’t usually crave those foods.
The truth is that your body can be telling you something!
There are many different reasons why people may crave high-protein food, from too much exercise to gender.
This blog post will explore 7 common reasons why we crave protein and what they mean for us physically and emotionally.
But first let’s talk about the nature of cravings in the first place!
What do cravings mean your body needs in general?
There are two main reasons you get food cravings.
First, nutritional deficiency. When you are lacking certain vitamins or other needed items in your diet, you will tend to crave foods that provide them!
Just think about if our bodies lack oxygen, then we get a craving for fresh air and vice versa.
It’s why when someone has just finished exercising they have an increased appetite. Because their body needs more nourishment to recover after exerting itself so much during that workout session!
Of course the most common example is literal hunger for certain foods!
If you are hungry, your blood sugar levels go down. Then you pretty quickly tend to crave, right!?
Secondly, cravings can be the result of emotional eating or stress-eating.
You might find yourself grabbing anything sweet like ice cream at night time even though you aren’t actually hungry.
This is because sugar releases feel-good hormones into your system which make us happy and calm down. So naturally reaching for them when stressed makes sense.
The same goes for why we crave chocolate when feeling down or why you might want a burger after a bad day at work.
These cravings can be reduced by finding healthier ways to manage stress and emotions such as through meditation. Instead of reaching for food!
What are symptoms of protein deficiency?
Now let’s say for whatever reason, perhaps a combination of reasons …
You are craving protein because of some protein deficiency …
What are the symptoms?
Here are just some of the symptoms of protein deficiency!
- tiredness and fatigue
- weakness or dizziness when trying to stand up from a seated position
- headache, brain fog and trouble concentrating at school/work
- lowered immunity and frequent infections
- muscle cramps, muscle spasms or twitches especially in the legs (restless leg syndrome)
- fatigue and lack of energy during times you should be active like morning time
1 – Too Much Exercise
Let’s start with the most obvious reason why you crave protein.
Too much exercise!
Exercise is essential for our health and well-being, but too much of a good thing can be bad.
When we exercise intensely, the body actually breaks down. For example, when you weight lift the muscles in your body are broken down, and they need to be rebuilt.
It’s the reason why we get sore after an intense workout or why our muscles ache!
The process of breaking down and rebuilding is called “catabolism”. And when you’re catabolic it means that your body needs extra protein to build itself back up again.
But what if you haven’t eaten enough protein?
If you’re exercising intensely every day, then chances are that you aren’t getting enough rest time between workouts.
Instead of giving your body ample repair time, it’s putting even more stress on your body to build muscle.
Too much exercise and not enough protein is one reason you crave protein.
2 – Not Enough Protein In Your Diet
Protein is very important to your body.
Your body needs protein because it is a fundamental building block for your body to function.
Protein helps you build muscle, maintain healthy hair, nails and skin… the list goes on!
If you don’t get enough protein in your diet then there’s no way that your body can rebuild itself!
Let’s emphasize again too, protein goes far beyond just muscle building.
Protein is used in almost every single bodily function:
- digestive proteins help you absorb the nutrients from your food
- transport proteins carry oxygen to cells and take carbon dioxide back out again
- energy production, storage and transfer molecules are all made of protein!
The list goes on…
And without enough protein in your diet then your body is going to crave more protein!
Why you don’t have enough protein in your diet
The most common reason you do not have enough protein in your diet is because you are eating too many carbs and sweets.
Carbs and sweets give us a quick energy boost but do not have many nutrients.
We typically eat carbs from sugary foods like donuts, cakes etc… as well as from starchy carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, rice etc.
The problem with eating too many carbs is that they are broken down into sugar very quickly within the body. This then raises blood sugars levels, causing an insulin spike to balance it out again!
This process of breaking your carb-meal down immediately can cause weight gain over time. Because you aren’t getting the full nutritional benefits from those meal choices.
Remember, your body needs protein and if you’re missing it your body is going to suffer!
3 – Vegan or Vegetarian
It’s one thing to lack protein because you are eating too many sweets.
But another common reason people crave protein is because they are following certain rules improperly.
For example, let’s talk about being a vegetarian.
It’s entirely possible to be a healthy, well-fed and satisfied vegetarian.
However, so many people hear simple rules like “don’t eat meat” and take things to an unhealthy extreme.
I remember my friend in college was technically a vegetarian. She didn’t eat meat, instead she only ate chips and fries!
She was technically following the guideline of “No meat” and she could say she was vegetarian … but that’s it!
She’d start gorging and craving cheese because cheese is high in protein and was one of the foods she could eat while still being vegetarian.
Please know veggie meat substitutes are really good these days! Even veggie burgers taste great!
Why do I crave meat?
I’m sure you can guess by now …
We crave what we don’t have.
If you are craving meat, most likely it’s because you are not eating meat!
Or maybe you eat a tiny amount of meat, but you in general restrict meat.
For example, you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, or you are not eating much meat in general.
In these situations, or related situations like being low on iron and craving ice, but overall it’s very easy to understand why you might crave meat!
Of course there are exceptions but again remember that in general we crave our deficiencies.
4 – Pregnant
Pregnancy is a very special time in your life.
The changes that you are going through when pregnant have an impact on why you crave protein.
It’s normal for women during their pregnancy to have cravings for foods, like cravings for chocolate which has a lot of fat or protein which is filling …
- You are eating for two people
- You may have morning sickness and so not be digesting enough food for both of you
- Your hormones are changing
Tips to eat more protein if pregnant
- Eat a high-protein breakfast. Protein is the building block of your body. Your body needs those essential amino acids first thing in the morning.
- Eat protein snacks between meals. You should never be starving. That leads to overeating later because when your stomach feels empty, then cravings come!
- Keep yourself satisfied by eating small amounts often (~ every 3-4 hours)
5 – Marketing Influences
In general food cravings are influenced tremendously by our environment.
This is why we see such cravings for sugar and carbs when we go out to eat.
When you sit down in a restaurant, what do they give you first? Bread! And usually it’s warm bread too!
And why does that make us crave sugary or carb filled foods like cake and donuts? Because your environment cues the cravings.
We’re surrounded by these delicious smells of baked goods, pancakes and breakfast sandwiches!
It doesn’t matter if we haven’t eaten yet … there are scents wafting through our nose telling us this food tastes great … So why not have some?!
If you have a random bout of protein cravings, it’s possible some advertisement triggered your cravings!
McDonald’s, Burger King, there are major advertising budgets at play here and they are very effective!
6 – Gender
In a 2016 study from Yale titled “Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity” scientists found gender differences.
Here are a few interesting statements from the Yale article:
- “Several studies have shown that men report more craving for savory foods (e.g., meat, fish, eggs)”
- “Whereas women report more craving for sweet foods (e.g., chocolate, pastries, ice cream”
- “Consistently, a few studies have shown that more than 92 percent of those who experience strong cravings for chocolate are female”
What do you think about cravings being partially gender related?
It’s important to take care of your body and make sure you’re eating enough protein.
If you are vegan, pregnant or doing heavy exercise on a regular basis,it is important that you pay close attention to the food choices that will help fuel your body.
You must feed your body with the nutrients it needs for these situations!
We also want to emphasize how gender can impact diet as well. Tthere are different dietary guidelines depending if someone identifies as male or female.
Of course, we always recommend people journal to study their eating habits.
If you journal then you can spot any nutritional deficiencies and what is behind your protein cravings.