Not Eating Enough Protein 2

Signs & Symptoms for Not Eating Enough Protein After Bariatric Surgery

June 14, 2019

The importance of eating protein after bariatric surgery cannot be stressed enough. Proteins are an important macronutrient and form a major part of lean body tissues. You may have heard your surgeon or dietitian emphasize eating your proteins first or increase your daily protein intake. But why?

After surgery, a patient’s need for protein increases. As your stomach capacity is decreased, changes in how macro and micronutrients are digested or absorbed can occur. With limited caloric intake, protein is prioritized due to its many functions in the body such as cell structure and formation, tissue repair, enzyme production, blood cell regulation, hormone, and fluid balance.

Also, our body requires protein building blocks known as amino acids to operate properly. Amino acids are classified as both essential and non-essential forms. Essential amino acids are not produced by the body and must be obtained from food sources such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, and beans.

Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

Essential Amino AcidsNon-Essential Amino Acids
Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Threonine, ValineAlanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Cysteine, Glutamic Acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine


Signs & Symptoms You're Not Eating Enough Protein

Without an adequate amount of proteins in the diet, the body can begin to show signs of a deficit.

Increased Hunger: Cravings and poor food choices can be accelerated with irregular eating patterns and skipping meals. Unlike carbohydrates which provide the body with quick energy, proteins take longer to digest. Proteins can also provide that added fuel and fullness needed to keep you satisfied throughout the day.

Changes in Mood: The brain communicates with cells throughout our body via neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions, such as dopamine and serotonin, are made up of amino acids. Ever wonder if being “hangry” is a real condition? When we drastically limit our food intake, blood sugar can be low, and we can feel more fatigued or short-tempered. To counteract this and prevent sugar crashes from consuming just high carbohydrate foods, protein intake can help balance things out and stabilize mood.

Muscle Loss: Protein is important in building and maintaining muscles mass. With gastric surgeries, rapid weight loss can occur and result in both fat and muscle losses. If the body does not get enough protein from the diet over time, the body will break down muscle tissues and fibers in order to get its supply of amino acids. Symptoms such as body aches and feeling more fatigued than usual can also occur. A combination of adequate protein intake and strength training can help preserve muscle stores.

Skin, Nail, and Hair Issues: Because protein is a building block of all cells, when you're deficient, your skin, hair, and nails can take on a different appearance. Keratin is a protein that structurally makes up nails and hair. Naturally, human hair grows and sheds at different phases but without enough protein in the diet, hair can appear dry, start thinning, and eventually shed more because protein is an important part of follicle growth. Nails can also appear dry, brittle, and weak due to lack of keratin and collagen. Collagen also plays a crucial role in skin health. Without it, skin can start to look aged, have a decreased ability to retain moisture, and have reduced elasticity.

Immunity and Healing Wounds: When the body gets injured, proteins are crucial for tissue repair. The protein fibrinogen functions as a clotting factor to prevent blood loss in open wounds. Also, protein and fluid losses are increased in wound healing, therefore collagen is essential for rebuilding connective tissues and cell walls. Proteins are also helpful in making up antibodies that our body needs to fight off infections such as colds or viruses.

Swelling/Edema: Proteins can act as a transport system to deliver nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. Blood proteins also function to maintain fluid balance. The blood protein albumin can be used as a measure of oncotic pressure. When it is severely depleted, it can cause swelling and fluid accumulation in the tissues. Although body swelling can be a side effect from different medical conditions, it is recommended to always seek treatment from your healthcare team.


  • Mahan, K., Escott-Stump, S., & Raymond, J. (2012) Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Saunders.
  • Wardlaw, G., Smith, A. (2012) Contemporary Nutrition. New York, New York: McGraw Hill.
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Kimberly Morris


Kimberly Morris is a Registered Dietitian who earned her Master’s degree in Public Health Nutrition from Loma Linda University and her Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science from California State University Chico. She has over 6 years of combined experience in medical nutrition therapy, food service management, long term healthcare, and medical weight loss. Kimberly currently sees patients at Eviva Weight Loss and Cosmetic Surgery Center in Shoreline, Washington.