Thanks to the ‘strong is the new skinny’ movement, fear of muscle building and protein for women is long-gone. The realization that ‘muscle tone’ is just another word for ‘muscle building’ has had ladies everywhere throwing their zero-fat yogurt in the trash to be replaced with a post-workout protein shake. But protein is essential for all bodily functions, so it’s important for all women to stay healthy and well, not just athletes.
Why is protein important for women?
As well as building and repairing muscles post-exercise, which is what most people know protein for, protein is also the building block for all parts of the body. Women’s bodies go under a lot of stress compared to men’s, with the ovulation cycle and pregnancy, plus protein assists in keeping blood sugar stable – key in weight management and also in controlling diabetes, of which symptoms can be worse in women according to a 2007 Annals of Internal Medicine study. Hair, skin and nails can suffer with a lack of protein, and you may get sick more often, as protein builds compounds in the immune system.
How much protein should I consume daily?
Protein requirements are dependent on your activity level and goals. For instance, a female athlete requires a higher amount of protein and overall calories than a female maintaining weight, due to the extra stress on the body from high intensity exercise.
Female athletes require 0.6g-0.8g of protein per lb per day, according to the 2010 IOC Conference on Nutrition in Sport, as their body and muscles work harder than most womens’ therefore need a little extra help. You may not consider yourself an athlete but if you are training hard for a half or full marathon, do CrossFit or lift heavy weights, this applies to you. If you weigh 132lbs this equals 79-106g of protein per day.
For weight loss
Whilst losing fat on a weight loss diet, muscle can also be lost due to fewer calories being allocated by the body to support them. Muscles are more metabolically active than fat, so it makes sense to maintain them as much as possible during weight loss. Protein also makes you feel fuller for longer compared to carbohydrates, so consuming 40% of your calories from protein will keep you satiated for longer and also may help maintain muscle mass. This is around 0.7g per lb, so for a female weighing 132lbs this will be 92g, though ensure overall you are not consuming too many calories for your weight loss goals.
For weight maintenance
It’s important to keep up with protein intake once you’ve reached your goal weight, and according to the Food and Nutrition board 10-15% of calories should come from protein sources. This can be adjusted according to activity levels and amount of calories consumed. It’s also key to get your protein from a range of sources, rather than just meat, to get the full range of amino acids and also ensure saturated fat from animal sources is kept low, which the American Heart Association attribute some types of lifestyle-related disease to.
For a sedentary lifestyle
Even when living a sedentary lifestyle, protein is important for general health and wellbeing. The American Dietetic Association claim that no more than 0.36g of protein should be consumed per lb, which is around 48g for a woman weighing in at 132lbs. This should be from lean protein sources to keep in line with calorie requirements.
How do I get all this protein in?
A 2012 Moore study showed that protein consumed in 20g portions creates maximum muscle protein synthesis (MPS), so ideally one or a mixture of the following should be included in each snack or meal:
- 200g Greek yogurt
- 64g chicken breast
- 4 tbsp almond butter
- 1 scoop of whey protein
- 400g kidney beans
- 200g firm tofu
- 20 fl oz 2% milk
- 3 large eggs
For higher protein requirements, add more snacks as required, and mix up your protein sources to ensure you’re getting the full range of amino acids. If you consume protein according to your activity level you are more likely to reach your goals, though in any doubt consult with your doctor or nutritionist.