For the past half century it has been easy to convince men to eat more protein; after all, protein provides the building blocks for building muscle and most men like to build more muscle. It’s been a much tougher sell to women, as the mainstream fitness magazines for women are often focused on manipulating carbs, fats and calories. In recent years, however, protein has started taking over the headlines in the women’s fitness community.
One reason is that the ultra lean supermodel look is on the way out and is being replaced by a more athletic look with significantly more muscle. Protein offers many other benefits, such as helping to control hunger and tostabilize energy levels. The next question that needs answering is, “How much protein does a woman need?”
As a start, consider that the recommendation by the Institute of Medicine range from 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight for those with a sedentary lifestyle and 0.85 grams for those who use exercise. Translated, a 126-pound female couch potato needs just 23 games of protein a day, and a woman who hits the gym a few days a week needs about 48 grams. But the protein equation isn’t that simple.
Beneath every feminine curve is a muscle, and women who want to build a significant amount of muscle need a lot more protein. Likewise for the women who want to become powerful for sports or be able to handle the grueling boot camp workouts so popular today.
Another issue to consider is that women who are using lower calorie diets designed to lose their bodyfat may need to increase their protein intake because their body will use protein more as an energy source. In a review published in 2011 in the Journal of Sports Sciences, the researchers said that two grams of protein per kilo of body weight may be necessary “…in preventing lean mass losses during periods of energy restriction to promote fat loss.” This means our 126-pound women might need to increase their protein intake to a whopping 115 grams per day.
Rather than spending a lot more time cooking, it’s more convenient and often more economical to get more protein by consuming protein powders. Put some protein in a shaker bottle, add some water, mix – and you’re done!
What’s especially good about protein powders is that you can increase your protein intake often without significantly increasing the amount of carbs or fat you consume. This is good news for those concerned about heart disease.
A cohort study that looked at the relationship between protein intake and ischemic heart disease in women was published in August 1999 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study involved 80,082 women ages 34-59 years. The researchers found that a high protein intake did not increase the risk of ischemic heart disease – in fact, they said “…our findings suggest that replacing carbohydrates with protein may be associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease. Because a high dietary protein intake is often accompanied by increases in saturated fat and cholesterol intakes, application of these findings to public dietary advice should be cautious.” If fat intake is a concern for you, simply use protein powders with minimal amounts of fat.
One challenge for increasing protein intake is that some women are vegetarians and some have issues with dairy products, even the more easily digestible whey proteins. The solution is to use protein powders available made from rice, hemp, and peas.
All three macronutrients – protein, carbs, and fats – are necessary to fuel a healthy lifestyle. But to build more muscle to give you the body you want and strength you need to maintain an active lifestyle, consider adding another egg to your omelets, taking a thicker cut of steak, and putting a protein shaker bottle to good use.