If you have an interest in health and nutrition you’ll know that it can be a complicated subject. Just looking for the perfect workout routine to support your goal or a healthy post-gym recipe to refuel can be tricky; you’ll soon discover the wealth of (often conflicting) advice out there. Even trusted experts often disagree with each other when it comes to what, how much and at what time you should eat. You might find two different answers to the same question!
Want the perfect example? Here’s one for you: eggs.
Are eggs good for you or not? Each and every year we see article after article promoting eggs as a superfood; the perfect staple to keep in your fridge for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But there are equal arguments from similarly reputable experts stating we should steer clear of them completely! It can be hard to know where to turn and which advice to listen to.
As a woman, the advice can be even more confusing. Do you have different nutritional needs than a man? Yes! But most of the information out there about protein and nutrition is geared towards men, more specifically men who want to build muscle and ‘bulk up’.
Not only is the female body vastly different, but your goals are most probably different too. If you’re looking to slim down and tone up, to build a lean (not bulky) physique, your nutritional needs will be completely different. You need information and guidance curated for YOU, not for a man!
That’s why here at IdealFit we’ve put together this complete guide to protein for women: so you can easily find expert advice specifically designed for women, so you don’t have to trawl through the internet to find out what’s best for you and your body..
Why Women Need Protein
Protein is one of the most important parts of all of our diets; but the majority of people don’t fully understand why, or even how much protein we need each day. If you want to know how much protein you should be consuming to reach your goal, or how you can increase the amount of protein in your diet, we’ve sifted through all the research for you so you can easily find everything you need to know!
As a Certified Nutritionist and expert Personal Trainer, I have helped countless women improve the way they eat in order to help them reach their health and fitness goals. I’ve got all the information you need to help you transform your diet, slim down and stay lean for life. Protein is the perfect tool to help you reach your goals!
To make it even easier, I’ve separated this guide into four simple sections so you can find everything you need to know about protein:
So read through and discover everything you need to know about why we need protein in our diets, how protein can fit into your healthy lifestyle and how you can get enough to meet your needs and reach your fitness goals.
1. Are You Getting Enough?
If there’s one thing we constantly hear about, it’s getting enough water. Every day I see more and more advice about how much water we should be consuming everyday; for weight loss, for general health, to help us focus more at work. More and more of us are understanding the importance of staying hydrated, grabbing a water bottle to keep on our desks, waking up with a hot cup and a slice of lemon, topping up after the gym. Chances are, if you’re serious about staying fit and healthy, you’re probably on top of your water intake, which is great!
But do you ever hear people talk about getting enough protein in the same way? I definitely don’t. And yet getting enough protein is just as important as getting enough water, especially for woman who live healthy, active lifestyles. Active doesn’t have to mean “bodybuilder” or “marathon runner”. Active can mean a busy mum who runs around with the kids, someone who hits the gym 2-3 times a week, or even just someone who lives a full and action-packed lifestyle! Protein is essential to fuel our bodies, especially when we are active and working towards a fitness goal.
You might think you consume enough protein in your diet, but how can you be sure? Are there clear signs or ways of measuring if you’re getting enough? Here are some clear signs you might not be getting enough protein in your diet:
Signs you might not be getting enough protein:
Craving sugary foods
Who hasn’t got a sweet tooth? Especially us girls. Sugar cravings can seem like a normal part of everyday life, but maybe not. Protein plays an important role in keeping your blood sugar stable, and a lack of protein can cause your blood sugar to spike, tricking your body into thinking it needs sugar NOW. This craving; often paired with a feeling of fatigue or tiredness can leave us reaching for a sweet treat to perk us up. When we feel our sugar levels spike or slump, our bodies crave high-sugar foods, like chocolate, cupcakes and sweets. Consuming more protein can help stop those unhealthy cravings and sugar fluctuations in their tracks. If you are getting enough protein in your diet throughout the day, your blood sugar levels will be more stable, and you might find yourself craving the sweet stuff less often than before.
Did you know that when your body is stressed, it released hormones which can actually break down your muscle tissues. Crazy right?! It’s no wonder that stress makes us feel do terrible and leaves us feeling emotionally and physically drained. And I’m not just referring to frustrations at work, screaming kids, traffic jams or the Christmas rush. Exercise counts as physical stress on the body too! Believe it or not, a good workout at the gym causes the same stress hormones to be released. Exercise is undoubtedly good for you, but it does make physical demands on your body- pushing it further and further each time. To stay healthy and maximize the effects of exercise, we need to ensure we are consuming enough protein to support recovery post-workout. Consuming enough protein can also have a positive impact on your stress levels and make you feel less anxious overall.
You want to lose weight
We all want to look and feel our very best and many us might be thinking about losing a couple of pounds from time-to-time. But did you know that when you drop calories in an attempt to lose weight you can also accidentally reduce your muscle mass too?
Have you ever heard the term “skinny-fat”? It’s when someone looks thin but has no muscle tone or definition. They aren’t overweight, but they are also not fit or particularly healthy. ‘Skinny-fat’ happens when you cut calories and don’t get enough protein! When you reduce your caloric intake, you should actually increase your protein intake to ensure that you can maintain the lean muscle mass that makes your body look it’s very best.
One thing you don’t have to worry about is ‘bulking up’. Trust me, as a woman, it’s not something you need to think about. Increasing your protein intake will make you look more toned and lean; certainly not bulky! Another great benefit of getting more protein in your diet? Eating more protein will actually make cutting calories even easier by making you feel more full. Protein fills you up better than anything else, so you might find yourself craving fattening foods less often.
If you find yourself feeling exhausted after a perfectly normal day or after finishing a workout, a protein deficit could be the culprit. The tiredness could be the result of simply suddenly upping your workout routine, but if you can’t narrow down the cause, getting more protein into your diet could help you have more energy. This is because protein fuels your depleted muscles. Your body doesn’t just use carbs for energy, it also uses protein and fat, and protein also helps to rebuild your muscles. When you work out (or simply live your everyday life!), you break down muscle fibers, and your body uses protein to repair it and build it up. Aging can also be a factor; as you grow older, you may actually need more protein than you did as a younger woman. And that goes double for women who stay active as they get older! (Of course, if you’re suffering from chronic unexplained fatigue, you should see your doctor first).
Many women I know would answer “yes” to more than one of these clues! Almost all of us suffer from some daily stress, and if you do tough workouts, you’re stressing your body with exercise. And who knew that you might be able to curb sweet cravings with more protein?!
Upping your intake might make it easier to resist that Coke that’s been calling to you from the drive-thru, or the half jam sandwich that your kid left behind at lunch. Plus protein can help you get the toned body you want and even give you more energy!
So why do so many women neglect their protein needs? The answer is simple, really: they aren’t informed enough about just how important protein is in their diets. Most of us need to inform ourselves about what we as active women really need from their diets.
2. Myths Uncovered: Protein and Women
Okay, ladies, be honest: how many of you flinch slightly as soon as you’re told to eat more of anything? That’s what I thought. As women, we want to stay lean and slim, and we’re conditioned to believe that consuming more of anything could make us put weight on. Isn’t salad the way to go when you want a lean body?
Most protein myths revolve around this mistaken belief that a woman’s diet should be all about whittling down the calories until there’s barely anything left. But there are even more myths about protein out there. We’ve uncovered the top myths about protein to help you uncover the truth.
Myth Number 1: Protein will make me bulk up!
By far the biggest myth out there about protein and women is that protein will make you bulk up and will quickly make you resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1970.! And let me tell you girls, it is FALSE. Adding more protein to your diet will not make you look like a man. Just because male bodybuilders love protein doesn’t mean that protein will make you, a woman with totally different hormones, bulk up like one!
Protein is not just for men, and men and women do not metabolise protein differently, but they do have different body compositions. Protein is a macronutrient that everybody needs to build and maintain lean muscle. And lean muscle is what gives you the sleek, toned, feminine body you want, because women simply don’t bulk up like men. The only thing that can make a woman start to look like a man is male hormones, and protein does not contain those!
Like I said earlier, eating more protein builds and maintains your lean muscles, keeps your blood sugar levels even so that you’re not tempted to eat foods off your healthy meal plan, and even helps you recover from workouts. It doesn’t make you look like an outcast from Geordie Shore!!
Myth Number 2: Protein will give me Osteoporosis!
I’ve been seeing this one all over the internet lately. Osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones, is a concern for most women as they grow older; after all, women who have passed menopause are the most at risk for this disease. Luckily, getting adequate amounts of calcium and doing weight-bearing workouts, like strength training and jogging, can prevent it.
The worry about protein and osteoporosis is that protein might somehow leach calcium from the bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis. The rumor is that protein increases the body’s acidity, which causes the body to take calcium from bones to neutralize that acid. This is a myth! If anything, calcium strengthens your whole body–especially your muscles, but also your bones.
Like we learned in Myth number 2, there aren’t any discernible negative effects from overdoing the protein. No one can even define how much is “too much,” because all your body does is stop absorbing it. No harm done.
But while we’re on the subject of osteoporosis, women do need to make sure that they get enough calcium and vitamin D to prevent it. A protein supplement made for women like IdealLean Protein includes extra calcium and vitamin D to keep women’s bones and bodies strong..
So clearly protein can’t hurt us… but how exactly can it help us? Why do we need it, and how much should we get every day? Let’s cover that next.
Myth Number 3: Protein only comes from meat
This is a big reason why many women don’t get enough protein. Protein only comes from meat, and we’ve all seen the reports that say we should be cutting down on meat, right? Well… half right. There is some truth that gorging on meat–especially red meat–can have adverse health effects.
But it’s not true that protein only comes from meat. It’s true that as far as supermarket sources of protein go, meats, seafoods, and dairy products have more protein per ounce than other foods. Luckily, there are vegetarian sources of protein: beans, lentils, quinoa, chia seeds, and most nuts all have lots of protein. However, these sources also come with fat and carbs that you might not need to add to your diet. If these are your only sources of protein, you have to plan accordingly.
So what’s the best source of protein? You’ll find lots of conflicting opinions about this, but the lowest-calorie, easiest to digest, and most concentrated source of protein is probably a protein supplement like IdealLean Protein. An isolated whey protein source like this is quickly absorbed and adds relatively little to your overall calorie intake. You don’t have to add more meat to your diet to get more protein!
Myth Number 4: Too much protein is bad for you
Yes, it is technically possible to get too much protein. By that I mean that your body can only utilise a certain amount of protein every day for repairing muscles, building muscles, and doing everything else your body does to maintain your health. Like vitamins, your body cannot absorb, use, or store an unlimited amount of protein. (Don’t you wish this were true for fat, too?! So unfair.)
So what happens to the vitamins that your body doesn’t need? Your body eliminates them without using them, which is a harmless process. And what happens when your body is given more protein than it can absorb? Well, the short answer is: not much! It hasn’t been proven that anything negative happens when you consume more protein than you need. There isn’t even a set “maximum amount” that you should consume per day. A doctor consulted for an article on this subject in Muscle & Fitness said, “Despite the frequently expressed concern about adverse effects of high protein intake, there is no evidence that protein intakes in the range suggested will have adverse effects in healthy individuals.” The range suggested was much higher than recommended daily amounts.
So yes, it is possible to consume too much protein. But is this something you should worry about? Probably not. You’re far more likely to be getting too little protein than too much!
3. Why You Need More Protein
The benefits of protein are almost countless, but I’m going to focus on the four benefits I think you’ll be most interested in! Yes, you need protein to sustain your body’s most basic functions. Yes, you need protein for your hair, nails, and skin. Yes, you need protein to fuel your workouts.
But protein can also help you get slim, help you stay lean, help you recover fast, and help you boost your immune system for better overall health. Doesn’t get much better than that for a busy woman on the go! If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, maintain your weight, bounce back from your workouts, or just stay on top of your busy game, you need plenty of protein in your diet for sure.
If anything is going to persuade you to increase your protein intake, this has got to be it! Even if you’re not locked in an epic struggle with 2 or 3 stone to lose, you still might not be 100% satisfied with your body. We’re all looking to improve (including me) and protein can help you get the results you’re looking for.
First of all, everything we eat causes something called “thermic effect” as we digest and metabolise it. A food’s thermic effect refers to how much energy your body has to burn to thoroughly metabolise that food and convert it into energy. Proteins have a higher thermic effect than any other type of food, which means that your body has to work harder to metabolise it than to metabolise other foods. And that means that you burn more calories! Win-win, right?
Because of the higher thermic effect of protein, you’ll even burn more calories after a high-protein meal than after a lower protein meal. It’s only a slight increase in your metabolism, but it’s another example of how protein can help you drop fat faster. It’s similar to how you continue to burn calories for a while after a workout!
A recent study even found that dieters who ate twice the recommended daily amount of protein, while reducing their overall calorie intake, lost more fat than those who didn’t increase their protein intake! The dieters who ate the usual amount of protein only lost 41.8% fat, compared to 70% for those who ate more protein.
Obviously we all want to burn fat and not muscle, so this is a big argument for getting more protein in our diets. Adding protein helps you keep the lean muscle that sculpts a toned figure, while burning the fat that can cover it up.
We all know that maintaining your ideal weight can be just as difficult as achieving it in the first place. The struggle is still real even after you’re feeling great about your body. Just because you’ve dropped the weight doesn’t mean that you can go right back to old eating habits. If you started snacking on crisps and fizzy drinks, you’d soon be right back in your old body!
Luckily, upping your protein intake can help you maintain a lean body, not just achieve one. Most importantly, protein maintains the lean muscle that you’ve worked so hard to get. When you’re eating fewer calories, adequate protein will ensure that you keep that hard earned muscle and toned body.
There’s another mechanism, too. When you consume more protein, your body releases more of its own protein, called peptide YY. This protein helps to regulate your appetite, preventing you from overeating. Peptide YY helps people eat the right amount of calories when they need them. So not only does protein help fuel your workouts and lower your body fat, it can also keep you on track with your healthy eating!
Not only can protein maintain your muscles, it also helps you avoid unhealthy foods. How? By keeping you feeling full instead of starving! Remember how protein takes more energy–and therefore more time–to metabolise? That translates to a longer time between eating and feeling hungry again when protein is a part of your meal or snack. And that means that you’ll be less tempted by foods that pack the pounds right back on.
How important is recovery from your workouts in your everyday life? If you’re anything like me, you’ll say VERY. If you can’t recover quickly from your most challenging workouts, then you can’t be at the top of your game. And you need to be performing at your peak for more than just the gym! What about watching your kids football practice, dashing to the supermarket between appointments, and staying alert on the job all day?
If you can recover quickly, you can live your healthy life to the max. And protein is absolutely essential for speedy recovery. Protein promotes muscle adaptation during post-workout recovery by:
- Helping your body repair muscle fibers.
- Promoting new protein generation in muscles.
- Restoring depleted energy.
In short, your body needs protein to rebuild the muscles that you break down a little bit each time you exercise. In that article I just linked, a runner discusses how she experienced immediate results in her recovery after she started adding protein to her exercise routine.
Although hydration should still be your main focus before, during, and after a workout, protein speeds muscle recovery after a tough workout. That goes for all kinds of exercise, too: weight lifting, cardio, whatever you’re up to today.
We’ve already talked about how your body needs protein to build and repair its muscles. Well, guess what? Your body needs protein to build and repair everything, and that includes your immune system!
The antibodies in your body that help you fend off and destroy bacteria and viruses that make you sick are actually made of protein, so your body needs protein to build and maintain your immunities. Plus, the things you eat to get protein tend to be rich in other immune-boosting nutrients like zinc and magnesium! Nuts like cashews and almonds are full of these vitamins and minerals, so the next time you’re snacking on trail mix, remember that you’re getting protein, zinc, and magnesium all at once.
The amino acids in complete proteins (more on those later!) help boost your immune system by strengthening your cells against infection from bacteria and viruses. Interestingly, the best protein for enhancing your immunity isn’t meat or fish: it’s whey protein, the protein source you tend to find in protein supplements like IdealLean Protein. This protein supplement includes magnesium, too!
To wrap up this section, you need protein to banish fat, keep and build your sleek lean muscles, recover from your workouts, and even keep your immune system running strong. There are serious benefits to adding more protein to your diet, especially high-quality whey protein. And there aren’t any downsides!
Now let’s answer the question I know you’ve been wondering about for the past few pages: How do you get plenty of protein into your diet?! Let me put my Certified Sports Nutritionist hat on and tell you.
4. How To Get More Protein In Your Diet
Why do women often not get enough protein? Of course some of the reasons are listed in the “myths” above. But another reason is that we all have a preconceived idea of what a “healthy” diet is, and that idea often excludes the best sources of protein. When was the last time you thought of a steak or a protein shake with peanut butter as diet food?
Well, I have some nutrition news for you. Juicy steaks and peanut butter smoothies can fit right into your healthy lifestyle and help you feel great and look lean. Let’s take a look at the kind of protein you need and why.
Remember how I mentioned “complete proteins” earlier? There are actually two kinds of proteins: complete and incomplete. A complete protein contains all of the amino acids your body needs, whereas an incomplete one doesn’t. To build and repair muscles and other tissues, your body needs all of those amino acids, not just some of them.
Where to get complete proteins
Animal sources of protein such as meat, fish, and dairy are all complete proteins, while many vegetarian protein sources like beans, nuts, and seeds are incomplete proteins. This means that these incomplete proteins have to be paired with other protein sources to become complete. For instance, black beans and brown rice, or peanut butter and whole wheat bread. Sounds great, but it could mean adding a lot of carbs to your diet, which isn’t the best option for everyone.
In short: animal proteins are already complete and many vegetarian proteins aren’t. That’s why a lot of athletes rely on whey protein to supplement their diets. They want to get plenty of complete proteins without the added carbs that come from vegetarian proteins!
Whey protein is sourced from dairy, which makes it a complete protein. High-quality whey protein isolates like those in IdealLean Protein is a complete protein that can be easily added to your day without having drastically up your food intake. Speaking of which… let’s talk about exactly how much protein you need every day, based on your weight and your lifestyle.
We already talked about how many women aren’t getting as much protein as they need. So how much do you need, anyway? Let’s take a look at the recommendations.
How much protein do you need?
Most sources instruct you to calculate your protein needs by body weight, like in this simple chart.
Okay. So according to this chart, an “active woman” weighing 140 pounds (10 stone) should be consuming 84 grams of protein every day. And a “competitive athlete”–we might say a very active woman of that same weight–should be consuming 105 grams of protein every day.
This chart from POPSUGAR Fitness does the math for you if you can find your weight:
This one’s a little more clear, breaking activity levels down into three easy categories: sedentary, active, and extremely active. The average woman who works out is probably “active,” and if you’re working out every day or following a serious fitness or weight loss regimen, you’re probably “extremely active”!
Other sources recommend even more protein, multiplying body weight by 0.8 or by 1 to determine the number of grams of protein a woman should eat every day! Personally, I recommend multiplying by 1. That would be 140 grams for a 140 pound woman! That might sound like a lot, but hang on in there!
As a nutritionist, I’ve included a variety of protein-rich meals in my 15 Day Challenge plan: IdealLean Protein breakfast smoothies, eggs with extra egg whites, chicken salads, turkey wraps, and delicious IdealLean Protein dessert smoothies with peanut butter. These protein sources provide you with diverse nutrients that your body needs when it’s working hard to burn fat and build muscle.
But if you’re upping your protein intake and relying only on regular foods to get it, you’d have to eat at least six servings of salmon every day, or more than three cups of Greek yogurt! That’s a lot of food to pack in during a single day, not to mention a little expensive. And what’s more, it’s a lot of calories.
This is another reason why lots of active women rely on protein supplements to reach their daily protein needs. IdealLean Protein contains 0 fat, 0.7g sugar, and 1.42g carbs. One serving of IdealLean Protein adds only 103 calories to your day, which is a pretty fantastic tradeoff for 23 grams of protein!
Let’s wrap it up!
Now that we’ve busted the myths about protein, cracked the code of how much you need, and explored the best ways to get plenty of it into your everyday diet, you’re ready to start recovering faster, burning fat, and getting toned. A high-quality whey protein supplement can help you get enough protein to take advantage of all of the benefits, without adding too many calories to your healthy diet!