26 Aug Protein for Women: What You Need for Health and Performance
When you think “protein powder supplement,” the first thing that comes to mind might be muscular men slugging back protein shakes in between lifting ever-heavier weights. That’s certainly one group of people who can benefit from extra protein — but it’s not the only one. No matter what your health and fitness goals, there are many benefits of protein for women.
Protein can help you boost strength and performance, tone up (without bulking up), manage your weight, and reduce some of the effects of aging. Protein powder supplements are also an excellent way to amp up your protein intake and your energy levels when you simply don’t have time to eat a full meal.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of protein and learn how much protein women need. We’ll also explore the best protein for women to optimize health and performance, whether you’re in the gym, at the office, or at home.
Why Do Women Need Protein?
Protein provides your body with amino acids — the building blocks of the cells that make up all your body tissues, including your bones, muscles, skin, connective tissues, organs, hair, nails, enzymes, and antibodies.
Your body can make some of these amino acids, but there are nine it cannot make — these are known as the essential amino acids (EAAs) and you need to get them from your food and nutrition, especially protein. The amino acids in protein are broken down in your digestive system and then rearranged through protein synthesis into new proteins that your body can use.
Your body needs a constant supply of protein-rich food as it can’t store protein, unlike the other macronutrients: carbohydrates and fat. As such, you need to reload your protein supply every day to keep your body functioning optimally, especially if you’re working out intensely.
Benefits of Protein for Women
Protein is essential for your overall health, but it’s particularly important for some functions in a woman’s body.
Muscle Growth and Muscle Recovery
Building muscle requires enough amino acids for your energy needs and protein synthesis. One gram of protein provides 4 calories of energy. Once your energy needs are taken care of, that protein will go towards increasing muscle mass.
Whether you’re running, cycling or powerlifting, protein is obviously important for athletes who are focused on boosting their performance, but it’s also very relevant for other women, especially as they age. As you mature, your body tends to lose skeletal muscle mass and bone density. This reduces overall strength and increases your chances of falling and breaking a bone. You can counteract this with a combination of consuming enough protein and doing resistance training to build muscle.
Protein is critical for weight management as it increases satiety so you feel full and are less tempted to eat more. If your goal is weight loss, protein combined with the right diet and exercise helps you shed body fat without losing muscle. (As we’ve discussed, protein helps build and maintain your muscle.) It’s also worth noting that although your metabolism slows down in your 40s and 50s, building lean muscle boosts your metabolism and helps your body burn fat.
When you’re breastfeeding, your body uses protein to produce milk, so women who are nursing a baby need nearly twice the amount of protein that others do. You need that protein, as well as many other critical nutrients, to maintain your own body during this rewarding yet challenging time. Getting enough protein during pregnancy and while breastfeeding is also critical to your baby’s growth and development. As a bonus, increasing your protein intake while reducing fat can help you lose any extra baby weight.
Reducing Some Symptoms of Aging
As you age, the risk of high blood pressure or coronary disease increases, which can lead to a heart attack. At the same time, aging bodies lose elasticity in joints and skin. Consuming enough lean protein — especially poultry, fish, and plant-based protein — can help reduce blood pressure and coronary heart disease while boosting your immune system. Getting enough collagen also helps to maintain your joints and reduce visible signs of aging, like wrinkles.
How Much Protein Do Women Need?
The amount of protein you need depends on your age, stage of life, activity level, goals, and overall health.
The average woman needs around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or starting to lose muscle mass due to age, you may need up to 1.5 grams per kilogram. If you’re very active or looking to gain muscle, you may need between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram.
Can You Get Too Much Protein?
Not getting enough protein can negatively affect your health, but it’s also important not to rely exclusively on protein. These tips will help:
- Don’t expect protein powder to provide all your nutritional needs. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, that provides you with all the macronutrients.
- Don’t eat too much protein at once. Rather, spread your protein intake throughout the day with a little at each meal, and drink plenty of water to support your system. Too much protein places strain on the body, especially on your kidneys and liver. If you’re eating a lot of high-fat protein, you may be increasing your risk of heart disease too.
- Some supplements do interact with certain medications, so if you’re taking medication, check with your doctor and/or nutritionist first.
The Best Protein for Women
- If you’re working out and building muscle, you probably need a fast-digesting protein like whey.
- Pay attention to your macronutrient needs. For example, if you’re watching your intake of carbs, you may choose whey protein isolate rather than concentrate.
- Check that the protein you choose fits with your specific dietary requirements. For example, do you want an option that is keto or vegan, or do you prefer dairy-free or gluten-free?
Now, let’s look at the best places to get your protein.
Whole foods should always be the foundation of your protein intake. Bear in mind that some foods are complete proteins and provide all the essential amino acids our body needs, while others are incomplete and need to be consumed with other foods that help complete the amino acid profile.
Animal proteins like beef, chicken, fish, venison, eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt are all high-quality sources of protein and are usually complete.
Plant-based or vegan proteins, such as beans, lentils, quinoa, soy, hemp, nuts, and seeds are also excellent high-protein sources. However, many of these — a few exceptions are quinoa, soy, chia seeds, and hemp protein — are incomplete proteins. Consume them with other foods, such as whole grains, to make sure you get all the EAAs.
If you struggle to get enough protein from whole foods, protein powder is easy and convenient. It’s also highly digestible and bioavailable, meaning it’s quickly available for your body to use. It can be added to many different foods, including protein shakes, smoothies, yogurt, cereals, or soups.
Bear in mind that although protein powder packs a major amino acid punch, it can’t provide you with the full range of other nutrients your body needs. While protein powder supplements are fantastic, don’t replace all your meals with them, tempting as that may be at times.
Whey Protein Powder
As a complete protein, whey contains all of the essential amino acids. It’s also very high in leucine, the amino acid that’s most critical for the growth and maintenance of muscles. As such, it’s excellent for muscle building and repair. This is obviously especially important if you’re working out intensely or aiming to counteract age-related muscle loss.
Two of the most common whey protein supplements are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Whey protein isolate contains almost no lactose, sugar, or carbs, so it’s ideal if you’re going dairy-free or looking to lose weight but not muscle.
Whey also reduces ghrelin (an appetite-stimulating hormone), so it can help reduce hunger and promote weight loss.
When to take it: To optimize its many benefits, whey protein is best taken directly pre- and/or post-workout.
Pea protein also contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s high in leucine and appears to be just as effective as whey at building muscle mass. It’s also high in the other two branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), isoleucine and valine. All the BCAAs are critical for protein synthesis.
Ideal for vegans and one of the better-digested plant proteins, pea protein is wheat- and soy-free and easily blends into water. It’s also high in iron, which is especially important for women, who naturally lose blood during menstruation.
Because the iron in pea protein is plant-based, it’s usually less absorbable than iron that comes from animal products. However, this can be counteracted by consuming it with vitamin C-rich foods or a vitamin C supplement
It’s worth noting that there’s now a pea protein that is absorbed just as well as whey protein. Ingredient Optimized ioPea Protein has been clinically proven to be nearly three times more bioavailable than non-optimized pea protein.
When to take it: Take pea protein within two hours after your workout to boost muscle mass.
Collagen is the protein that helps to keep your joints healthy and elastic. It’s also very important for healthy hair, nails, and skin, which is why it’s added to so many beauty products. There are many different types of collagen and it’s found throughout your body, especially in your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and organs.
Collagen is synthesized by your body from amino acids, which, as we’ve discussed, are the building blocks of all proteins. However, your body’s ability to produce collagen decreases with age, so it becomes especially important to make sure you’re getting enough protein as you get older. Research shows that collagen supplements can support joint health and protect against osteoarthritis, as well as increase muscle strength.
Bear in mind that collagen supplements are usually derived from cows, pigs, or fish, so if you’re vegetarian or vegan, check the labels to ensure there are no animal-derived ingredients.
When to take it: There are many schools of thought on the best time of day to take collagen. Some believe that first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is best, while others maintain that taking it at night helps rejuvenate your skin while you sleep. As there is not yet conclusive research on this, experiment with taking it at different times to determine when it suits you.
How to Choose the Best Protein Powders for Women
Protein supplements are not FDA regulated, so research carefully when you’re choosing which one to buy. If the product is reputable, product labels and website information should be transparent. Here’s what to look out for:
- Protein supplements should provide all the essential amino acids, whether that’s from a single ingredient or from a blend of proteins, which is often the case with plant-based supplements.
- Aim for short lists of ingredients and avoid additives and fillers — purer is usually better.
- Avoid artificial flavors — it’s easy enough to add your own flavor.
- Avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners, opting instead for natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit.
- If you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, check for sodium content, especially in pea protein powders.
- Look for a product with a neutral taste that dissolves easily in water. This way, you can mix it into a variety of foods, like protein shakes, smoothies, oats, stews, soups, or yogurt. You can also add superfoods like cacao or maca if you like.
- Look for products that have been independently tested and proven to be highly effective, such as ioWhey Protein and ioPea Protein. These have been shown to be more digestible and bioavailable than non-optimized protein powders.
Protein Is a Critical Component of a Woman’s Dietary Intake
Protein for women is incredibly important for general health, as well as for athletes looking to increase muscle mass and boost performance. Protein is also critical for older women who want to counteract the effects of aging, such as loss of muscle mass or joint elasticity.
Getting enough protein from whole foods can sometimes be difficult. Protein supplements can help you get enough amino acids and boost your energy levels easily and conveniently, so you’re ready to go out and conquer the world.