Do women need more protein than men? The short answer is yes. But the reasons may surprise you.
When talking specifically about protein, typically we assume that men and women require different amounts because “men have bigger muscles” or strive for a more “built” look than most women. But the truth is, your protein needs are actually not determined by your sex, and instead depend on your physical size (height and weight), exercise level, and overall health goals.
The Top Protein Rule: Male or female, the more active you are, the more protein you need.
There’s protein in just about every food out there, so the good news is that if you eat a well-balanced diet you likely have no trouble reaching your daily protein needs.
How much protein do I need?
How to calculate your personal protein needs1:
- Convert your weight in pounds to kilograms by dividing by 2.2
- Next, multiply your weight in kilograms by a figure that relates to your activity level
- For baseline active lifestyle: Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8
- For moderately active (think 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise 3 to 5 days a week) multiply weight in kilograms by 1.0
- For high intensity, daily exercise, multiply weight in kilograms by 1.3 to 1.5 (the more you strength train, the higher the number, which can increase up to 2.0)
- The number you calculate is the grams of protein you need per day
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of how to find your protein needs, let’s dispel some of myths around female nutrition and protein needs:
Protein Myth #1: Women who eat too much protein will bulk up
Protein Truth #1: Women aren’t built like men; eating more protein will not make you bulk up
Men produce higher levels of testosterone then women, and it’s testosterone that’s responsible for large muscle mass and promoting a lower body fat percentage. Since women have lower testosterone levels in the body, but higher estrogen levels, they won’t bulk up in the same way as men.
To build muscle you will need to eat more calories than you burn metabolically and through exercise. Because protein is a building block of muscle tissue, a diet rich in lean protein will help women build muscle, but not at the same rate as men. In addition to protein, to gain mass and support muscle growth reach for whole foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
Protein Myth #2: You should only eat protein to build lean muscle and reach optimal weight
Protein Truth #2: While protein is a critical player, a balanced diet is the key to building muscle and reaching optimal weight
A healthy balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat is important for building muscle, fueling your workout and reaching optimal weight. Although consuming protein-rich drink (or food) post-workout is critical for muscle repair and recovery, the repair process actually starts as soon as you’re done working out. Within 20 minutes of completing a workout it’s important to begin the refueling process, by pairing protein with a carbohydrate. Eat foods such as trail mix rich in dried fruit, or nut butter on sprouted grain toast for a 4-to-1 carbs-to-protein, to initiate both muscle glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis.
Beyond post-workout, eating protein can be beneficial to managing calorie intake because it is highly satiating, however don’t completely cut out carbohydrates from whole grains and fruits, or healthy fats in nuts, seeds and avocados. Carbohydrates help give you immediate energy to expend on a hard workout, and fats help regulate changing hormone levels and slow digestion giving you more lasting energy than carbohydrate alone.
Protein Myth #3 Plant-based proteins won’t help me gain muscle or maintain weight.
Protein Truth #3: You can build strong, lean muscles on a plant-based diet.
Both the notion that plant-based diets lack adequate protein, and that athletes cannot build enough muscle on a plant-based diet, are not farther from the truth. Many athletes make the transition to a plant-based diet with success in building and maintaining strength and muscle mass.
To build muscle it’s a good idea to consume more protein-rich foods such as beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains. You can also easily increase your protein intake and ensure you’re getting adequate amino acids by adding a plant-based protein powder, such as Vega Sport Performance Protein to your day. Each delicious serving has 25 grams complete, multisource protein, including 5,000mg BCAAs and 5,000mg glutamine. One of my favorites is this decadent Cookies and Cream Smoothie.
Regardless of whether you’re male or female, a diet rich in plant-based protein, paired with a balanced carbohydrates and healthy fats, can support both strength and endurance performance. Find nutrition and training tips, as well as free fueling plans for your workouts here.
- Rolfes, S. et. al. (2009). Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 8th
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