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How Much Protein Do Women Really Need? Are You Getting Enough?

Are you consuming enough protein in your diet? How do you know? How much protein is enough protein?

These are all very fair and common questions for those with active lifestyles, and it is important! Protein intake has a significant impact on performance, body composition, muscle gain and strength, and even bone strength. While I love seeing the active population make attempts at increasing protein intake, this is a subject everyone should be fixated on. Unfortunately, I think the stereotype of the typical “gym bro” constantly walking around with a protein shake in hand has turned people off to the idea of supplementation. In reality, even if we eat a traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the meals we are served or make for ourselves lacks the ideal amount of protein we need. It’s easy to make ourselves full from overeating when carbohydrates crowd our plates, resulting in not only a lack of protein but a lack of essential nutrients as well. 

A lack of protein in the diet can come with many side effects.

While they might be vague, it is important that we don’t allow them to be the new normal for how we feel, causing them to continue to be overlooked. Symptoms of protein deficiency include chronic fatigue, high blood sugar levels, inability to maintain muscle mass, and even depression (Vegan.com, 2020). If you have ever attempted to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet, but felt unhealthy or unwell, it is possible you weren’t able to consume enough protein! Beans, nuts, quinoa, tofu, soymilk, and buckwheat all great plant-based high protein foods. The unfortunate reality of these options is they tend to be tough to digest. This is why a protein supplement is imperative to include when practicing these diets. However, everyone is different! But it is nice to see that there are ways to work around obstacles no matter what goals you may have for yourself.

There are quite a few factors that can directly influence how much protein you need in your diet.

Age, activity level, pregnancy, gender, and health status all reflect different amounts of recommended protein intake. For example, on the more obvious side, expecting mothers need to consume more calories and protein in order to provide adequate nutrients to their unborn child. On a less recognizable scale, those over the age of 65 actually need an extensive amount of protein and in fact, possibly even twice the amount of young adults! Are any of our grandparents diets reflective of that? Probably not. Osteoporosis and sarcopenia, which is a reduction of muscle mass can have such a significant and painful effect on the elderly population. Supplementing throughout your years and as you age can be crucial in maintain your strength, bone density, and muscle mass.

So, now that we’ve addressed the fact that certain factors require higher intake, what’s the baseline?

The DRI or Dietary Reference Intake of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. (1 pound is equivalent to 2.2 kilograms, for my fellow Americans). The DRI accounts for the bare minimum of protein intake. For example, I weight about 128 pounds. Divide 128 by 2.2 to calculate my weight in kilograms, 58.18 kg. Multiply that number by 0.8 to see how many grams of protein I should consume, which would be about 46g of protein per day. Take into consideration that this is solely based off of my weight, further accentuating the term baseline. Studies show that 1.6-2.2g of protein per kilogram of body fat is sufficient for muscle growth or maintenance for active individuals (Gunnars, 2020). My activity level (I work out 6 days per week) and my goals would of course require me to increase my intake to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, leaving me with a goal if 128g of protein per day. That’s a pretty big difference! This is why it is so important to assess your current baseline based off body weight and increase is based on your goals.

Reaching your protein intake goal can be tricky. 

Even for meat eaters, we find ourselves getting only about 15% of our calories from protein, when ideally we should be at about 35% (Gunnars, 2020). Where are the rest of our calories coming from? Processed foods, simple carbohydrates, fast food… you name it. This is where supplementation is key. Meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, unite. We can all benefit from adding protein into our diet, and AMPD has created a plant-based protein supplement anyone can enjoy and profit from. One scoop of this protein is packed with 20g of protein. That’s almost half of the baseline for most women, in one shake! I love adding this into my day in between meals or post workout for a quick and efficient way to ensure I hit my protein intake goal for the day.

With that being said, not everyone is striving for muscle growth. We all have different goals and that’s okay!

The most important thing is that we, especially as women are aware that our protein intake is usually lower than it should be. Maybe you have a busy morning schedule getting your little ones ready for school and don’t have time to eat breakfast. Or you have an insane work schedule assisting people who constantly need immediate medical attention and don’t have time to sit down for lunch. A protein shake is a great way to satiate, or get that “I’m full” feeling. Tissue repair, strength building in muscles and bones, are only a few great effects of receiving adequate protein each day.

Which other protein sources are good for proper intake?

This is another great question! Chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, fish, and soybeans are all amazing sources of protein. Pairing one of these options with a carbohydrate and/or vegetable is typically my go-to to ensure my meals are well rounded. How do I know how much of these foods to eat? I absolutely love utilizing the MyFitnessPal app to track my food. I don’t exactly count my macros or focus on hitting certain intake numbers to a tee, but this is a great tool to track protein! You can search just about any food to create a plan that works best for you and see where some areas of opportunity lie for you to add in what you need. Here are a few popular food items for reference of where you may be now with your intake: 1 egg=6g protein, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter=7g protein, 3oz of salmon=21g of protein. I love adding quinoa to many dishes as it is a high-protein grain and allows me to double dip, if you will, to cover all my protein and carbohydrate needs. Meal prepping is something that I have practiced for many years and has made such a positive impact on making sure I can reach these goals. Failing to do so can put you in a position to consume 100+ grams of protein to maybe 40 grams. Ouch. If anything, I always bring AMPD protein powder with me. This keeps me from scanning vending machines and gas stations for sugary protein bars filled with a bunch of artificial sweeteners I won’t even try to pronounce.

Ladies, and gentlemen if you’re out there, analyze your diet.

Make it a goal to reach at least your baseline protein intake. If wanting to look your best, feel your best, and get the most out of any tough workouts you endure, taking note of protein intake can truly make a big difference! If you make it a priority now, your body will thank you for years to come.

SOURCES

Gunnars, K. (2020). Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day [Accessed 23 Feb. 2020].

Vegan.com. (2020). Vegan Protein Sources: How to Meet Your Requirements – Vegan.com. [online] Available at: https://www.vegan.com/protein/ [Accessed 23 Feb. 2020].
 
Larbi, Miranda. “Seven Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Protein In Your Diet – From Stress To Thin Hair And Getting Ill”. The Sun, 2020, https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/7533301/seven-signs-indicating-protein-deficiency-diet-thin-hair-disease/. Accessed 23 Feb 2020.
 
Leaf, Alex. “How Much Protein Do You Need Per Day?”. Examine.Com, 2020, https://examine.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-do-you-need/. Accessed 2020.
 
Link, Rachael. “Pea Protein: The Non-Dairy Muscle Builder (That Also Boosts Heart Health)”. Raxe.Com, 2020, https://draxe.com/nutrition/pea-protein/. Accessed 20 Feb 2020.
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