There’s no denying that protein is a hot topic. The rise of plant-based diets has triggered a lot of people to question exactly how much protein we need, which sources of protein are the healthiest, and whether we should all be consuming protein shakes.
Women, however, are often neglected in these conversations. The supplement industry largely targets men aiming to build a lot of muscle and bulk, so it often seems as though protein powders aren’t relevant for women, especially if their goals aren’t to gain weight or muscle mass. This is reflected in the stats: more than twice as many men regularly drink protein shakes than women.
However, protein is something that we should all be aware of, as every single one of us is made up of protein and needs protein to function. Protein is important, which is why these discussions are taking place. There are a lot of factors that impact how much protein women should be consuming in order to reach various goals and aims. This guide will cover:
What is protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient, meaning we need a lot of it for our bodies to be able to function properly. Protein is found throughout the body, in our muscles, blood, skin, hair and pretty much every other body part you can think of. Our body uses it to repair itself, build tissue, and maintain overall good health.
How much protein do women need?
Unfortunately, there’s no one neat number for the amount of protein that anyone should be aiming to consume. Every woman is different, so naturally how much protein your body needs will differ to another woman’s! The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein intake is about 0.36 grams per body weight - but this number varies quite significantly based on many other factors, like your activity level, your age, etc. For example, although 0.36 grams is the recommended amount for a sedentary person, someone who lifts weights regularly or does intense exercise should be aiming for more like 0.5 to 0.8 grams per bodyweight.
If you do have specific health and fitness goals, it’s not only how much protein you’re getting that matters, but how much protein you consume in relation to your other macronutrients (carbs and fats), as macronutrients work together in the body. Again, the ideal ratio of carbs-fats-protein will differ based on your body type and what your goals are, among other things.
How do women’s protein needs differ from men’s?
Despite how male-centric the protein industry is, women’s protein needs don’t actually differ from men’s: we all have the same RDA based on our body weight, not our gender. Women consume less in terms of the amount because we often have a lower body weight than men, but both a man and a woman weighing 170 pounds looking to maintain their weight, providing they had the same activity level, should consume the same amount of protein.
How protein benefits women
Protects the heart: Nurse’s Health Study found that women who ate the most protein were 25% less likely to have had a heart attack or have died of heart disease than women who ate the least protein.
Bone health: women suffer more bone loss as we age than men as we have smaller, thinner bones, and because oestrogen decreases sharply when women reach menopause, which causes bone loss. Protein contributes to adequate bone strength and density, so getting enough protein is critical for female maintenance of muscle mass and function.
Keeps the skin, hair and nails looking healthy and strong: aside from the health benefits, protein is also great for the appearance! Keratin beauty products are often marketed as a promise to thicker hair, stronger nails and clearer skin, but your hair, skin and nails are mostly made of protein anyway, so a high-protein diet can increase keratin synthesis.
Helps control and maintain weight: protein is more satiating than carbohydrates or fats, meaning that upping your protein intake can help you feel fuller for longer, so you’re less likely to snack on empty calories.
- Building lean muscle mass: because of how male-dominated the supplement industry is, there are often perceptions that protein powder makes you bulk up, as that’s how many companies market their protein to men. However (sadly for the gym bros out there), just taking protein powder won’t magically bulk you out and make you hench - it requires a huge commitment to strength training, and women also have estrogen which acts as a barrier to significant muscle bulk. Instead, in combination with training, protein preserves lean muscle mass, helping cultivate a more toned physique.
Protein powder for female weight loss
One of the myths surrounding a high protein intake or consuming protein shakes is that they’ll make you look bulky or super muscly, which means women looking to tone up or lose fat can be inclined to steer clear. However, upping your protein intake is one of the most effective things you can do to lose weight! The way to lose weight is through a calorie deficit, as we have to consume less calories than we burn in order to shed the pounds. Because protein is the most satiating macronutrient, it keeps you feeling fuller for longer, decreasing the temptation to snack on high calorie or unhealthy foods.
On your weight loss journey you’ll usually be aiming to lose more fat and less muscle, which can be tricky to achieve. A high protein intake has been shown to help preserve lean body and muscle mass during weight loss: a study in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise medical journal showed the correlation between increased protein and reduced loss of lean body mass. The athletes who were given a high-protein diet lost more weight while maintaining their muscle than those who did not concentrate on protein in their diet. We go into more depth about how protein powder works for weight loss in another blog post.
So, for those looking to lose weight and up protein intake, a protein powder can be an easy and convenient way of hitting those protein requirements. Protein powder is low in calories, fats and carbs, so you can keep your macronutrient ratio in order. Our RITUAL: Organic Vegan Protein Powder is one of the healthiest protein powders for women and great for weight loss, providing a whopping 20g of protein in return for just 115 calories!
Protein powder for female weight gain
Whether you’re underweight or looking to pack on muscle, protein powder can help you achieve your aims! Protein contains amino acids which help build muscles and, during exercise, muscle fibres break down. Muscles grow during recovery when they repair themselves, and protein powder can help repair that damage, helping you recover faster for your next session and boosting muscle growth.
Ensure you’re building muscle as opposed to fat by combining your protein shakes with resistance training and lifting heavy weights. In order to build muscle you need to trigger muscle hypertrophy, which is achieved through an increase in dietary protein and strength training. A review of 49 studies showed that dietary protein supplementation significantly enhanced changes in muscle strength and size during resistance exercise training, demonstrating that protein shakes + strength training = big gains!
For weight gain, choose something like our WHOLE: Plant Based Nutritional Shake as a slightly higher calorie protein shake, which also includes vitamins, minerals and carbs to help you reach your goals.
Protein powder for women over 50
When women reach the menopause, body composition can drastically change, including increased body fat, decreased muscle mass and increased loss of bone density. Research also shows a loss in oestrogen, which is needed to maintain muscle and bone mass.
Studies suggest that higher protein intakes help to maintain physical function in middle aged, high functioning adults, particularly in women. As there’s a significant relationship between bone mineral density and the critical nutrients energy, protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin C, we’d recommend our WHOLE: Plant Based Nutritional Shake, which contains all of these vitamins and minerals, plus a whole load of protein to keep your bones and muscles as strong as possible.
It’s also worth noting that protein shakes should also be complemented with some strength training, to help build up muscle and prevent loss of bone density.
Protein powder for pregnant women
Supplementing with protein powder isn’t a necessity for pregnant women, but your recommended protein intake does increase by about 6 grams, which can sometimes be difficult to do, especially when you’re suffering from nausea or fatigue and don’t feel like consuming an entire meal.
If you do suffer a lot from morning sickness or nausea, sipping on a protein smoothie can be an easy and convenient way to top up on protein for both you and your baby. Getting enough protein is key during pregnancy, as these essential amino acids are the building blocks for good health.
Knowing what you’re putting inside of your own and your baby’s body is of paramount importance. That’s why pregnant women should stick to simple, unflavoured protein powders with no artificial ingredients, superfoods or added vitamins and minerals, as you’re probably already covering those nutrient bases with a prenatal vitamin. Our post ‘Can you have protein powder while you’re pregnant?’ goes into more detail about what pregnant women should look for and avoid in a protein powder.
We recommend RITUAL Unflavoured, which contains just 3 ingredients: hemp, pea and quinoa, and is third party tested for contaminants and heavy metals, so you know you’re safe with us!
Protein powder for breastfeeding women
If there’s one image you probably don’t associate with protein powder, it’s women who are breastfeeding! However, just as during pregnancy you need protein to foster fetal growth and help your child develop, after pregnancy you need to ensure you consume enough protein yourself, so that your body can rebuild, repair and maintain lean tissue. Not only that, but your body uses protein to produce breast milk, meaning you still need it to help your baby grow.
The British Nutrition Foundation recommends an increased protein intake for breastfeeding women - but this might be difficult to do after giving birth, due to lack of time, energy and even difficulty moving around. That’s where protein powders come in handy! Whipping up a quick protein smoothie or fortifying your porridge or pancakes with a protein powder can help to increase your protein intake.
You have to be just as mindful of what you consume when you’re breastfeeding as you do during pregnancy, which is why we recommend sticking to a simple blend like RITUAL: Unflavoured, one of the best plant-based protein powders for women throughout their pregnancy and breastfeeding journey.
Check out our full range of incredible, 100% natural, protein powders to see which would work for you. Our PERFORM vegan protein powder is packed full of BCAAs and turmeric, and you can also pick up accessories like our stainless steel protein shaker.
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