How much protein a woman’s body needs daily depends on her stage of life and lifestyle. In this article, you’ll learn how to make your daily protein intake ideal for long-term wellness.
Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or increase your energy, your protein needs play an essential role.
Why Is Protein Intake Important for Women?
Few nutrients are as vital as protein. For example, there are no essential carbohydrates but amino acids.
The proteins in your body are made up of 20 amino acids. But your body can only form eleven of them. Hence, you need to get the other nine essential amino acids through food.
In women, the protein needs strongly depend on the stage of life. Your health and body composition may suffer if you cannot meet them. Accordingly, the health benefits of protein go far beyond muscle gain.
Benefits of Protein for Women
Here is an overview of the most important health benefits adequate protein intake causes in the female body.
Protein Fights Cravings
One of the main benefits of protein-rich foods is that they fight cravings and increase satiety.
Protein Helps Women Lose Weight
It is not only through satiety that protein can help with weight loss.
Protein not only helps lose weight but also prevents you from gaining weight. An increased protein intake, therefore, counteracts the yo-yo dieting.
In a study, an increase in protein intake of just 3% of the calories consumed reduced the body weight by 50% that women regained after dieting (Westerterp-Plantenga et al. 20047).
Furthermore, muscle protein synthesis, which requires increased protein intake, helps you lose weight.
Protein Helps Women Gain Muscle
It’s no secret that higher protein intake helps build muscle mass and strength (Stokes et al. 20188).
And more muscle mass does one thing: It increases basal metabolic rate. Researchers found that building skeletal muscle increases your daily energy expenditure even when sleeping (Zurlo et al. 19909).
In addition, increased protein intake during weight loss helps prevent any loss of muscle mass (Mettler et al. 201010).
Meeting Daily Protein Needs Slows Aging
The aging process is characterized by inflammation and chronic immune activation. As a result, you lose muscle and bone density.
Accordingly, in middle age, women begin to lose 2-3% of muscle functionality year after year (Smith et al. 201511).
According to researchers, protein supplementation can counteract the aging process by boosting protein metabolism, contributing to a more active lifestyle and well-being (Strasser et al. 201814).
Protein Boosts the Immune System
Few people realize that protein is also essential for the immune system.
According to research, proper protein intake can help reduce infection rates by 30% (Aquilani et al. 201115).
For example, the amino acid arginine supports cellular immune mechanisms (Daly et al. 199016).
If you supply insufficient protein during illness, the body breaks down muscle mass to provide amino acids for vital organs (Wolfe 200617).
Protein Needs of Women vs. Men
A person’s protein needs generally depend on three factors:
When hormones come into play, the daily protein needs of women and men can differ substantially.
Hormonal differences become apparent in three life stages (Markofski et al. 201218):
Until puberty, males and females have about the same amount of testosterone in their bodies. During puberty, however, men’s testosterone levels increase significantly.
More testosterone leads to increased muscle protein synthesis, which increases muscle mass. Therefore, the protein requirement of males is higher during puberty.
Some researchers even suggest that fertility hormones produced in the ovaries inhibit muscle protein synthesis (Tipton 200119).
After puberty, differences between men and women are due to the maintenance of differences in muscle mass. In contrast, differences in protein metabolism are barely detectable (Markofski et al. 201220).
The onset of adulthood shows fewer differences in hormonal balance than in body composition between men and women.
Due to puberty, men start adulthood with more muscle mass. Therefore, they also require more protein per day on average.
However, this does not mean that men naturally have higher protein needs than women. Researchers found no differences between men’s and women’s basal muscle intracellular amino acid turnover (Fujita et al. 201021).
Since women naturally have more body fat than men, this may impact their protein requirements (Markofski et al. 201222).
Fat cells are independent endocrine organs that secret hormones and influence protein metabolism (Kershaw et al. 200423).
However, it has not yet been demonstrated that differences in body composition lead to differences in protein requirements between men and women (Karastergiou et al. 201224).
A decline in estrogen levels characterizes the menopausal transition (perimenopause).
As estrogen declines, bone mass, muscle mass, and strength decrease, while more fat accumulates in the abdominal cavity (Maltais et al. 200925).
The interaction of muscle and bone loss causes at least one in three women over 50 to suffer bone fractures (Agostini et al. 201826).
The deterioration of muscle and bone health is based on insufficient protein intake in the presence of increased protein requirements. The latter arises from age-related anabolic protein resistance and inflammation (Bauer et al. 201327).
Due to this reduced ability of skeletal muscle to absorb amino acids, protein requirements are higher in postmenopausal women (Deutz et al. 201428).
How Much Protein Do Women Need Daily?
The baseline recommendation for protein intake for women and men is 0.8 g/kg body weight (Ross et al. 201129).
However, a study of 387 women over 60 shows that a daily protein intake of at least 1.1 g per kg body weight leads to less body fat, more muscle mass, and better performance (Gregorio et al. 201530).
In addition to age and stage of life, physical activity is a determinant of protein requirements in women.
Moreover, pregnancy can fundamentally change a woman’s protein requirements.
Daily Protein Requirements of Active Women
Active women who regularly participate in moderate sports have a daily protein requirement of 1.4-2.0 g/kg body weight.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this value is ideal. A study concludes that this protein intake level is sufficient for a positive muscle protein balance in active women (Jäger et al. 201731).
Another study on high-protein diets comes to a similar conclusion of 1.5-2.0 g/kg body weight (Antonio et al. 201532).
Women’s Daily Protein Needs for Weight Loss
Women who want to lose weight and exercise have a protein requirement of at least 1.5-2.4 g/kg body weight per day.
In this context, it is exciting to note that the effects on body fat depend on the intensity and type of activity (Leaf et al. 201733).
Ultimately, activity determines whether you should exercise at the top or bottom of this range (Hector et al. 201834).
Another factor is obesity since you measure daily protein needs in g/kg body weight. Accordingly, people who have less muscle and more body fat should tend to be closer to the lower limit of 1.5 g/kg body weight.
However, the effects of resistance training show us that even the upper limit of 2.4 g/kg body weight is not set in stone.
Women’s Daily Protein Needs for Muscle Gain
Women who aim to build muscle through resistance training require 1.6-4.4 g/kg body weight of protein per day.
According to researchers, a high-protein diet is always superior to a low-protein diet when aspiring female strength athletes want to increase lean mass (Campbell et al. 201835).
For example, a meta-analysis of studies on increased protein intake found that trained women did not gain body fat even at 4.4 g/kg per day when weight lifting (Leaf et al. 201736; Antonio et al. 201437).
Since this protein requirement is the highest researched value and does not cause adverse side effects for women, it forms our upper limit.
The recommendation is corroborated by a study conducted on men. The scientists did not observe adverse effects on blood lipids and liver or kidney function in participants fed a high-protein diet for one year while resistance training (Antonio et al. 201638).
Protein Needs of Women Over 50 per Day
At the onset of menopause (~51), the protein requirement of women is 1.5-3.4 g/kg body weight.
As discussed above, individual requirements depend strongly on activity levels. It is certain that after the onset of menopause, estrogen and testosterone production is lower.
For this reason, increased protein intake and an active lifestyle are essential to prevent the resulting risk of muscle and bone loss.
Daily Protein Needs of Women Over 65
Women who are 66 or older require about 1.2-1.8 g/kg body weight of protein per day.
This summary is based on a clinical study conducted on older women. The researchers recommend a daily protein intake of at least 1.15 g/kg body weight. In contrast, the best results were obtained with protein intakes of 1.5 and 1.8 g/kg body weight (Tang et al. 201439).
In disease, the minimum healthy protein level per kg body weight per day may also exceed 1.5 (Deutz et al. 201442).
Due to increasing anabolic resistance, adequate protein intake is even more critical for this age group (Bauer et al. 201343).
Protein Requirements of Pregnant Women
According to a registered clinical trial, women have an increased protein need of approximately 1.7-1.8 g/kg body weight daily during pregnancy.
While the lower limit is more applicable in early pregnancy, the upper limit is the ideal protein level per day later (Stephens et al. 201544).
A meta-analysis of 16 studies shows how essential adequate protein intake is during pregnancy. Additional protein intake reduced the following risks by one-third (Imdad et al. 201245):
- Poor fetal growth
- Low birth weight
Daily Protein Needs of Lactating Women
Breastfeeding women require at least 1.5 g/kg body weight of protein per day.
Studies conducted at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Center suggest that daily protein intakes below 1.5 g/kg could result in adverse health effects in lactating women (Motil et al. 199046; Motil et al. 199647).
Best Protein Sources for Women
To conclude this guide, I’ll give you an overview of the best natural foods and supplements you can use to meet your daily protein needs.
Best Natural Protein for Women
You can find protein in both plants and animals. The difference is that animal protein sources are almost always considered complete, while plant sources are rarely complete (Hoffman et al. 200448).
A complete protein source contains all nine essential amino acids the body cannot manufacture. Therefore, daily consumption of complete protein is crucial to ensure ideal protein intake.
Fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products are the best natural complete protein sources.
Among these, fatty fish, such as salmon or mackerel, stands out as women’s best complete protein source.
Not only does it provide highly bioavailable protein, but it also provides anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, increasing muscle protein synthesis and basal metabolic rate (Hulbert et al. 199949).
Those who reject animal protein sources must dig deeper into their bag of tricks.
Best Vegan Protein Powder for Women
Since soy has several adverse health effects, such as inhibiting nutrient absorption (Gibson et al. 201052), I cannot recommend it.
Therefore, spirulina algae is the only remotely valuable complete protein source considered plant-based. The downside of spirulina is that it is only available as a dietary supplement.
Expert opinions on the algae are divided. Because spirulina has a high net carbohydrate content, it is not ideal for low-carb diets such as the keto diet.
However, those who don’t eat animal products will have difficulty avoiding it.
The best spirulina protein powder I could find is organic and contains no additives.
Best Whey Protein Powder for Women
Probably the best-known complete protein powder is a dairy product.
Whey is the most researched and tested form of protein as a dietary supplement. However, I would not advise women to take protein supplements in general.
Whey protein powder is a processed product. Like refined carbohydrates, concentrated protein powder spikes insulin heavily.
Simply put, it can also help you gain body fat when there is no increased protein requirement.
So if you think protein shakes will help you lose weight without increasing your protein requirements through exercise, you’ll gain weight instead.
If, on the other hand, you practice the appropriate resistance training, whey protein can help improve lean mass and health. According to research, whey supplementation may help improve muscle development and recovery from intense weightlifting (West et al. 201753).
Contrary to popular belief, however, the effect on muscle building has no age limit. In a study of 70 older women who completed a 12-week strength training program, whey protein resulted in significant muscle gains (Nabuco et al. 201854).
Since whey is a dairy product, the best whey protein powder on the market comes from grass-fed happy cows.
As a result, it contains more conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), which help reduce body fat and maintain muscle mass (McCrorie et al. 201155).
Buy: Raw Organic Whey
Best Collagen Protein Powder for Women
Therefore, it not only supports muscle gain but also counteracts physical signs of aging.
Since it is found exclusively in animal products and algae, dietary supplementation can benefit individual cases.
Even with collagen, the highest nutritional quality is achieved through proper feeding (Couvreur et al. 200659).
Therefore, it is best to purchase a grass-fed collagen powder.
Ideal Protein Intake Is Challenging for Women
For women, ensuring the ideal protein intake is a challenge. It’s not just the activity level that determines it.
One amount of protein is excellent for an active woman of any age: 1.5 g/kg body weight.
However, due to fluctuations in hormone balance at different stages of life, happy women have a more difficult time than men meeting their protein needs.
In my new book, you can learn how women can playfully balance their hormones and confidently lose weight:
Women Protein FAQ
Is 100 grams of protein too much for a woman?
One hundred grams of protein fits the need of 77-110 grams per day of an active woman with 120 pounds body weight.
How much protein does an active woman need?
Active women have a daily protein need of 1.4-2.0 g/kg body weight.
What type of protein should a woman take?
While it is best to eat natural protein-rich foods like fatty fish, women can benefit from whey and collagen protein supplementation in individual cases.
Is protein good for women's health?
The health benefits of protein for women comprise increased satiety, weight loss, muscle gain, immunity, and anti-aging.
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Stephan is a writer and a true man of science, holding multiple diplomas and master's degrees in different research areas. His greatest passion is closing the gap between the conventional perception of health and the latest scientific evidence – always following the data.