When you lead an active lifestyle, you need more protein than inactive women--but you may not need as much as you think. According to the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, active adults should get about 12 to 15 percent of their daily calories from protein. Even bodybuilders only require 25 to 30 percent of their calories from protein, according to a 2004 review published in the journal “Sports Medicine.” Eating a variety of high-protein foods throughout the day will help you easily meet your protein needs.
Based on Calories
Active women need usually need 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day to maintain a healthy body weight, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies active women as those who walk over 3 miles per day, or perform other exercise of the same intensity and duration. If you eat 2,000 calories per day, aim for about 75 grams of protein, which is 15 percent of your daily calorie intake; if you eat 2,400 calories a day, shoot for 90 grams of protein each day.
Based on Body Weight
If you’re not sure how many calories you eat a day, you can use your body weight to estimate your protein needs. A position paper published in a 2007 edition of the “International Society of Sports Nutrition,” reports that physically active adults need 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight—equivalent to 0.64 to 0.91 grams per pound of body weight--each day. Based on this recommendation, an active 120-pound woman needs 77 to 109 grams of protein per day, depending on the intensity and duration of her workouts.
Active vs. Sedentary
All women—sedentary and active—should shoot for a minimum of 46 grams of protein per day, which is the recommended dietary allowance for protein, according to the Institute of Medicine. But because sedentary women need fewer calories, they often require less protein than active women. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that sedentary women need 1,600 to 2,000 calories per day for healthy weight maintenance. If you eat 1,600 calories per day, aim for 60 grams of protein; and if you consume 1,800 calories a day, shoot for 68 grams of protein per day, which is about 15 percent of your calorie needs.
Healthy Protein Foods
Protein is present in a variety of foods; but not all will keep your waistline trim and help prevent heart attacks. Stay away from—or limit--artery-clogging high-fat meats, egg yolks and full-fat dairy products, such as cheese. Instead, choose lean cuts of meat, un-breaded skinless poultry, seafood, egg whites, low-fat dairy products, reduced-fat cheeses, seitan, soy-based foods, legumes, nuts and seeds. Three ounces of chicken provide 27 grams of protein, 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains 28 grams, 3 ounces of lean beef provide 21 grams, 1 cup of low-fat yogurt contains 13 grams and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter provide you with 8 grams of protein, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Sports Nutrition
- Sports Medicine: Macronutrient Considerations for the Sport of Bodybuilding
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Strength Building and Muscle Mass
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.