Protein is a key component of getting that lean, defined look bodybuilders strive for. Female bodybuilders need more protein than non-athletes and recreational exercisers. However, since carbs are a bodybuilder’s main fuel source, too much protein can actually hinder your progress.
Boosting protein intake is advantageous during the muscle-building and pre-competition phases of bodybuilding. According to a review published in a 2011 edition of the “Journal of Sports Sciences,” eating 1.3 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, equivalent to 0.6 to 0.91 gram of protein per pound of body weight, each day will not only boost muscle gains but also help prevent muscle loss while dieting to drop body fat before a competition. For example, a female bodybuilder who weighs 145 pounds may need up to 132 grams of protein per day.
More protein isn’t always better when it comes to bodybuilding. According to Brown University, your body can only use up to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day; your body excretes the rest. Since regular exercise demands a diet rich in carbohydrates, getting too much protein at the expense of carbohydrates can negatively impact muscle-building workouts. In fact, a review published in a 2006 edition of “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” suggests you avoid consuming more than 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 1.14 gram of protein per pound of body weight, per day to avoid protein toxicity.
Choosing a variety of protein-rich foods throughout the day can help female bodybuilders meet their protein needs. For example, 3 ounces of chicken provide 27 grams and 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains about 28 grams of protein, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Other protein-rich foods include lean red meat, seafood, turkey, soy products, other low-fat dairy foods, eggs, legumes, nuts and nut butters and seeds.
Since you can meet your protein needs with food alone, protein supplements aren’t necessary for female – or male – bodybuilders. And, these supplements are often quite expensive. However, since protein-rich dietary supplements are convenient and easy to take with you on the go, many strength-trained athletes do use them. Protein shakes or bars can supplement a healthy diet, but use them with caution since they’re not tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
- Journal of Sports Sciences: Dietary Protein for Athletes: From Requirements to Optimum Adaptation
- Brown University: Sports Nutrition
- International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: A Review of Issues of Dietary Protein Intake in Humans
- 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.