It’s true what they say: Women don’t need quite as much protein as men. Although, that’s only because women tend to need fewer calories in their diets than men, not because protein isn’t equally important in the female body. So go ahead, order that grilled sirloin steak. After all, your body needs it.
What It Does
You probably already know that protein helps build muscles, but what else does it do? Proteins are big, complex compounds that contain strands of smaller molecules called amino acids. Your body is continuously breaking down proteins to get the amino acids it needs to power your brain, build tissues and support functions of all cells. Additionally, your body is a biochemical machine and can turn protein into energy to get you through the tail end of your workout, in the rare event that carbohydrates and fat aren’t available.
Calculating Your Protein Requirement
Track your calories for a couple days during the week to find out your average daily intake. Once you know the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis to sustain your current weight, you’ll be able to figure out how much protein you need. Calculating your protein needs isn’t difficult. You need to know that protein has 4 calories per gram and 10 to 35 percent of your calories should come from protein, the Centers for Disease Control reports.
Typical Amounts for Women
Typically women need around 46 grams of protein daily, although your specific requirements may vary. If you usually stick to a rigid 1,500-calorie daily diet, 10 to 35 percent of calories is 150 to 525 calories from protein, which is 37 to 131 grams of protein. For an 1,800-calorie per day diet, you’ll need 180 to 630 calories from protein or 45 to 157 grams of protein each day. If you’re following a 2,000-calorie diet – the amount that all nutrition facts labels are based on – you can have 200 to 700 calories from protein daily or 50 to 175 grams.
The exact amount you need depends on your activity level. If you usually attend as many aerobics classes as possible throughout the week, you’ll probably need the higher end of the range to support your vigorous routine. However, if you have an office job and aren’t overly active, you most likely need the lower end of the range based on your caloric requirements.
Skinless chicken breast, fish, shellfish, beef sirloin, pork loin, egg whites, skim milk and low-fat yogurt are some of the leanest protein-rich foods out there. These foods are animal-based and have complete proteins. This means that they have all of the nearly two dozen amino acids you need each day. A handful of plant foods are also complete proteins. Quinoa and soy are vegetarian-friendly complete protein sources.
In addition to quinoa and soy, vegetarians and vegans have numerous other options for protein sources. Beans, lentils, whole-wheat bread, oat bran, nuts and seeds are just a few of the plant-based proteins you can enjoy. These proteins are incomplete, meaning each food is lacking in one or more of the amino acids. All you have to do is eat a few different types of plant protein at some point during the day to get all the amino acids you need.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.