Consuming enough protein helps women increase their ratio of lean mass to body fat to look and feel their best. PubMed Health reports that consuming too little protein can lead to fatigue, irritability, decreased muscle mass, a protruding belly, changes in hair texture and a weakened immune system. The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for protein is estimated to meet the needs of 97 to 98 percent of women, according to the Institute of Medicine. Exceptions may include women who are very active or those who have recently undergone a surgery or illness.
The protein RDA for non-pregnant, non-nursing women is 46 grams per day, and the RDA for pregnant and nursing women is 71 grams each day. The Institute of Medicine explains that protein RDAs are calculated using 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults and 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight during pregnancy and lactation. This is equivalent to 0.36 grams per pound for adults and 0.5 grams of protein per pound each day for pregnant and nursing women. Some pregnant and nursing women, especially those carrying or nursing multiple babies, may need additional protein.
Active women generally require more protein than the general recommended amounts. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that female endurance athletes may need 0.55 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, depending on the intensity and duration of their workouts. For example, a 130-pound female marathon runner may need up to 117 grams of protein every day.
If you meet the protein RDA, you’re likely getting enough protein; however, your individual protein needs are based on your activity level, size and weight management goals. Using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Daily Food Plan can help you meet your protein needs by planning healthy meals. For example, if you are a 130-pound, 31-year-old woman who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and you exercise 30 to 60 minutes each day, you need about 2,200 calories, 6 ounces of high-protein foods, 3 cups of dairy products, 7 ounces of grains, 3 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruits, 6 teaspoons of oils and 270 extra calories every day to maintain a healthy body weight.
Protein in Foods
High-protein foods include meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, soy products, seitan and cottage cheese. Other excellent sources of protein include milk, yogurt, cheese, legumes, nuts, peanut butter and seeds. Protein also is present, in smaller amounts, in whole grains.
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.