Picture the typical first date: the man confidently orders a steak to appear masculine while the woman orders a salad to seem feminine. What’s wrong with this picture? Women need protein too, and if you’re a fit woman you need it even more to support that beautiful muscle! Here you’re going to learn the benefits of adequate protein, how different sources affect your health differently, how much you should be eating, and the best ways to add in protein to keep you lean and sexy!
A new study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that the prior recommendation of 0.36 g protein per pound of body weight is grossly inaccurate for women who lift weights. This is because the body needs more protein to build and maintain muscle and also to produce enzymes in the body that are key to metabolism. And it packs a one-two punch for those who are trying to lose or maintain weight. Of all the macronutrients, protein takes the most work to digest and it, therefore, increases energy expenditure when you eat it in greater proportion to other macronutrients or to the amount you are right now. Also, because it is harder to digest, it stays in the stomach longer than carbohydrates helping you feel fuller faster and longer. So how much protein should you be eating? About 0.8 – 1 g per pound of body weight every day is a safe estimate for most women to maintain and build muscle and keep their metabolisms revved up. Get this through 5 – 6 servings/day, 20-30g/meal, so that the body can better metabolize and absorb it and you’re not flushing protein and money down the drain (pun intended).
But what kind of protein is best? We all know that chicken, egg whites, and canned tuna are great lean sources of protein, but it turns out that different protein sources offer different health benefits, so your best bet is to get protein from a variety of sources: red meat, pork, poultry, whey/casein/dairy (if it doesn’t give you a bad reaction), fish, nuts, beans, and soy. Here we’ll talk about the benefits of a few of these. Red meat helps your brain to better remember important phone numbers (remember when you were standing at the ATM the other week and couldn’t remember your PIN?). This is probably due to the creatine monohydrate content found in beef, the concentration of which increases in your brain when you consume it. Creatine also has benefits in your training regimen as it has been shown to increase power – can you say new PR? Also, red meat is high in zinc and iron, both of which are critical to proper metabolism function and training capacity as they are key for delivering oxygen to working muscles and immune health. Finally, if you buy grass fed beef you are giving yourself a dose of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a healthy fat that has been linked to decreased body fat by increasing insulin sensitivity (so it helps your body use carbohydrates for fuel instead of storing them as fat). Aim for 1 – 2 servings/week. Pork has comparable benefits for muscle building as beef, with the same lean meat to fat ratio of turkey. It’s also high in thiamin, a nutrient that is often lacking in the average woman’s diet and key to metabolism because it helps to efficiently convert carbohydrates to energy and it also helps with muscle fiber repair and recovery – so if you’re working out hard, this is an important nutrient! Other micronutrients in pork help regulate energy release, strengthen bones, prevent injury, and increase your immune system function.
Eat up, aim for 1 – 2 servings of pork/week as well! Fish is another great source of protein. Most fish is very low in fat and calories (such as cod, tilapia, and albacore tuna). But the ones that are higher in fat are also important too; they contain a healthy fat known as omega-3, which has been linked to better brain function and mental acuity, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and heart health. But on top of that, omega-3s are being linked to greater levels of physical fitness and lower body fat. One recent study published by Washington University has even found a correlation between omega-3 fatty acid consumption and your body’s ability to turn protein in the diet into precious muscle. Eat fish often, and eat sources high in omega-3s at least 3 times/week!
Finally, let’s talk about a non-animal source of protein. Beans are a great, economical source of protein and are often overlooked as a supplement in the diet. Beans are high in folic acid which helps with cognitive function and helps prevent depression. Also, if you’re a female in your reproductive years, the folic acid in beans is important to help prevent certain birth defects that develop in fetal spinal cords in the first 2 weeks of pregnancy – a time when most women do not even know they are pregnant yet. So including beans as a regular part of your diet can help. Beans also have high amounts of magnesium and some have high amounts of iron, both of which are important for nerve function and muscle building. Finally, beans not only have satiating protein but also satisfying fiber – keeping your belly full and flat. Aim to eat beans 3 times per week or more. As you can see each source of protein offers unique health and training benefits. Reap the most from your protein by getting it from a variety of sources.
Okay, so you know how much protein you should be eating and you know why you should be eating it…but how should you add it in? Here are some quick and simple ways to add some extra protein into your day without too much time and effort:
If you plan ahead and batch-cook your protein, it’ll be easy to pack for the week or day and have protein on hand for every meal. Next time you’re out with friends, your guy, or by yourself, do yourself a favor and eat some protein. Let’s change the stereotype and make eating a diet rich in protein a girl thing too. You can do it!
- Written by Anjelica Mucci