How Much Protein Should Women Have

How Much Protein Should Women Have

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Balancing Your Hormones, Brighten Lifestyle, Food, Gut-Hormone Connection, Weight Loss, What to Eat Leave a Comment

From muscle building and metabolism to hormonal balance and disease prevention, protein is an indispensable nutrient for women's health.

Women of all ages need adequate protein for energy, focus, appetite control, and tissue repair. Across different life stages like pregnancy and menopause, protein becomes even more critical, supporting fetal development, maintaining muscle tissue and bone density, and managing moods, hormonal fluctuations, weight gain, and even sleep.

Understanding this macronutrient's importance and incorporating adequate protein sources into your diet can lead to better health outcomes and improved quality of life.

In this article, we'll explore the roles of protein in women's health and discuss how much protein women should have daily based on their size, activity level, and goals. You'll also find recipes and a meal plan to help you get started.

If you're asking yourself, “how much protein should I have a day” this article will guide you on the ideal protein intake for women daily to:

  • Optimize hormone levels, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and insulin
  • Improve muscle mass and support an ideal body composition
  • Support optimal health
  • Prevent age-related muscle loss

Protein Intake for Women Daily: Why It's Essential for Health

Protein is one of the three main macronutrients, which are types of nutrients that the body needs in large amounts on a consistent basis for energy and overall function.

Protein is important for women because:

  • It supports hormone balance
  • Helps control cravings
  • It's necessary for building and maintaining lean body mass
  • Supports healthy metabolism
  • Aids in disease prevention
  • Supports quality sleep
  • Supports healthy energy levels

There are three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Together, these provide calories or energy and are essential for various bodily processes, including metabolism, growth, and repair. Unlike micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals), which are needed in smaller quantities, macronutrients like protein are consumed in larger portions and make up the bulk of our diet.

Proper balance and consumption of macronutrients are crucial for well-being, especially during puberty, pregnancy, and in older age when our bodies rely heavily on nutrients for development and repair.

Whether it's fueling energy, reducing fatigue and inflammation, improving sleep, or curbing cravings, protein plays a multifaceted role in promoting health for women, including in the following ways.

Supports to Hormone Balance

Protein plays a role in hormone synthesis and regulation. For instance, women's metabolic needs (and therefore, their calorie and protein requirements) increase by about 5-10% during the luteal phase, the weeks leading up to menstruation. In athletic bodies, that increase is goes up by an estimated 9%.

Adequate protein intake supports reproductive hormone health, such as the production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.

It can also help alleviate some symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, such as the accumulation of belly fat and loss of muscle.

Eating adequate protein with meals contributes to more stable blood sugar levels and therefore, less insulin imbalances. Because lean muscle mass also contributes to insulin sensitivity, the amount of protein you eat daily can help maintain this important hormone regulating tissue.

Manages Your Appetite and Helps Control Cravings

Protein-rich diets have been associated with improved appetite control and decreased cravings, promoting weight loss or easier weight management. And, a healthy body weight is linked to a reduced risk for health issues like certain hormone imbalances (such as PCOS or diabetes), as well as heart disease, cancer, and others.

Regulating insulin is an important component of managing excess testosterone in those with PCOS. This is because insulin stimulates the production of testosterone in the ovaries, contributing to hair loss, unwanted hair growth, acne, and irregular cycles. Eating a diet that delivers enough protein, along with strength training, is one important component of managing PCOS.

Helps Build and Maintain Lean Muscle

Protein is the building block of muscles and is essential for muscle repair and growth. Adequate protein intake supports muscle maintenance, especially as women age and muscle loss comes into play.

A steady intake of protein spread throughout the day, starting with a healthy breakfast, has been shown to be most helpful for boosting lean mass, muscle strength, and muscular endurance in women.

Related: Breakfast with 30 grams of protein.

Supports a Healthy Metabolism

Of all the macronutrients, protein has the highest thermic effect, meaning it requires more energy to digest compared to fats and carbohydrates. The energy involved in digesting protein can help boost your metabolism and aid in weight management, especially since protein foods are also satiating (filling).

Aids in Disease Prevention

Studies show that consuming more protein can help to build muscle, especially when combined with resistance training, which is protective against some common chronic diseases.

Higher protein consumption is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as sarcopenia (muscle loss), osteoporosis (bone density loss), obesity, dementia, and diabetes, as well as immobility and physical disability. Among older adults, it's also been found to help lower all-cause mortality (death) risk.

Building and maintaining muscle mass through adequate protein intake can help reduce the risk of some of these conditions, such as bone loss, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Balanced, high-protein diets that are low in refined carbs and sugar can also have anti-inflammatory effects that reduce disease risk.

Research indicates that to maintain muscle mass and function and reduce disease risk, older women should consume at least 1.17 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day, ideally through a varied diet, including fish, dairy products, and nuts.

Assists in Energy and Sleep

We need amino acids, small molecules derived from protein, to make many neurotransmitters and hormones that aid in energy and restorative sleep.

For example, the amino acid tyrosine is needed for thyroid hormone production and adrenal function.

Protein-rich meals provide sustained energy levels during the day, supporting physical activity as well as cognitive function. This, in turn, can improve sleep quality at night, especially because protein also helps prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes.

During your period, you might find that eating more protein helps to stabilize your mood and curb symptoms like fatigue or anxiety. A bonus is that many animal proteins, like eggs and meat, are also rich in B vitamins like B12 as well iron, which are useful for managing PMS.

Benefits of Protein During Menopause

As women enter into perimenopause and transition through menopause — both times of significant hormonal changes, including declining estrogen levels — eating plenty of protein positively impacts bone health, muscle mass, metabolism, and overall stability and vitality.

Protein becomes particularly important for maintaining muscle mass and bone density in the menopausal years, as women are at an increased risk of osteoporosis and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) during and after menopause.

Adequate protein intake, combined with regular strength training exercises, can help preserve muscle mass, strength, and function, supporting mobility and reducing the risk of falls and fractures.

Moreover, protein plays a role in metabolic health and therefore weight management or weight loss during perimenopause or menopause. As women's metabolism may slow down with age, consuming protein-rich foods can help increase feelings of fullness more than eating other foods, regulate appetite, and support fat loss and healthy weight maintenance.

Additionally, protein can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce cravings for sugary and high-carbohydrate foods, which are common during menopause and linked to weight gain.

Eating more protein helps maintain muscle, and muscle sensitizes you to the effects of insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels. Insulin sensitivity, the opposite of insulin resistance, is foundational for hormone health and preventing unwanted symptoms of perimenopause, like belly fat.

Protein's Role During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, protein becomes especially vital as it is the building block for fetal growth and development. Adequate protein intake is essential for supporting the formation of the baby's tissues, organs, and muscles. Additionally, protein aids in the production of amniotic fluid, which surrounds and protects the developing fetus in the womb.

Protein also helps support the mother's changing body during pregnancy. It facilitates the maintenance and growth of maternal tissues, including the uterus, placenta, and breasts. Moreover, protein supports the mother's increased blood volume and circulation, ensuring optimal nutrient delivery to both the mother and the developing baby.

Studies suggest that when moms-to-be consume enough protein during pregnancy, they have a higher chance of experiencing improved birth outcomes, including healthy fetal birth weight, reduced risk of preterm birth, and lower rates of complications such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

How Much Protein Do Women Need?

Women's protein requirements vary depending on factors such as age, activity level, and life stage. 

Protein Requirements at Different Life Stages

Here's a general guideline for protein intake to help you determine how much protein you should eat in a day based on your age and needs:

  • Pregnancy: 1.1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight
  • Postpartum: 1.1 to 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight
  • General health: 1.1-1.4g of protein per kilogram of body weight
  • Perimenopause and menopause: 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of IDEAL body weight
  • Building muscle mass: 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight

How to Determine How Much Protein You Need

Using the guideline above, a 150-pound (or 68 kilograms) woman with an ideal body weight may aim to consume approximately 82 to 109 grams of protein per day, divided between three meals.

Remember, you want to use your ideal body weight to determine your protein needs, not necessarily your current weight. You can figure out your ideal body weight range using this calculator. Another way is to determine your weight range based on a BMI between 20 and 24, although BMI is a less reliable guide for women.

Animal Proteins Vs. Plant Protein: Which Is Better?

While both plant and animal proteins contain amino acids, they differ in their specific amino acid profiles, bioavailability, and nutrient content.

Here's a breakdown of the main differences between plant and animal proteins:

Animal Sources of Proteins

  • Complete protein: Animal proteins typically contain all nine essential amino acids in optimal ratios, making them complete proteins. These amino acids are needed for functions like muscle building and repair, and are most easily obtained from complete protein sources.
  • High bioavailability: Animal proteins are more readily absorbed and utilized by the body compared to plant proteins. For example, they provide a higher bioavailability of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
  • Rich in micronutrients: Not only do animal proteins contain lots of amino acids, they are also high in essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Best for muscle building: Foods like meat, dairy, and fish are particularly effective for supporting muscle building and maintenance due to their complete amino acid profile and high protein content.

Plant Sources of Proteins

  • Incomplete proteins: Most plant proteins are incomplete, meaning they lack one or more essential amino acids. However, by combining different plant protein sources (such as beans and rice or grains and nuts), it's possible to obtain all essential amino acids.
  • Lower bioavailability: Plant proteins generally have lower bioavailability compared to animal proteins, as they contain anti-nutritional factors such as phytates and fiber, which can hinder nutrient absorption of some amino acids.
  • Rich in fiber and antioxidants: Foods like legumes, grains, and nuts are typically rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which contribute to overall health and may reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.
  • Environmental and ethical considerations: Plant-based proteins may have a lower environmental footprint when compared with conventional husbandry practices. Some people consider plant proteins more ethical than animal proteins. They also align with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.

Is One Type Better?

In terms of which type of protein is better, the answer depends on preferences, specific needs, and ethical considerations. From purely a nutritional standpoint, animal proteins offer complete amino acids and high bioavailability of nutrients, making them superior to plant foods. However, while plant proteins sources have lower bioavailable protein, they do provide valuable fiber, antioxidants, and micronutrients.

A balanced diet that includes a variety of both plant and animal protein sources can ensure optimal nutrient intake and support overall health and well-being.

Ultimately, the best choice is one that aligns with personal health goals and beliefs; however, striking a balance by eating both types is usually a good strategy for meeting nutritional needs and reducing the risk of deficiencies.

How to Get Enough Protein as a Vegan or Vegetarian

People following vegan or strict vegetarian diets need to be mindful of consuming a variety of plant proteins to ensure they get all essential amino acids. Additionally, they may require slightly higher protein intake and pay attention to their overall calorie and carbohydrate intake.

Plant-based protein sources such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, lentils, beans, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can provide the necessary protein, especially when a variety of these foods are eaten together or throughout the day.

For example, try combining beans and rice or hummus with whole-grain pita to help create complete protein meals.

Additionally, incorporating fortified foods like plant-based protein powders, nutritional yeast, and fortified cereals can contribute to protein requirements. Snacks such as nuts, seeds, edamame, or a plant protein powder smoothie can also boost protein intake.

One-Day Meal Plan With 100+ Grams of Protein

How difficult is it to meet your protein needs? As long as you eat enough calories in general and include a variety of foods in your meals, it shouldn't be very hard.

Below is an example of a one-day meal plan that includes enough protein to meet most women's daily requirements (about 102 grams for all three meals and snacks below).

Breakfast

Egg and Spinach Breakfast Wrap with Almond Flour Tortilla

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Siete almond flour tortilla
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  • Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add diced onions and cook until softened.
  • Add diced tomatoes and spinach to the pan and cook until spinach is wilted.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper.
  • Push the vegetables to one side of the pan and pour the beaten eggs into the empty side. Scramble the eggs until cooked through.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over the eggs.
  • Warm the Siete almond flour tortilla in a separate pan or microwave.
  • Place the scrambled eggs and vegetable mixture onto the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla to create a wrap.
  • Serve warm with something like one medium orange.

This breakfast option provides a good source of protein from eggs and cheese while incorporating spinach and tomatoes for added nutrients and fiber. The Siete almond flour tortilla serves as a grain-free alternative for those with dietary preferences or restrictions. Adjust ingredients and portion sizes based on individual preferences and dietary requirements.

Breakfast (Vegan Option): Scrambled Tofu with Spinach and Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 200g firm tofu
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  • Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add minced garlic and diced onions, and cook until softened.
  • Crumble tofu into the pan, stirring occasionally until heated through.
  • Add spinach and diced tomatoes and cook until spinach is wilted.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Lunch

Grilled Chicken Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz grilled chicken breast, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup mixed greens
  • 1/4 cup diced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup diced bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette dressing

Cooking Instructions:

  • Cook quinoa according to package instructions and let it cool.
  • Mix cooked quinoa, mixed greens, diced cucumber, and diced bell peppers in a bowl.
  • Top with grilled chicken slices.
  • Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
  • Toss gently to combine.
  • Serve chilled. Eat with one small apple.

Dinner:

Baked Salmon with Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz salmon filet
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables (such as broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  • Place salmon filet on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Season salmon with garlic powder, dried thyme, salt, and pepper.
  • Toss mixed vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Arrange mixed vegetables around the salmon on the baking sheet.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until salmon is cooked through and vegetables are tender.
  • Serve hot with 1/2 cup cooked quinoa.

Snacks:

Small Handful of Almonds

Greek Yogurt with Berries

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mixed berries (such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Serving Instructions:

  • Place Greek yogurt in a bowl. Top with mixed berries.
  • Drizzle with honey if desired. Serve chilled.

Key Takeaways on How Much Protein Women Should Have

In summary, protein is vital to a woman's diet, especially related to muscle building, metabolism, hormone regulation, and maintaining healthy energy levels.

While individual protein needs vary based on factors like age, weight, activity level, and life stage, aiming for 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight per day is generally recommended. This ensures that women obtain adequate protein to support muscle maintenance, metabolic function, and hormone production.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.