Most women don’t eat enough protein. Are you one of them?
Protein is at the top of my list when it comes to creating any meal – from breakfast to smoothies to snacks, because it is literally the most important building block of our body – needed for healthy and vibrant muscle, skin, hair, and nails – not to mention a healthy metabolism that can efficiently burn fat and keep you energized.
“Where is this kitchen that everyone says makes the abs?”
Protein is a major player when it comes to the way your body looks on the outside, AND how it functions on the inside.
Protein Has a Lot of Important Jobs…
It’s needed for everything from hormone regulation, enzyme production, and regulation of body fat.
For example, did you know that eating protein leads to a release of glucagon, a hormone that helps encourage fat out of your fat cells so it can be used up by your muscles? And it helps your fat cells become less receptive to storing fat.
Additionally, protein is satiating, even more satisfying than fat or carbs, so if you’re skimping on it, you’re missing out on that full, satisfied feeling your body enjoys while the digestive system does its thing.
Protein is made of 20 amino acids, 9 of which are called “essential” because your body can’t make them on its own.
Eating a wide variety of protein-rich foods helps you get all of these unique amino acids, which in turn supports your enzymes, your ability to metabolize fat, and supports structural tissue production that sculpts a lean, fit physique. After a great workout, it’s important to jumpstart the recovery process by getting a good amount of protein (and carbs) in.
Not only that, your body burns more calories when it breaks protein down (boosting your metabolic rate) all the while giving shape, structure, and strength to your muscles.
Sometimes we slack on protein because of outdated misconceptions that it will “bulk” us up…
It actually takes months to years of disciplined training, controlled eating, and often hormone supplementing to achieve a muscular, “bulky,” bodybuilder look. Women and men have a very different hormone makeup, and it’s even harder for women to put on muscle than men – so don’t worry that eating protein or using a protein supplement is suddenly going to make you bulky.
Protein is how lean physiques are made.
If you’re not consuming enough of this essential nutrient, your body has no choice but to break down your muscles to get amino acids from their fibers. What this means is no matter how much time you spend exercising, your muscles will not cooperate unless you feed them properly.
That’s why I include some with every eating opportunity, and always with my first meal of the day – whether it’s a shake or a more traditional breakfast. When you sleep, your body uses most of the nutrients from the last meal you ate; replenishing protein right away ensures your muscles and tissues can continue to repair and grow.
Including protein foods throughout the day means your body will burn more calories simply by the work it takes to digest the protein you consume, encourage more fat loss via hormone production, which increases the integrity of your lean muscles, and even reduces cardiovascular risk!
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So first and foremost – here are a few troubleshooting tips to see if you’re experiencing any of the signs of protein deficiency.
5 Signs You May be Protein Deficient:
1: You often experience strong CRAVINGS for things like sweets, caffeine, chocolate, candy, chips, pastries, etc.
Strong cravings are often indicative of unstable blood sugar - your body needs energy and it's looking for a quick fix. Protein not only helps your blood sugar stabilize, it is also very satiating.
2: You have DIFFICULTY SLEEPING through the night.
The same blood sugar swings that cause cravings can also mess with your hormone balance, which in turn messes with your sleep. A lack of protein can cause your cortisol (the stress hormone) to rise, while your serotonin (the happy hormone) diminishes, causing insomnia or fitful rest.
When you get a solid, restful night of sleep, you're able to efficiently burn your body's best long-lasting fuel: stored fat. But if you're eating an imbalanced amount of carbs and sugars during the day, your body becomes unaccustomed to using your stored fat for energy, and will instead disrupt your sleep cycle thinking it's time to eat, looking for the next hit of quick energy.
3: You have muscle and/or joint pain:
The body stores much of its protein reserves in the synovial fluid around the joints (which is then used to rebuild the muscles and joints after strenuous exercise). When protein is deficient, the reserve is tapped, resulting in stiffening joints and tightening muscles.
4: You ride a roller coaster of EMOTIONS, FATIGUE, and STRESS.
Protein helps stabilize your blood sugar, whereas sugar and carbs spike it. Without enough protein, you tend to go high and then low and then high and then low, which is taxing on your system - causing erratic mood swings, emotional highs and lows, tiredness and a depletion of your reserves.
5: You are CONSTANTLY HUNGRY with an uncontrollable appetite.
Protein takes more work to metabolize in the body than other nutrients. This means your body is working harder to break down and assimilate protein which improves metabolic function, leads to feelings of fullness, and stabilizes your energy and blood sugar levels.
How Much Protein do you Need?
This is not a “one size fits all” kind of thing.
While the USDA recommends 46g/day/women and 56g/day/men, these numbers are for non-active individuals.
You'll find a wide variety of recommendations and ways to calculate this on various websites and apps.
Truly, the “right” amount of protein for any one person depends on many factors… including activity level, age, muscle mass, physique goals, and current state of health.
No matter what your goals are, including enough protein (along with your other nutrients) is an important part of supporting your body, sculpting your physique and creating optimal health.
- For people whose goal it is to gain lean muscle, increasing protein intake will help build muscle and strength (in conjunction with a fitness regimen of course). A common recommendation for gaining muscle is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, or 2.2 grams of protein per kg. This estimate is a bit high for those in maintenance mode or general fat loss (while active and maintaining muscle).
- For individuals who want to hold onto the lean muscle they have while losing body fat, an increased protein intake is also appropriate as this increase spares muscles tissue while losing body fat.
It’s safe to say 0.7-1 grams (give or take) per pound of body weight is a reasonable estimate for active individuals - and you can calculate your needs around this range depending on how active you are. For individuals who are not active, 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of body weight is sufficient.
How to Calculate Your Range:
To give yourself a personal range to work with, calculate 0.5% - 1% of your bodyweight to find out how many grams of protein you should consider an optimal amount for you.
A 150 lb woman would multiply 150 x .005 to get 0.75, and then multiply 150 x .01 to get 1.50, which would make the range of her protein intake between 75g -150g/day.
- If she’s not active, then the lower end of the range (75g) is appropriate.
- If she’s fairly active, then mid-range is best (100-125g).
- If she’s extremely active, then she’ll want to aim for the higher end of her range (130-150g).
Here's another example using me.
On an active day, I might consume 90-100g of protein (I weigh 110-115 generally - I carry a good amount of muscle for my 5' tall frame!). That calculation is pretty easy - just multiply my bodyweight 110 x 0.9 or 0.8 to get the result.
On a non-training day I'll be on the lower end - 0.7-0.8 generally - but no lower. So I'd eat about 60-80g those days.
If you're not very active, you can go on the lower end of the spectrum - all the way down to 0.5g/protein per pound. Moderately active, 0.7 is the mid-range. Extremely active, range from 0.8-1.0 or higher.
You can overeat protein, like any nutrient, but your body has a good internal regulation system to help you adjust if you do. Chronically overeating protein can cause health problems, just like chronically overeating fat, carbs or any nutrient can. That's why it's a good idea to calculate your protein intake based on your energy output and goals, and adjust accordingly.
When is the Best Time to Eat Protein?
Short answer - all the time! You can and should have some protein at every meal.
Like we talked about above, protein gets broken down into the amino acids our bodies need to function properly.
Unlike the way our muscle tissue stores carbohydrates as glycogen for energy use later on, and the way our fat cells store fat for energy use later on, our body doesn't have a storage tank for protein.
Since proteins and amino acids are not stored in the body, there is a constant turnover of protein. Some protein is constantly being made while other protein is being broken down.
Because protein is needed for so many body functions all day long, it's vital that we continue to replenish it throughout the day by including it in our meals.
What are Good Sources of Protein?
Like any of the nutrients, eating a range of food sources is a good way to ensure you're getting adequate minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and everything you need to maintain your lean muscle and decrease fat storage.
As with all foods, choose as unprocessed as possible, and think about the source of the food - like grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, and organic seeds, nuts, and legumes.
Animal Sources of Protein:
Meat: beef, bison, pork, wild game
Poultry: chicken, turkey
Seafood: fish (cod, haddock, tuna, flounder, perch, halibut) and shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster, scallops, oysters)
Dairy: Greek yogurt, milk, cheeses, fermented dairy products like kefir
Plant Sources of Protein:
Seeds: hemp, chia, sunflower, pumpkin, flax, sesame
Nuts: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, brazil nuts, peanuts
Legumes: Lupin, Lentils, Green Peas, Soybeans (tempeh/tofu), Red beans, Black beans, Yellow beans, Fava beans, Chickpeas
Whole grains: quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, wheat, rice, corn, oats (ensure your grains are soaked, sprouted, or fermented to consume, and that you're looking for non-GMO plants)
Some Vegetables: i.e. avocado, broccoli, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes (these all contain some protein, but are not adequate protein sources on their own.)
Protein Supplements to add to your whole food diet:
Getting your nutrients from whole foods is always the optimal choice, it's really useful to have some additional fast options to help keep your intake in the right spot.
I rotate between a few different high-quality protein powders that I add to all kinds of things, from smoothies and oatmeal to baking.
My favorites include:
- Organic Hemp Protein: Hemp seeds truly are one of nature’s perfect foods - and hemp is one of the best sources for plant protein.
- Morelli's Grass-fed Protein Isolate: This is high-quality grass-fed whey, it tastes amazing, and it doesn’t contain any of the fillers, artificial sweeteners, or junk that's unfortunately far too common in many whey-based protein powders.
- Egg White Protein Powder: Egg white protein is one of the most bioavailable proteins in existence. It's got all the essential amino acids, and it's totally great for anyone without a specific dietary restriction (vegan, egg allergy, etc).
- Warrior Blend Plant-based Protein: Warrior Blend fuses and multiplies the power of several rich protein sources into one smooth, great-tasting formula.
Get a done-for-you MEAL PLAN to incorporate the right amount of ALL the nutrients into your day with a healthy eating system that you can flex with your life!
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- Veldhorst, M.A., et al. “Presence or absence of carbohydrates and the proportion of fat in a high-protein diet affect appetite suppression but not energy expenditure in normal-weight human subjects fed in energy balance.” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health. November 2010. Web.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20565999