By: Sara Jane Adkins
You felt the same way I did at some point in your life.
As a woman who is extremely active (I do crossfit four times a week), I rebelled for the longest time against adding more protein to my diet.
The majority of the advertisements that I saw for protein powder featured guys that looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday.
And while I would not mind my husband sporting those round shoulders, there was no way I wanted my physique to resemble anything remotely close to that.
My misconception of the effect that protein has on the body is very common among many women.
Protein is a crucial nutrient for the body. In fact, it accounts for 20 percent of our body weight, and helps in the synthesis of hormones, enzymes and vital cellular structures.
Protein also assists with fluid balance and the building of antibodies that protect against infection and other harmful viruses. In short, if we do not supply our bodies with the proper amount of protein, we cannot survive.
That is why it is so important to understand the crucial role that protein plays in maintaining overall health, especially since many women limit their protein consumption because of the myths associated with it.
Some women fear that high-protein diets may cause them to look too “bulky,” can compromise bone health or may be taxing on the kidneys. However, these assumptions are nothing more than myths that should be set straight for a variety of reasons.
Signs You Need More Protein
One of the first signs that you may need more protein in your diet is that you find it difficult to feel satiated after meals and constantly crave sweets.
This occurs because protein helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable. When you are deficient in protein, your glucose levels go haywire, which may cause you to crave sweets in an effort to balance them out.
Balanced blood sugar levels are essential for brain function and concentration. When you are protein-deprived, your glucose levels fluctuate constantly, which may cause you to feel “foggy” an unable to focus clearly.
Protein is the building block of all body cells, including the hair follicles. Women who constantly skimp on protein may experience hair thinning or hair loss over time.
Weakness and Fatigue
Protein is crucial for building muscle mass, so if you are not feeding your body with enough of it, your muscles may shrink over time. This may cause you to feel weak and fatigued throughout the day.
Protein not only builds muscles, but it also helps support all components of the immune system. A lack of protein in the diet can cause recurrent colds and infections, even if you are otherwise healthy.
Essential Protein Intake for Women
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an essential dietary protein intake of 46 grams per day for women.
However, it is important to note that this recommendation is for an average, semi-sedentary woman. If you are regularly exercising and breaking down your lean muscle tissue, you need to increase your dietary protein intake to account for the loss.
Similarly, if you consume fewer calories from fats and carbohydrates, you should increase the macros you consume from protein.
Why Women Should Add More Protein to their Diet
Lose Weight and Slim Down
If your goal is to lose excess weight, the proper amount of protein in your diet can help you achieve the results you are seeking. Protein has a higher thermic effect compared to all other types of food, which means that the body must work harder to metabolize protein than other types of food.
Hence, you burn more calories. Protein has a thermic effect of food (TEF) of 20-35 percent, meaning that 25-30 calories out of every 100 calories you ingest from protein sources are burned in the digestion process.
A recent study showed that individuals who consumed twice the recommended daily amount of protein, while reducing their overall calorie intake, lost more fat (70%) compared to those who did not increase their protein intake (41.8%). So, if you are working toward achieving a lean, sculpted body, add more protein to your diet.
Maintain a Lean Physique
Once you have achieved your ideal body weight, this does not mean you can revert back to your old eating habits of indulging in ice cream and hamburgers.
Maintaining the proper amount of protein in your diet is still critical to long-term success. Increasing your protein intake can help you maintain the lean muscle that you have worked so hard to build. When you are limiting your caloric intake to lose weight, consuming adequate amounts of protein can help ensure that you stay lean and toned.
Additionally, when you consume more protein, your body releases more peptide YY, which is a hormone made naturally in the small intestine that helps to reduce appetite and prevent you from overeating.
Does an hour-long workout in the morning leave you feeling tired all day? This could mean that your body is not recovering well after exercise.
Higher protein intake can help speed recovery by promoting muscle adaptation during post-exercise recovery through the generation of new protein, which helps to repair muscles and restore depleted energy. Adding protein consumption to your fitness regimen can provide immediate results in your recovery.
Since protein is a nutrient that helps to build and repair, it is especially critical for your immune system. Your antibodies are made up of protein, so you need enough in order to build and maintain immunity. Certain dietary sources of protein, such as almonds and cashews, also contain other immune-boosting nutrients including magnesium and zinc.
It is important to note that when it comes to boosting immunity, whey protein is the ideal type of protein to consume, as it contains glutathione – a tripeptide that helps to strengthen the immune system.
There is growing evidence that a protein-rich diet plays a crucial role in health, and that eating healthy protein sources such as chicken, fish, nuts, and beans in place of red meat can lower the risk of certain diseases and even death.
Research shows that sustaining a healthy diet in which some carbohydrates are replaced with healthy protein is more effective at lowering blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. However, you must choose your protein sources wisely, as high consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer, and other diseases.
Protein Intake for Special Needs
Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers need higher protein intake compared to average women. Experts recommend that these populations consume around 60 grams of protein each day for the optimum development of the fetus.
Protein not only aids in the development of the baby’s organs and bones, but also ensures that blood sugar levels are regulated.
In summary, women need to add protein to their diet to reduce body fat, build lean muscles, recover quickly from workouts, maintain a healthy immune system, prevent diseases, and support the growth and development of a healthy baby.
So the next time you end your grueling workout, don’t be afraid to grab a quick protein shake. You definitely won’t have to worry about the false ideas you previously held but instead will be mentally prepared to enjoy a new experience and a variety of exciting benefits.