What is Protein and why do women need it?

When people hear “protein” and “exercise” in the same sentence, they are most likely to picture images of bodybuilders or fitness models eating tons of chicken and drinking protein shakes to maximize their ‘gains’. Protein is important for everyone who is hitting the gym, playing sports, or any kind of activity, not just the pros.

Protein is a macronutrient. To put it simply, protein is one of the main nutrients that every person needs to maintain a healthy body. It helps to repair any internal or external damage, supports the immune system, and contributes to an overall feeling of wellbeing. At a cellular level, proteins are used for just about everything, from transporting messages, and repairing essential life functions.

It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, protein is essential for exercise and your overall health. Anyone undertaking any kind of exercise routine is going to need more protein than someone who doesn’t. This is because when you exercise, you are effectively tearing and breaking muscle fibers apart, which then need to be repaired by the body, which requires protein. Even if you are not hitting the gym, as we get older our muscles, joints and ligaments will weaken – even more so without the right nutrients.


Protein is a macronutrient, one of three large molecules we get from food and need in large amounts - the others are fat and carbohydrates. We need to eat protein to maintain the structure of cells, hair, bones, and connective tissue, for enzymes that digest food, for antibodies that keep the immune system functioning, for muscle strength and mass, and for energy. Each gram of protein you eat provides 4 calories of energy.

The protein molecules are made up of smaller components called amino acids. They link together to make long strands, which then fold up to make large, three-dimensional structures that do everything from creating structural underpinnings in the body to create reactions and transport other molecules within and between cells.

From a dietary point of view, you can get enough day to day protein from eating food such as beans, soy protein products, nuts and other foods. If you are exercising, it is beneficial to supplement this normal intake of protein with additional food items such as protein bars (preferably homemade), or powders, as an example but I would always promote to get them from a most natural source as possible.


Protein is especially important to consume after a workout, as during exercise you are effectively breaking your muscles down. It helps to increase the impact of their exercise. It’s also important to mix this protein with carbohydrates as they help your body to absorb the protein and turn it into more muscle mass.

If you are exercising but find yourself with low energy or feel that you are not building any muscle, it may be down to not having enough protein in your diet or you are burning more calories / energy than you are consuming. Try to eat more protein through your meals and supplement your intake with protein-rich snacks. You should start to feel better and get better results for all your hard work.

Protein Builds Lean Muscle Mass

Most gym bunnies or hard-core exercise-ers love their protein, but don’t make the mistake of thinking eating an adequate amount of protein will bulk you up like a heavy lifter.

Protein is an essential component of muscles, but the protein you eat will mostly go to work strengthening the muscle mass you already have. Protein in the diet builds lean muscle and will keep you fuller for longer, grow lean muscle and benefit from your sleep.

Protein is Essential for Weight Management

Trying to lose or maintain weight are common goals for my clients. Protein is a crucial part of the diet for so many reasons, but especially for women trying to lose weight. Protein keeps you full and satisfied for a longer period than carbohydrates because they take longer to digest.

High protein amounts at breakfast can be particularly useful. It helps to minimize cravings for snacks later in the day and helps you avoid the dreaded hangry mood.

Supporting Bones, Hair, and Nails

Protein is structural. It provides the basic material for connective tissue, bones, hair, and nails. For women, bone health and density is important, especially as we age. Getting enough protein can keep bones strong and minimize the density loss that comes with aging. It also keeps hair and nails looking healthy and strong.

Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Protein?

Not all women need to count grams of protein. If you have a specific fitness goals, or really struggle to balance macros or lose weight, counting can be useful. I don’t normally encourage tracking with my clients but keeping a track of what you eat day to day can be very useful as a visual so you can see areas of improvement. For the rest of us it may just take greater awareness to realize if we are not getting enough protein:

1.    Feeling unusually fatigued or weak

2.    Moodiness

3.    Brittle or damaged hair and nails, flaky skin

4.    Being hungry a lot of the time

5.    Getting sick a lot or staying sick longer than expected

How Much Protein Do Women Really Need?

A good general guideline is 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

For a woman who weighs 70kg this means eating between 80 and 120 grams of protein per day (again this depends how active they are). The high end of this range is extreme and only really necessary for any client doing a lot of strength training, preparing for fitness competitions, or who is a serious athlete. Experts recommend you do not stay in that upper level indefinitely.

Balancing Protein with Fat and Carbs

You may also want to consider counting your protein by balancing macros. Measuring protein as a percentage of your calorie intake is worthwhile. Eating the right amount of protein is about more than just protein. Macronutrients don’t exist separately; they interact with each other in the body. Getting the right balance is important for health and for hitting fitness and weight loss goals.

But I don’t want to look bulky?

Protein will make you stronger. Associate it with powerful, lean muscle gains, not a masculine physique. Choosing legumes / veggies over chocolate and hitting the weights hard won't turn you into an "overly ripped" version of yourself. Put your mind at ease and know that this simply will not occur. REMEMBER our aim to focus on how we can give our bodies the best fuel to keep it going for as long as possible. Don’t worry about what the scales say. We want to enjoy our food and the benefits that come with it.

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