Should Women consume more protein?

Protein shaker

As a woman, I have found that I have been put off protein shakes and lifting weights for fear of looking like a female Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a common feeling among a lot of women which puts us off working out our muscles. However, studies suggest and the NHS recommends weight training alongside cardio weekly. This week, I am indulging in the question, should women increase their protein intake?

The Science

Muscles are made of two types of proteins (sactin and myosin). Like all proteins, they are made of amino acids linked together. If you are trying to build more muscle, your body needs to make more actin and myosin by joining amino acids together inside the muscle.

There are two types of amino acid; essential and non-essential. Both types of amino acid ultimately come from our food. When we eat protein our digestive system breaks it down into amino acids. Which our bodies then use for a range of functions, including muscle building.

If the goal is to gain muscle mass then more protein and carbohydrates are needed. If weight loss is the goal then some protein and fewer carbs will allow your body to burn more calories over a 24 hour period. Also, it will utilize the protein as fuel but remember, muscle weighs the same as fat but takes up less room.

Women and Muscle

Women don’t gain muscle size from weight training like men. They have 10% of the amount of testosterone a man has and therefore have to work a lot harder to gain the same size of muscle like men. Testosterone increases muscle protein synthesis meaning when a muscle is damaged, like when you lift weights, it will automatically produce the protein to repair it and build more.

Typically women will gain tone and definition without the size as they don’t have the same levels of testosterone to aid in muscle repair. So you don’t need to worry about lifting a few weights and your arms looking like the Michelin Man.

Weight Loss

Weight training is more effective for weight loss over cardio. Muscle will burn more calories while you are resting, so you are burning more fat if you are in a calorie deficit. Although the calories you burn during a weight workout will be less than that of a cardio workout. Your body will continue to burn calories in the 24 hour period after making it more effective.

As previously stated not only does muscle take up less space but it also burns more calories at rest. To gain more muscle protein is essential. The daily recommended intake for a sedentary person is:

  • 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
  • 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.

If you are active this should be doubled. (Please note, this is a guideline)

Protein leaves you feeling full and fuller for longer. One study shows that it also can help reduce late-night snacking by 60% (PubMed). For anyone who finds it hard to resist raiding the cupboard for treats in the evening after they have been healthy all day, this may be a savour. Stock up on quick healthy protein that you can snack on. Eat a protein-rich diet and swap out some of your carbs for more protein will keep you full for longer as well as reducing your calorie intake.

Protein Powders

Whey Protein is the most widely used protein supplement. Remember the nursery rhyme “little miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, Eating her curds and whey…“, well little miss Muffet must have been increasing her protein intake too! Taken from a by-product of cheese production, whey protein comes in 3 main forms. Concentrate, isolate and hydroisolate.

Concentrate – Whey concentrate has 70-80% protein with the rest made up of fat and lactose (milk and sugar). It offers the best flavour out of all 3.

Isolate – Contains 90% or higher protein and has most of the fat and lactose removed. During this process of removal, it also strips away beneficial nutrients.

Hydroisolate – Hydroisolated protein powder has gone through an extra step, it’s been exposed to heat, acid or enzymes that break down the bonds holding the amino acids together. This means its been “pre-digested” making for faster absorption.

Overall, various studies have looked into which one is best and the results show that Whey Concentrate is the best for taste, cost and nutritional benefits.

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