PROTEIN - WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
By Gemma Yates
Thought protein-rich diets were only relevant for shake-chugging, steak-munching gym bros? Think again. All women – even ones who aren't regularly resistance training – need a higher protein intake than you might think, but many aren't getting nearly enough. We're constantly singing the praises of protein to our clients and on social media, but we know a lot of you still find it confusing AF. So, we're going to tell you exactly why and how to work it into your diet.
WHAT IS PROTEIN?
Protein is a macronutrient. Along with carbohydrates and fat, it forms a trio of nutrients that our bodies require in larger amounts. Protein itself is made from chains of amino acids, known as the "building blocks" used by the body for growth and repair. There are 20 amino acids in total, nine of which are essential. Our bodies cannot make essential amino acids, so we must get them from food.
WHY IS PROTEIN SO IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN?
After the age of 30, women experience involuntary loss of muscle mass, strength and function at a rate of 3-8% per decade, known as age-related sarcopenia. Eating enough protein is essential to counteract this muscle loss, which can put you at a higher risk of falls and hospitalization as you age. Amino acids also play a key part in producing and aiding the communication of hormones. A low-protein diet has been linked with low growth hormone, low oestrogen/progesterone and low prolactin levels for breastfeeding women. Protein is also vital for balancing blood sugar, keeping you satiated and curbing cravings – something that can be hugely beneficial for menopausal women. As well as building muscle, protein increases levels of a hormone involved in bone formation, meaning it can help combat bone-density loss experienced by women due to oestrogen levels decreasing as we age. Finally, upping your protein intake could also give you an immunity boost, as it works together with cells in your body to provide a defence against infection.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD WOMEN BE EATING?
The British Nutrition Foundation advises that: "The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 0.75g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day for adults, with additional requirements for growth and repair, including for children and in pregnancy. Note that this was in 1991 and that average bodyweights now are likely to be higher"
So for a 60kg woman, that works out at just 45g of protein per day. Not much, right? If you're regularly physically active, trying to lose weight, build muscle or simply want to up your protein intake to reap the benefits mentioned above, you want to be aiming for between 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So for that 60kg woman, that would be between 72 and 132g, which is much more like it.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT TO GET ENOUGH PROTEIN?
These days, everything from bagels to Weetabix is marketed as "protein boosted", often costing way more than the original product, for not very much extra protein. You don't need to spend a fortune to get your protein fix though as there are plenty of natural, whole foods – both meat and veggie - that pack a punch without costing the earth. Here's a list to get you started…
- Greek yoghurt
- Lean beef
- Cottage cheese
- Beans, legumes and pulses
- Protein powder & bars – look for minimally processed options