For most of my life I didn’t know or care about how much protein I was eating. Like, who could give a shit if there was no meat on my pasta, right? I was relatively thin during most of those years and despite having taken a single nutrition course in college, it just never dawned on me how important protein is. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that muscle meant anything to me. Before that I just wanted to be “smaller” and lighter, but I never really got any more toned…which made me think that I needed to be even SMALLER. At that time I thought I could just eat less…and less…and less…and I would eventually get “there,” wherever that was!
Nowadays my goals are completely different and I’m in love with the hunt for muscle, as are many other women. But often they don’t realize just how important nutrition is when trying to meet physique goals. It’s not just how MUCH food you eat, but WHAT food you eat.
If there’s any one macronutrient that most women are definitely not getting enough of in their diet, it’s usually protein. Protein is a major building block of our muscles and bones, and even our skin, hair, and nails. So when trying to build or maintain muscle we especially need a large sum of protein.
While I don’t prefer to prescribe specific nutritional programs for my clients, I like to advise them to eat approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. This amount would essentially help to cover all your bases for building and maintaining muscle and help a bit with satiety when dieting. This amount is a lot more than the average woman is getting from her morning energy bar and scoop of peanut butter she’s slathering on her afternoon celery sticks. (By the way, peanut butter is not a great source of protein… Sorry to break it to you. It’s a great fat source though!) So since this recommended amount of protein is so high, and because protein is such an essential building block, we MUST prioritize it in our diets and we MUST be conscious of how much we’re eating.
I like to tell my clients to structure all of their meals around their protein source. Carbs and fats can fluctuate as needed, but protein should always be a constant. I would advise spreading it out evenly throughout the day. Say you like to have 3 full meals and 2 snacks a day, take your weight and divide it by 5. That would give you the approximate amount of protein you should have per meal. For example: for a woman who weighs 130 lbs., she would do the math as such…
130 ÷ 5 = 26 grams of protein per meal
This is one reason why eating many meals a day is preferred, as sometimes it’s hard to get in so much protein in a single meal.
Many people seem baffled when I tell them how much protein they should be eating to help them reach their goals, and one reason is because they just don’t know WHERE to get that protein from! They often automatically assume that they need to start chugging shakes, but that’s not the case and it’s also not where you should be getting most of your protein from. Real food is generally preferred.
Now I apologize in advance for not having many vegetarian friendly options listed below, but that just isn’t my expertise. I am definitely an omnivore, as are most of my clients, so I generally get most of my protein from meat (chicken, beef, turkey, pork, fish, etc.), eggs, some dairy (like yogurt, milk, or cheese), and then supplements of course.
People often ask me about my opinion of certain protein powders and when to take them. First off, there is no magic to using protein powders. They are simply a supplement, and what I mean by that is, they are used in place of one of the more traditional forms of protein I listed in the paragraph above. It’s not always easy or convenient to bust out a chicken leg after a workout, but a shake can totally fill that gap. You can have a protein shake at any time during the day to replace a meal or just the protein source of that meal. I generally have one after my workout and sometimes I’ll have one before bed if I need to get my protein numbers up for the day. Again, anytime is A-OK!
Many women seem to be afraid of protein shakes because they think they’re going to “bulk” them up or something. Here’s the deal: the only thing that is going to “bulk” a woman up is excess calories, so avoid “mass building” protein powders that are chock-full of calories. These are specifically designed to help individuals build mass; fat or muscle. Stick to the powders that are less than 150 calories and have 20+ grams of protein per scoop. This will leave room for extra calories from fruit or milk (or whatever!) in case you want to make a full meal-replacement shake.
One of the most common questions I get is “what is your favorite protein powder?” My favorite powder is Trutein by Body Nutrition, and it has been my favorite for several years now. Tons of flavors and I haven’t had a bad one yet. Plus, the macronutrient profile is perfect. Lately I’ve been purchasing it through Best Price Nutrition as they seem to have the ‘best prices.’ And as for protein bars, you just can’t beat a Quest bar. Damn, they’re good! So good that I eat one every day and always look forward to it.
I hope that cleared a few things up. Please don’t be afraid of protein! It’s way too hard to go overboard on it and it’s really your best friend when you’re trying to build or maintain muscle OR lose fat!