What’s all the buzz around protein?
From babies to adults, we all need protein in our diets, but it’s thought that women will naturally consume less protein every day.
Many women are nervous that drinking protein shakes and upping their protein intake will cause them to bulk up, but the truth is quite different.
A vital part of a healthy diet, there is a wide range of benefits that come from protein that’s not just all about muscles.
From strengthening your nails and hair to even making hormones and giving your body more energy, protein is an excellent addition to anyone’s diet.
Keep reading, as we’ll tell you all you need to know about protein and what it can do for you.
What does protein do?
Protein is a macronutrient made up of long chains of amino acids that we mostly get from eating food.
It is a building block in our diet and is so vital for many different roles within the body.
Not just good for building muscle, some of the other roles of protein within the body include:
- Growing & maintaining tissues
- Creating enzymes & hormones
- Developing bone, cartilage & blood
- Supporting hair, skin, and nails
Benefits of protein for women
Protein is so important for our muscles, helping them grow and repair.
When you take part in any activity, from weightlifting to yoga or even just walking, your muscles become fatigued and will develop tiny tears—the amino acids in protein help to repair these tears, strengthening your muscles over time.
Studies have shown that when we consume enough protein, muscle mass is increased, and muscle loss is reduced as we age.1
So, protein is essential if you’re looking to increase your muscle mass or even just tone up.
Looking for a way to support your hair, nails, and skin? Protein!
Our hair, nails and skin rely on structural proteins like keratin and collagen to grow and stay strong. In fact, collagen makes up 70% of our skin’s composition and is what helps keep our skin strong.2
As we age, our bodies make less and less collagen, so supporting your protein intake can help with the production of collagen in your body and help keep your skin glowing and youthful.
Your hair and nails, made up of proteins like keratin, rely on protein to keep them healthy and strong. Particularly for your nails, protein is vital for strong and smooth nail beds.
If you notice your nails becoming thin and brittle or notice more split ends in your hair, this could be a sign of a protein deficiency.
Around 10 million people in the UK experience some form of arthritis, but osteoarthritis, which affects your bones and cartilage, tends to affect more women than men.3
When thinking about your bone health, you’ll probably think of calcium and vitamin D, but protein also plays an important role.
Protein is a significant component of bone tissue and works to help maintain and strengthen your bones. Studies suggest that those with diets higher in protein have increased bone mineral density levels and lower bone loss rates than those with diets lower in protein.4
So, whilst adding calcium and vitamin D to your diet can help keep your bones strong, don’t forget your protein too!
Whatever your weight goals, eating enough protein is essential.
Whether you’re looking to lose some weight, control your current weight or just tone up, getting enough protein in each meal every day is crucial.
Your body generally takes longer to digest, metabolise, and use protein, burning more calories to do so. This longer digestion means you’ll feel fuller for longer and won’t feel the crash you might feel when eating refined carbs and fatty foods.
But aside from boosting your metabolism and helping you feel more satisfied, some studies have shown that upping your protein, alongside regular exercise, could be the key to losing weight without losing muscle mass.5
Whilst the research suggests this method is good for short-term weight loss, researchers note that following a balanced diet and taking part in regular exercise is the key to maintaining your weight in the long term.
For women’s hormones, protein is essential to keep them in check.
Protein helps to aid the communication and effect of hormones within your body, acting as cell receptors that help hormones perform their role.
Some proteins are the building blocks of key hormones that control the release of steroid hormones like oestrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. In fact, some studies have shown that a low-protein diet has been linked with low oestrogen and growth hormone levels.6
Similarly, research suggests that low protein diets are also linked to low prolactin levels during lactation, which could disrupt breast milk supply whilst breastfeeding.7
Protein can also help decrease your hunger hormone, ghrelin, and increase hormones that help you feel fuller after eating – particularly when eaten in the morning.8
Like supporting your hormones, protein can also help to balance your blood sugar.
Often, blood sugar levels that are off-balance can be a cause of hormonal imbalances, mood swings and even anxiety.9
Protein helps your blood sugar by calming glucose absorption into your blood after a meal. Protein will break down into glucose more slowly than carbohydrates and sugars, so it will influence your blood sugar gradually over some time, unlike the more immediate effects of carbs and sugars.10
How much protein do I need?
Clearly, we need our protein like we need our oxygen. But how much is too much?
Or perhaps more importantly, how much is too little?
Many people wrongly assume that women don’t have the same protein needs as men. However, how much protein you need isn’t related to gender so much as your weight, height, and activity level.
Government guidelines suggest a minimum of 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight to avoid becoming deficient and to maintain our existing muscle mass.11
A 2014 study in The International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that higher intake, more than 2.4g per kilo of body weight, in fact, helped calorie-restricted elite athletes lose body fat and maintain muscles.12
If you’re active and trying to lose weight, your protein intake should be around 1.5g per kilo of body weight. This ensures you remain satiated and keep muscle. But that’s sometimes easier than it sounds.
For a 67-70kg (10.5-11st) woman, that’s around 100-110g of protein. 100g of tofu contains 17g of protein, and a chicken breast is about 30g, so it’s no wonder why many choose to supplement with a convenient (and tasty) protein powder.
Signs of a protein deficiency
It’s estimated that around a billion people worldwide have a protein deficiency, but a more serious protein deficiency is generally uncommon in the Western world.13
In more serious cases of protein deficiency, the most likely changes you might see are brittle nails, thinning hair and dry skin.14
You may also feel fatigued, experience mood swings, and have more headaches.15
High protein foods
You will naturally get some protein through your diet, but it can be more difficult if you have a specific diet, like if you’re a vegan or can’t eat dairy.
Naturally high in protein foods include:
- Lean meat
- Fish and seafood
- Dairy products
But even then, packing in enough protein every day can be tricky. So, here’s an example of how to get 100-120g of protein into your diet:
|Breakfast||3 egg omelette with peppers & spinach||15-20g protein|
|Snack||Diet whey shake - 1 scoop||17g protein|
|Lunch||Mozzarella or chicken & avocado salad||35g protein|
|Snack||Rice cakes & 1 tablespoon of nut butter||5g protein|
|Dinner||Salmon or Quorn fillet with vegetables||15-25g protein|
|Dessert||170g Greek yoghurt with honey & berries||15g protein|
The different types of protein powders
If you feel you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, why not try a delicious protein shake?
But there are so many protein powders on the market that it can be challenging to know which one to choose and how it can help you reach your goals.
We’ve broken down just some of our favourites to help you choose the right protein powder for your needs.
No one would bat an eyelid or question whether drinking a glass of milk is healthy. And whey protein, a by-product of cheese making, is pretty much the same thing, bar some flavouring here and there.
When we use milk to make cheese, the ‘curding’ process separates the curds from the liquid, almost clear whey. The whey liquid is then dried to make the whey protein powder we know and love.
Whey protein is about 80% milk protein, high in essential amino acids, particularly glutamine, and low in calories.
Whey protein usually comes in 3 different forms:
- Whey protein isolate
- Whey protein concentrate
- Whey protein hydrolysate
Each type varies in its protein content and other components, so it’s worth checking the label before you buy to make sure it fits your needs.
Some whey protein powders for women are specially blended with extra vitamins and minerals to support your general health.
If you’re looking for the best whey protein for women, keep an eye out for those extra vitamins and minerals!
If you’re looking to cut calories, you could try diet whey. Containing whey, soy, and milk protein that all digest slower, diet whey protein can help you feel fuller for longer.
Protein powders, like whey, are animal protein-based, so they are best avoided if you follow a vegan lifestyle or even have a dairy intolerance.
Switching to vegan protein, made from ingredients such as soy or pea, should work better and still contain plenty of essential amino acids for building muscle.
Protein and pregnancy
Protein is essential during pregnancy to support your baby’s development.
Generally, the amount of protein you need every day whilst pregnant depends on how far along your pregnancy is, your activity level and your weight. To find the optimal amount of protein for you, always check with a medical professional, as they will be able to advise.
You’ll usually get enough protein through your diet, perhaps without even noticing it. Still, you may wish to support your daily protein intake with a protein powder.
Protein powders are considered safe to use during pregnancy, but you need to make sure you won’t be consuming too much protein by adding a protein powder into your routine.16
These protein powders contain very high levels of concentrated protein, so it is best to get your protein through natural foods, and like all vitamins and supplements during pregnancy, you should always check with your doctor before taking it.
This goes for protein bars, drinks, and snacks too!
Protein and menopause
Eating enough protein during and after menopause is essential to keep your muscles, bones, and general health in shape.
It is thought that the decline in oestrogen during menopause can be linked to decreased muscle mass and bone density. So, keeping up with your daily protein intake can help your body maintain and support your muscles and bones.17
In addition, ensuring you get enough protein in your diet during menopause helps provide your body with the building blocks it needs for energy, your metabolism and for helping to stabilise your mood.
The final say
It’s official. Protein is a necessity that everyone needs in their diet!
For women, protein has so many health benefits – from supporting hormones and muscles to keep your hair and nails healthy, there really is no reason to be skimping on protein.
If you’re looking to supplement your protein intake, why not try a protein shake, drink, or snack? Shop our range of protein products today!
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 3 January 2023