Do women need more protein than men? The short answer is yes. But the reasons may surprise you.
When talking specifically about protein, we assume that men and women require different amounts because "men have bigger muscles" or strive for a more "built" look than most women. But the truth is that your protein needs are actually not determined by your sex, but instead depend on your physical size (height and weight), exercise level and overall health goals.
The Top Protein Rule
Male or female, the more active you are, the more protein you need. There's protein in just about every food out there, so the good news is that if you eat a well-balanced diet, you likely have no trouble reaching your daily protein needs.
How to calculate your personal protein needs:
1. Convert your weight in pounds to kilograms by dividing by 2.2.
2. Multiply your weight in kilograms by a figure that relates to your activity level.
- For a baseline active lifestyle, multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8.
- For moderately active (think 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise three to five days a week), multiply weight in kilograms by 1.0.
- For high-intensity, daily exercise, multiply weight in kilograms by 1.3 to 1.5 (the more you strength train, the higher the number, which can increase up to 2.0).
The number you calculate is the grams of protein you need per day. Now that you've got a basic understanding of how to find your protein needs, let's dispel some of myths around female nutrition and protein needs:
Myth: Women who eat too much protein will bulk up. Truth: Women aren't built like men. Eating more protein will not make you bulk up.
Men produce higher levels of testosterone than women, and it's testosterone that's responsible for large muscle mass and promoting a lower body-fat percentage. Since women have lower testosterone levels in the body, but higher estrogen levels, they won't bulk up in the same way as men.
To build muscle, you will need to eat more calories than you burn metabolically and through exercise. Because protein is a building block of muscle tissue, a diet rich in lean protein will help women build muscle, but not at the same rate as men. In addition to protein, to gain mass and support muscle growth reach for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
Myth: You should only eat protein to build lean muscle and reach optimal weight. Truth: While protein is a critical player, a balanced diet is the key to building muscle and reaching optimal weight.
A healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat is important for building muscle, fueling your workout and reaching optimal weight. Although consuming protein-rich drinks (or food) post-workout is critical for muscle repair and recovery, the repair process actually starts as soon as you're done working out.
Within 20 minutes of completing a workout, it's important to begin the refueling process by pairing protein with a carbohydrate. Eat foods such as trail mix rich in dried fruit or nut butter on sprouted grain toast for a four-to-one carbs-to-protein ratio to initiate both muscle glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis.
Beyond post-workout, eating protein can be beneficial for managing calorie intake because it is highly satiating. But don't completely cut out carbohydrates from whole grains and fruits or healthy fats in nuts, seeds and avocados. Carbohydrates provide immediate energy to expend on a hard workout, and fats help regulate changing hormone levels and slow digestion, giving you more lasting energy than carbs alone.
Myth: Plant-based proteins won't help me gain muscle or maintain weight. Truth: You can build strong, lean muscles on a plant-based diet.
The notions that plant-based diets lack adequate protein and that athletes cannot build enough muscle on a plant-based diet couldn't be farther from the truth. Many athletes make the transition to a plant-based diet with success in building and maintaining strength and muscle mass.
To build muscle, it's a good idea to consume more protein-rich foods, such as beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. You can also easily increase your protein intake and ensure you're getting adequate amino acids by adding a plant-based protein powder, such as Vega Sport Performance Protein, to your day.
Regardless of whether you're male or female, a diet rich in plant-based protein, paired with a balance of carbohydrates and healthy fats, can support both strength and endurance performance.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you concerned about "bulking up"? Did this article help clear up any confusion about how to build muscle on a plant-based diet? If you're on a plant-based diet, do you find it easier or harder to build muscle? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Kim McDevitt, M.P.H., RD, is a Vega National Educator, runner, cooking enthusiast and plant-focused flexitarian. She has passionately built her career in nutrition. Connect with Kim on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.