Protein is a critical component of the athlete's diet because of its direct effect on muscle growth. Physical activity causes the body to break down and use its protein stores. When you eat protein, the body breaks these nutrients down into amino acids, which it later uses to replace protein stores. Female bodybuilders place a heavy demand on their muscles and typically require about twice the protein as the average adult.
The average adult needs about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. However, because of the increased demand bodybuilders place on muscle tissue, female bodybuilders need much more. For maximal gains in muscle mass, female bodybuilders should consume between 0.75 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, according to "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning." For example, a 150 lb. female bodybuilder should consume about 113 to 150 grams of protein each day.
After a Workout
The timing of your protein intake may also influence muscle gains, as the protein cell turnover rate, or the rate at which cells are depleted versus regenerated, is highest within about an hour after a workout. Research has demonstrated increased protein synthesis with doses of 6 to 40 grams of protein following a workout.
Type of Protein
Despite all the protein supplements on the market, there is no "magic bullet" for maximum muscular gains, according to a 2009 review published in the journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, or NSCA. Foods and supplements that contain milk protein are good choices because they contain an ideal mix of fast- and slow-digesting protein and an amino acid profile that meets the body's needs. Chocolate milk is ideal because it is cheap, convenient and also contains carbohydrates that help the body restore used-up glycogen stores.
Additional Protein Tips
Protein from animal sources, such as milk, eggs and meat products, generally has more essential amino acids and are deemed "complete proteins." Incomplete proteins are those that lack one or more essential amino acid, and typically include plant sources such as beans. At least 65 percent of your total protein intake should come from complete sources, according to the NSCA. If you're a vegetarian, make sure to vary your protein sources to obtain all the essential amino acids you need.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning"; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger R. Earle (Editors); 2008
- "Strength and Conditioning Journal"; The Post-Workout Protein Puzzle...; G. Damon Wells; February 2009
- "Strength and Conditioning Journal"; Protein Intake: The Effect of Timing; Jay Hoffman, Ph.D.; December 2007