How Much Protein Does a Woman Need to Build Muscle?

Building muscles at the gym
A woman uses a weight training machine at a gym. (Image: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images)

High protein diets have gone in and out of style as a way to lose weight and build more muscle. Women most often are concerned with weight loss, but when it comes to muscle building, most believe more protein is the way to go. All nutrients, including protein, can be turned into body fat when consumed in excess quantities. Determining the proper amount of protein for your body will help you add the muscle you desire and control your body weight.

Function

Protein is a critical nutrient for your body. The majority of your body's protein is in the form of skeletal muscle, organs and bone tissue. Protein is used to repair and build these tissues in your body on a daily basis. It is also important in the structure and function of enzymes, antibodies, lipoproteins, hormones and hemoglobin. Poor protein intake can result in poor body function, according to "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook."

Recommendations

Protein guidelines and recommendations are often based on the assumption that you are consuming an adequate amount of calories and that you are eating two thirds or more from animal protein sources. Within these parameters, the intake guidelines are 0.36 grams per pound of body weight or 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For muscle building, increase the amount to 0.7 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight or 1.5 to 1.7 gram per kilogram of body weight. If you are heavier than you would like to be, use your ideal body weight to calculate your caloric needs. For example, a 135-pound woman would need 95 to 108 grams of protein daily for muscle building.

Sources

Protein comes from many foods and products. Animal sources include any type of cheese, milk, eggs, beef, poultry and fish. These are complete proteins, and provide every amino acid you need in your diet. If you do not like to eat a lot of meat or are a vegetarian, there are also a lot of choices. Almonds and peanut butter can offer 3 to 5 grams of protein per serving but are high in calories so eat in moderation. Kidney beans, lentils, baked and refried beans are another source. There are many meatless options or replacements such as garden burgers and tofu. If you get most of your protein from plant sources, make sure to follow a varied diet -- most plant foods contain some, but not all, of the amino acids you need in your diet.

Considerations

When deciding how much protein to consume, consider your activity level and age. If you are serious about weight lifting, follow the slightly increased recommendation but watch your fat intake. Just increasing your protein intake will not add muscle. You need to perform resistance exercise on a regular basis to see the changes you desire. As you age and your activity level changes, adjust your protein intake to maintain tissues and a healthy body weight.

Warning

Do not cut out carbohydrates in order to make room for more protein in your diet. Excess protein can cause health and performance issues. Carbohydrate is necessary to start your muscles repairing and building, as well as to burn fat. If you don't take in an adequate amount, the protein you consume cannot be utilized properly. Protein also produces a waste product called urea. Urea is eliminated through urine and can be hard on the kidneys, so drink a lot of water. Your energy may be low, so eating a combination of nutrients within your requirements will help you see progress and function properly.

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