Protein and Women: All You Need To Know + 4 Myths Busted

Everyone has heard about low-carb and low-fat diets, but hardly we come across a legitimate diet regime that purports a low protein diet. This is because protein is a superior and important macronutrient for our bodies and lives. The protein we consume makes the enzymes in our body. It makes the hormones and neurotransmitters that allow us to feel and think!

For some reason although, protein has always been a man’s nutrient! Most of the research that has been conducted has been on male subjects. Muscle gain too has been glorified for men and condemned (subtly) for women. So much so, that in developing countries, women consume much less protein than men. In India, a study found that women, in general, consume 13% less protein than their male counterparts. [1]

Therefore, it is important to discuss the need for protein in women and how much protein a woman should consume. But, before we proceed to discuss how much protein to consume and which protein powders should women take, let us first partake in some myth debunking!

In the era of women empowerment, body positivity, and self-love, it is imperative to remove the hidden stereotypes from unsuspecting topics like ‘dietary protein’.


Debunking Long-Standing Myths about Women and Protein


1. If women consume protein, they will bulk up


It is portrayed that if you start taking care of your protein requirement by eating a spoon or two of protein powder, you will bulk up and gain muscle mass. This is not true. Having a higher amount of muscle to fat ratio means having a more active metabolism and hence a healthier body.


Women usually lack muscle as they naturally also have higher fat content in their bodies at thighs, hips, and breasts. This slows down their metabolism additionally and it becomes even harder to lose weight. [2] So it is highly important that women consume adequate amounts of protein. Bulking up only happens if you take too much protein and do a lot of resistance/strength training at the same time!


2. Protein does not allow women to lose weight


The truth is that a high protein diet can be very successful for losing weight. One of the reasons that protein helps in weight loss is that it will decrease your cravings like none other and also provide a sense of fullness. Protein decreases the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin and also makes hormones like GLP-1 & PYY which create a feeling of satiety and fullness. [3][4][5] In a study conducted over 12 female subjects, it was found that a high protein diet (30% protein as compared to the usual 10-15%) increased the satiety hormone GLP-1 for 24 hours.


The same study also found out that a high protein diet can increase thermogenesis, basal metabolic rate and fat oxidation; all of which majorly aid in weight loss. Basal metabolic rate is your metabolic activity when you are sleeping or not doing any action. A high amount of muscle/protein in the body means a higher metabolism. Our body burns 2 calories to burn 1 pound of dietary fat while it burns 6 calories for 1 pound of protein. So if you have more muscle, you are naturally burning more calories even if you do nothing. [6][7][8]

3. Protein leads to bad bone health.


The above statement is a myth because the correct statement looks something like this: ‘Excessive amounts of protein can reduce bone density’. There is some evidence that consuming more than 2 grams of proteins per kg of body weight will release calcium in the urine by increasing the ‘acid load’ of the body. [9][10][11]


But, expert consensus suggests that consuming a high protein diet with some amount of calcium and a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables will most certainly improve bone health and density. The recommended dose of protein provided by the reference dietary intake index (RDI) is 0.8g per Kg of body weight. Although a large body of health professionals have said that one should consume 1-1.2g protein per Kg of their body weight to see the best benefits. [12]


4. Protein will lead to bloating and other gastric issues


The myth that protein is the real reason behind bloating and GI issues is just that, a myth. The real reason behind a bad and constipated stomach on a high protein diet is actually the lack of fibrous foods. A lot of diets, such as the ‘keto diet’ which contains high amounts of proteins and almost no fruits and vegetables is a good example of ‘fibre-less’ diets.[13] Such diets harm your gut in the long term by disturbing the microbial balance in your intestines. If you consume high fibre along with high protein, you might still experience bloating (initially) but it is just a shift in the gut bacteria for the greater good.[14] So if you have to opt, opt for a protein powder that is wholesome and also contains fibre!


How Much Protein?


All this myth-busting and fighting for the truth about ‘protein and women’ leads us to the most important question: ‘How much protein should a woman take?’


The answer to that depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to gain muscle or lose weight, your consumption will vary accordingly. The most important thing to note here is that there is no difference between protein consumption between men and women and it depends entirely on body mass or weight. The protein powders which are touted to be only for women have nothing additional or special in them. So let us now see how much protein will help you achieve your goal of either muscle gain or weight loss. If you are not looking for either of them, the RDI recommends 0.8g per Kg of body mass. Although, as mentioned above, it is on the lower side and it is best to consume 1g to 1.2g of protein per Kg of body weight. So if you are a woman weighing 60Kg, then you should consume 60g - 72g of protein in a day.


How Much Protein Do You Need To Eat For Muscle Gain?


If you are a woman who is looking to gain some muscle and challenge the dainty ideal of the female body; you need to take a number of measures involving an overall balanced diet, lots of fruits and vegetables and dietary fibre, strength training every alternate day but most importantly, getting a good dose of protein.


In order to gain muscle, all you need to do is consume more protein than your body metabolizes. This is called nitrogen balance (nitrogen is a main constituent of protein). Different studies suggest different amounts of protein uptake but a general consensus can be estimated to be around 1.6 to 2.2g per Kg of body weight.[15][16][17]


For a 60Kg weight, this comes to 96 to 132 grams of protein. Since it can be hard to consistently get enough protein through food, it is best to consume a wholesome protein powder.


How Much Protein Do You Need To Eat For Weight Loss?


Consuming just 25% of your total calories from proteins can help you lose extra 100 calories per day. Not to mention the increased absorption of nutrients due to a more fired up metabolism. [3][4]

A study conducted in 2005 on 19 female subjects found that women lost a lot of weight by consuming a high protein diet (up to 30% of total calorie intake) and naturally reducing their daily calorie intake by 441 calories. This is because they felt more full and did not fall prey to cravings. [6] Another problem with those who lose weight on a particular diet regime is the weight ‘regain’ that happens afterward. According to this study, a post-weight loss diet with high protein can reduce the weight regain amount by 50%![18]

All in all, a wide consensus of studies indicates that a high protein diet which contributes 25-30% of your daily calories is best for losing weight and maintaining it. If you consume 1500 calories in a day, 30% calories mean, you need to consume 112.5g of protein.


Some High Protein Plant-Based Foods


When it comes to consuming protein, meat products pop up at the top of our minds. But, a diet high in meat has been known to cause a variety of health problems mostly cardiovascular issues as they increase the bad cholesterol. Even if you are a lover of meat and meat products, it is best to avoid fatty cuts of meat and consume lean meat like chicken and turkey. Fish, too, is a prime source of protein.


Plant-based proteins are abundant in nature and not only they offer protein but have a richer nutrient profile with added vitamins and minerals. For example, take our Protein + Iron Sproutd powder, in which we have used a mixture of alfalfa sprouts, pumpkin seeds sprouts, and beetroot sprouts which not only provide protein but also make our protein powder high in Vitamin C, Iron and Fibre! There is no way in which meat products will do the same as they are not abundant sources of vitamins.


So, it is always best to consume a protein that has a richer nutrient profile. These are some examples of plant-based protein sources which mostly have all the 9 essential amino acids that our body needs:


  1. Soy

  2. Buckwheat

  3. Beans

  4. Quinoa

  5. Seitan

  6. Spirulina

  7. Flax Seeds

  8. Hemp Seeds

  9. Chia Seeds

  10. Mycoprotein

  11. Amaranth

  12. Alfalfa sprouts

  13. Other Sprouted Grains

  14. Nuts

  15. Rice (wild)


Risks Of Consuming Excessive Protein


The risks and side effects of consuming excessive proteins can be:


  1. Dehydration is at risk when one is on a high protein diet. This is because our kidneys excrete extra nitrogen alongside fluids. This can easily dehydrate the body if water and fluids aren't properly restored in the body.

  2. Consuming protein powders that are high in sugar and calories can result in weight gain. It is best to consume savoury and unflavored powders which are made from wholefoods.

  3. If one already has kidney damage, a high protein diet can put adverse effects on the kidneys by increasing the amount of nitrogen they need to flush out. This can increase the damage to the kidneys. Although consuming high protein will not cause kidney damage in the first place.

  4. Certain sources of proteins such as full-fat dairy and red meat have high amounts of saturated fats in them. These can lead to cardiovascular issues.



References

  1. https://www.theweek.in/webworld/features/lifestyle/women-protein-deficiency.html

  2. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-it-really-is-harder-for-women-to-lose-weight-and-what-to-do/

  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19820013/

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23466396/

  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16469977/

  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9683329/

  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25733634/

  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25466951/

  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17997845/

  10. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180515105645.htm

  11. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/128/6/1051/4722393

  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7451829/

  13. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/a19904689/dangers-of-too-much-protein/

  14. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200127134745.htm.

  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29497353/

  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19927027/

  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19927027/

  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14710168/


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