What do you picture when you think of women who consume protein to build muscle? If you envision bodybuilders or associate the consumption of protein with getting “bulky,” it’s time to reevaluate what you think you know. We got the protein scoop (get it?) from Kim McDevitt, MPH, RD, a dietician and protein expert, and there’s a lot that might surprise you about the stuff! Keep scrolling to read all about it.
McDevitt explains that protein needs are determined by your physical size (height and weight), exercise level, and overall health goals. “The top protein rule to remember is that the more active you are, the more protein you need,” she says. “The good news is there’s protein in just about every food out there, so if you eat a well-balanced diet, you likely have no trouble reaching your daily protein needs.”
However, to help you more specifically calculate how much protein you need, McDevitt provided this handy equation:
1. Convert your weight from pounds to kilograms by dividing by 2.2.
2. Next, multiply your weight in kilograms by a figure that relates to your activity level:
a. For baseline active lifestyle, multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8.
b. For moderately active (think 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise three to five days a week), leave the number as is.
c. 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).
3. The number you calculate is how many grams of protein you need per day.
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of your protein needs, we can dispel some of the most common myths surrounding protein and women.
Protein Myth #1: Women who eat too much protein will bulk up.
Protein Truth #1: 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,” explains McDevitt. “Since women have lower testosterone levels in the body but higher estrogen levels, they won’t bulk up in the same way as men.”
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, she says. In addition to that scoop of powder in your smoothie, McDevitt recommends reaching for whole foods—including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts—to gain mass and support muscle growth.
Protein Myth #2: You should only eat protein to build lean muscle and reach optimal weight.
Protein Truth #2: While protein is a critical player, a balanced diet is the key to building muscle and reaching optimal weight.
The bottom line is that it’s not just protein that builds muscle. To think that solely eating more protein will build lean muscle and help you lose weight is an oversimplification. Says McDevitt, “A healthy balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat is important for building muscle, fueling your workout, and reaching optimal weight.” The body’s repair and recovery process begins almost as soon as you’re done working out, so McDevitt says that within 20 minutes of completing a workout, you should help the recovery process by pairing protein with a carbohydrate, not just protein alone. “Eat foods such as trail mix rich in dried fruit, or nut butter on sprouted grain toast, for a 4:1 carbs-to-protein [ratio] to initiate both muscle glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis,” she says.
Beyond post-workout, eating protein can be beneficial to managing calorie intake because it is highly filling and satisfying. But McDevitt says it’s still important not to focus on protein alone or completely cut out carbohydrates—especially ones from whole grains and fruits paired with healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and avocados. “Carbohydrates help give you immediate energy to expend on a hard workout, and fats help regulate changing hormone levels and slow digestion, giving you more lasting energy than carbohydrate alone.”
Protein Myth #3 Plant-based proteins won’t help you gain muscle or maintain weight.
Protein Truth #3: You can build strong, lean muscles on a plant-based diet.
It’s another common myth that you can’t build lean muscle and be a high-functioning fitness addict as a vegetarian or vegan. “Both the notion that plant-based diets lack adequate protein and that athletes cannot build enough muscle on a plant-based diet [could not be] farther from the truth,” McDevitt says. “Many athletes make the transition to a plant-based diet with success in building and maintaining strength and muscle mass.”
To build muscle, McDevitt says 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. Each delicious serving has 25 grams complete, multisource protein, including 5000 mg BCAAs and 5,000 mg glutamine.”
Had you bought into these protein myths? Did any of this surprise you? Sound off below!