How Much Protein Do Women Really Need To Build Muscle? Is There A Protein War Of The Sexes?
Protein is the most important nutritional consideration for building muscle. Typically, ranges of 1.8-2.2g/kg per day are used as broad guidelines. But do differences exist between men and women that should be considered? After all, there is a distinct lack of research in women who lift. So it begs the question, 'How much protein do women really need to build muscle?'
And it's this question that's the subject of this article. If you're a women who's training hard, eating well, with the aim of building as much muscle as possible, then you've come to the right place.
In this article you'll discover what the available research tell us about how much protein women actually need. Because there are studies out there, you just have to look a bit harder to find them. Here's what you'll learn over the next few minutes:
- The basics of protein balance and its importance in building muscle.
- What the optimal amount of protein women need post-exercise to maximise the effects of training.
- How much protein women need per day in order to build muscle.
So, if you want to find out more, read on.
And if you'd prefer to listen to the audio version of "How Much Protein Do Women Need?", click the play button below.
How Much Protein Do Women Need? Protein Balance Explained
A basic grasp of protein balance provides the foundation for understanding the process of how building muscle works.
Muscle is developed through the relationship between Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS), the building of new muscle, and Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB), the breakdown of old and damaged proteins.
One minus the other defines net protein balance (or Muscle Protein Turnover, MPT). Essentially, determining whether you lose, maintain, or build muscle.
In simple terms, positive protein balance leads to building muscle, ie gains. And negative protein balance results in muscle loss, ie hell on Earth!
But it's not ALL about protein. You need a training stimulus to kickstart the process, which is why resistance training is of primary importance when it comes to building muscle. Lifting weights increases MPT for up to 48 hours in a fasted state. But without sufficient protein, MPB will occur.
Therefore, consuming protein after training and across a 24 hour period will maximise MPS and avoid the muscle building apocalypse.
How Much Protein Do Women Need After Training?
While the anabolic window may not slam shut in your face as quickly as bro-science may claim, your post-workout nutrition is still important.
So how much protein do women need after training in order to maximise their efforts? Let's take a gentle stroll through the research to answer that question (note, some of this research is not female specific, but we'll get on to that later).
In the post-exercise period Essential Amino Acids are the most critical factor for increasing MPS. Leucine in particular plays arguably the most important role. Think of it as the "Gatekeeper Of Gains". Without sufficient Leucine, the door to hypertrophy heaven remains closed.
This sounds very complicated, and a frown may be forming across your brow. But fear not, practical application of the science is much simpler than you may realise.
Practical Application Of The Science
Studies have shown that even small amounts of protein (5-10g) are sufficient to enhance MPS. So you could make some gains without really thinking too hard about your post-workout nutrition. However, I'm guessing you want to do better than "some gains", right?
Interestingly, the same study showed MPS is further enhanced with 20g of protein. So, more protein = more gains!
However, doses of 40g appeared to reveal a plateau, suggesting the amount of protein needed to maximise MPS lies between 20-40g.
But is this true for EVERYONE? After all, it doesn't take a genius to work out that a 120kg male powerlifter has different nutrition requirements to a 50kg female trying to build a lean, healthy physique.
So this brings us back to the original exam question, 'How much protein do women need after training to build muscle?'
The answer... About 0.3g/kg.
Rather than consider your post-exercise protein intake as an absolute number, use a grams per kilo guide to account for your specific requirements. This way, you won't end up over-consuming protein based on the recommendations of a dude, 3 times your size.
"Are You Sure That's How Much Protein Women Need?"
You might not be satisfied that all the ins and outs have been explored fully. So let's dig deeper into the nuances (or lack thereof) between the sexes, when it comes to protein intake.
Firstly, the menstrual cycle. Changes in metabolism, hormones, and water retention occur at various times during your monthly cycle. But stimulation of MPS is not influenced during this time. Essentially meaning your absolute protein requirements remain the same. However, you may want to adjust protein intake in order to increase satiety and limit cravings.
Studies have also been completed using absolute protein intakes of 25g, comparing responses between men and women. In these cases, similar amounts of maximal MPS were shown. However, it's important to remember that your body weight may necessitate less (or more) protein to maximise MPS.
In summary, the ability of your favourite whey protein shake to enhance post-exercise MPS is essentially identical for men and women.
So, 'How much protein do women need after training to build muscle?'
The answer... Still about 0.3g/kg.
How Much Protein Do Women Need Per Day?
With post-exercise protein requirements covered, now we move on to your total protein requirements for the day.
And for this we'll look at two virtually identical studies carried out by the same research group in Toronto. One specifically on resistance-trained men, the other on resistance-trained women.
For context, let's start with the study in men. 7 resistance-trained men (note the small sample size) completed full body workouts and were then given varying amounts of protein in hourly intervals.
The results showed MPS plateaued around 2g/kg (on average), with a statistical range being 1.6-2.4g/kg. In comparison, protein balance also optimised at an average of 2g/kg, with a statistical range of 1.4-2.6g/kg. Confirming current thinking that 1.8-2.2g/kg will be optimal for most lifters training to build muscle.
So did the study specifically looking at females highlight any difference in how much protein women need per day?
The simple answer is, not really.
In this study, 8 resistance-trained females (again notice the small sample size) also completed full body workouts over a 2 day period. Following these workouts they consumed eight hourly meals with randomised amounts of protein.
Results highlighted an estimated average requirement of 1.5g/kg, with a statistical confidence range of c.1.2-1.9g/kg.
Essentially, the study showed women may need slightly less total protein per day. However, given the small sample size and possible individual variations, aiming towards the top end of this range (ie 1.8-2g/kg) would seem both practical and logical.
How Much Protein Do Women Need To Build Muscle? The Bottom Line
If you are resistance training, a higher protein intake is needed to maximise the amount of muscle you build, regardless of gender. The established guidelines of c.1.8 - 2.2g per kg, per day remain valid. Tending towards a protein intake of c.2g/kg/d and c.0.3g/kg post-workout is likely to maximise MPS for most men and women.
When it comes to nutrition there are some distinct differences between genders. But it appears protein intake is not one of them. To all intents and purposes, protein requirements remain similar, both in the post-exercise period, and over 24 hours.
The research cited in this article highlights differences in the broad ranges of total protein intake. However, when translating this into practical dietary application, considering factors such as likely habitual diet and satiation, aiming for 1.8-2.2g/kg seems logical.
Further consideration needs to be given to the overall macronutrient composition of your diet. For example, sufficient carbohydrates will help optimise your training, potentially stimulating more muscle growth. Fats are also essential for health and hormone production. Therefore, while protein intake above c.2g/kg is not harmful, very high protein intake detracts from the calories you are able to apportion to carbs and fat.
Essentially, striking the balance between optimal protein intake and other macronutrients is likely to be very individual. So set your targets using these broad guidelines, in conjunction with your own experiences and dietary preferences.
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