This is a super common question I get as a coach for women… “how much protein should I eat?”
Check out the full podcast episode of “The Macronutrient You’re Likely Most Deficient In + How to Get More of It” below or dive into a summary of the podcast in blog post form – either way, enjoy!
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Women Are Most Frequently Deficient in THIS Macronutrient
I cannot tell you how many women I’ve worked with who start tracking and are shocked to discover how little protein they are consuming. Over the coming paragraphs (or if you tune into the podcast episode) you’ll gain a better understanding of how to analyze how much you’re currently consuming, how much protein you should be getting as a woman, what are some common foods that are high in protein, and what are some “sneaky hacks” to get more of this critical macronutrient group.
What is a Macronutrient?
Let’s start by talking about the difference between macro and micronutrients. Many of you have probably heard about counting or tracking macros, and your macronutrients are precisely what “tracking macros” is referencing.
Your macronutrients are fats, carbs, and proteins – the components that actually deliver calories to your body, meaning they offer energy. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals – the sort of components that we find in food, but don’t deliver calories, though they do play a critical role in our health. Both macro and micronutrients are critical for a well-functioning body.
Why So Many of Us Think We’re Getting Enough Protein
Many women think they are getting enough protein because much of the standard American diet does in fact include protein-centric foods. The challenge is this… many foods we deem high-protein are also incredibly high in fat. Whether it’s a fast food hamburger, fried chicken sandwich, or hot dog, yes, there is protein in all of these foods, but there is also a lot of fat.
Fat and carbohydrates are the other two macronutrients that few Americans struggle with. Fat and carbohydrates are a dynamic duo found in many palatable foods because, well, the combo of the two tastes DELICIOUS.
How to Determine Your Current Protein Intake
Determining your current protein intake is the key starting place in determining what you need to do to better your health, work toward your weight loss or performance goals, fuel your muscles, and so much more.
I suggest considering tracking, for starters. Tune into my podcast episode on “The Great Tracking Debate: Should You Be Tracking Your Food” to determine if you are in the right headspace to consider tracking your food, along with some different options for how to track. If you determine that tracking is the right thing for you, consider using an app that allows you to quickly and easily see your macronutrient split each day. MyFitnessPal is a popular (and free) option to do so. Know that tracking is not something you will need to do for eternity, but rather a tool to use in the short term for increased self-awareness and great education on the protein content of some of your favorite foods.
If you determine that tracking is not the right option for you right now, consider this… use the palm of your hand as a measurement for the minimum amount of protein you should be getting at each meal. I suggest that women, especially those working toward weight loss or performance-based goals, get a minimum of one palm-size portion of protein, possibly two depending on hunger levels, body size, goals, and activity level, at all major meals. Lunch and dinner are often a bit more straightforward when it comes to protein-centric food options, but don’t forget about breakfast as well!
If you find that you are consistently getting only half a palm of protein at each meal, if that, then that offers you the key information you need… you need more protein 😉
As a Woman, How Much Protein Should I Eat?
If you Google search this question you’ll get a very wide range of answers, so let’s break it down. I did some personal research on the internet to see how drastic the array of recommendations was for a 150lb active female and wow, Google did not disappoint. Well, in terms of getting an actual answer it did disappoint, but when it comes to entertainment, gold star for the many websites that told me a 150 lb woman should be consuming everything from 57 grams of protein per day, all the way up to 199 grams of protein per day. That’s a massive range.
To give you some specifics and the sources they came from, here are the various quantities of protein that were suggested:
- USDA MyPlate recommends: For women 19-30 years of age, consume 5-6 1/2 ounces of protein per day. For women 31-61+ years of age, consume 5-6 ounces of protein per day. They then offered a protein equivalency chart offering information on what qualified as one ounce of protein, which ranged from a ¼ cup of baked beans to 1 ounce of chicken… hmmmmm).1
- The International Sport Sciences Association recommends: “While most people don’t really need to increase their protein intake, those who exercise should pay attention to their intake amounts. Those who strength train should aim for a minimum of 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day, according to a common recommendation.” 2
- “The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that the average individual should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram or 0.35 grams per pound of bodyweight per day for general health.” 3
- “The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. Protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and after workouts.” 4
- “The World Health Organization (WHO) sets the Safe Level of Protein (SLP) intake at 0.83 g per kilogram per day, which is expected to meet the protein needs of 97.5 percent of the world’s healthy adult population.” 5
- Bodybuilding.com protein calculator: For a 30 year old female, 5’7”, 150 lbs and moderately active, this calculator recommends 167 grams of protein per day. 6
So you can quickly gather that this information is all. over. the. place. How is anyone to make sense of all this?!
Based on this wide range of recommendations from credible sources and what I’ve seen serve a majority of clients well, I recommend .75 grams of protein per 1 lb of bodyweight per day. So it’s a simple equation:
Your weight x .75 = # of grams of protein to consume daily
Boom. Start there. It will likely feel like you have to really work to consume that much protein, and that’s okay. So let’s talk about where you can get protein from…
The Protein Content of Some Common Foods You Eat
Hopefully this will be a very educational moment for you. Maybe not for all of you, but I know for at least some of you it will be! And here’s why… I can’t tell you how often I hear that “peanut butter is a good source of protein.” And guess what. It’s not. Peanut butter is not a good source of protein.
It’s a great source of fat with a little bit of protein. Remember this… you need to consume 10 tablespoons of peanut butter (~1,000 calories) to get the equivalent amount of protein found in a 4 ounce chicken breast (>200 calories). Let that sink in. Peanut butter is not a good source of protein.
So let’s chat about the approximate amount of protein you’ll find in some of your favorite foods. Check out the list below:
- 4 oz chicken breast: 35g protein
- 4 oz salmon: 23g protein
- 1 serving whey isolate: 23g protein
- 4 oz 85/15 hamburger: 21g protein
- 3/4 cup nonfat greek yogurt: 18g protein
- 4 oz tofu: 9g protein
- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa: 8g protein
- 1 egg: 7g protein
- 1 cheese stick: 7g protein
- 1/4 cup nuts: 7g protein
- 1/2 cup oatmeal: 6g protein
- 1 Tbsp nut butter: 3.5g protein
- 1/2 cup cooked rice: 2g protein
- 1 cup spinach: 1g protein
Sneaky Protein Hacks to Increase Your Protein Intake
Now that you have a clearer understanding of how much protein you’re currently consuming, how much you should be consuming, and what foods pack a good protein punch, let’s chat about some sneaky hacks to up your protein intake. This is where “the rubber meets the road” and you begin to strategize on how to improve your protein game.
Here are some of my favorite sneaky hacks for increasing protein intake, segmented by type of meal.
Increase your protein intake at: BREAKFAST
- Mix protein powder into your oatmeal (I personally love to mix ½ a serving of collagen peptides + ½ a serving of vanilla whey into ½ cup of oats)
- Make protein energy balls for a quick grab and go snack! (Check out this recipe for Cinnamon Roll Collagen Bites)
- Stock protein bars in your work bag and your car for emergency situations
- Prep protein pancakes, protein muffins, or protein bread ahead of time to quickly reheat (or eat cold)
- If you’re eating a breakfast that is low in protein, consider sipping on a protein shake with your meal
- On-the-road hack: travel with small baggies of protein powder and mix it into your Starbucks order of an iced coffee/latte/americano (don’t forget to have them “leave room” so you can mix it in afterward)
Increase your protein intake at: LUNCH/DINNER
- When ordering out, remember that you can usually customize – add protein to your salad, wrap, etc.
- Consider ordering double meat
- If you’re ordering an appetizer, seek appetizers with some protein – chicken wings (and yes, I know these are fried, so be strategic with your choices dependent upon your hunger levels, what sounds palatable, what you’re ordering for your meal, etc.), spring rolls with protein, etc.
- Start your meal by eating the protein before noshing on the carb-heavy part of the meal
- Swap quinoa for rice – it’s a complete protein + has 8g of protein per cup
Increase your protein intake at: SNACKS
- Consider swapping your carb-heavy snacks for protein bars, protein shakes, greek yogurt, string cheese, hard boiled eggs, etc.
- Remember that snacks don’t always have to be snack foods – why not have a bit of chicken with your favorite dipping sauce
- Have you ever eaten edamame right out of the shell, sprinkled in salt?! So good
- Try fun snacks like roasted chickpeas, chicken chips, etc. (Check out this article on “Protein-Packed Snacks You’ll Love” for tons of ideas!)
Assess how much protein you are currently consuming (consider tracking in some way), then calculate your suggested protein intake with the equation above. Determine your gap in protein intake and commit to one, small improvement you can make this week to get you closer to your goal. Remember that baby steps are the name of the game, so maybe that goal is making one of your snacks more protein-focused, switching up your breakfast routine for something more protein-dense, or experimenting with customization at some of your go-to restaurants. Whatever you choose, aim to be consistent with that new change, because after all, consistency is the name of the game!