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How Much Protein Do Women Need? (Hint: It’s More Than You Think)

Protein needs for women.

The amino acids in protein are essential building blocks for many parts of the female body–from our muscle tissues down to our cells. Protein is consistently being turned over in the body, and it’s up to us to replenish it through foods or supplements.

“There’s this continual demand for protein, and if that demand isn’t met, the body has to go seek it,” Chad Kerksick, Ph.D., director of the Exercise and Performance Nutrition Laboratory at Lindenwood University, tells mindbodygreen.

Skeletal muscle is the main reservoir of protein, Kerksick explains, so when we’re not getting enough protein, we start to lose muscle tissue. This is something we want to avoid since having low muscle mass is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline1, insulin resistance2, high inflammatory markers3, and more.

As for what constitutes “enough” protein, it depends on your body size and composition. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight4 per day. This is the minimum amount of protein a sedentary person needs to meet their nutritional requirements, so it’s conservative.

The experts interviewed for this article agree that the average moderately active adult will need to consume significantly more protein–somewhere in the range of 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight, or 0.54 to .90 grams per pound. (More on what this actually looks like in food terms below.)

It’s a pretty wide range, and where you fall on it hinges on a number of factors–including, early research finds, your sex. There are a few periods of a woman’s life when they’ll need to adjust their protein intake to keep up with their body’s needs, including:

The menstrual cycle: “There are initial thoughts that our needs change across the menstrual cycle,” Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Ph.D., a researcher and Professor of Exercise Physiology & Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells mindbodygreen. “During the luteal phase, there seems to be greater protein turnover5, which would require greater protein intake.” This is an emerging area of research that Smith-Ryan’s lab is actively involved in. Though it’s difficult to study fluctuations across the menstrual cycle (especially when you factor in hormonal birth control), their early investigations6 have found that women do seem to metabolize more protein amino acids during the luteal phase, and would benefit from a higher protein intake during these days of their cycle.Pregnancy: Protein needs also increase during pregnancy as you grow more tissue and muscle, explains Minghua Tang, PhD, a nutrition researcher and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado. Breastfeeding women will also need to consume more protein to balance out what they lose in milk (which is high in protein, fat, and lactose).Perimenopause and menopause: As we get older, our muscles become less sensitive to the stimulatory effects of amino acids (a process called anabolic resistance7). Increasing your intake of protein8 once you hit 65 or so–as well as staying active and doing resistance training–can help prevent age-related muscle loss. “We know that male and female protein needs increase as we get older, but what we’re identifying is that it likely happens earlier for women,” says Smith-Ryan. Perimenopause9–the transition into menopause that starts as early as age 35 in some women–alters our hormones and body composition in a way that may increase our protein requirements.10Training periods: Physical activity levels also affect protein needs. After a bout of heavy exercise (especially resistance training), we need more protein to rebuild the muscles that we just worked. “A lot of people recognize the need to eat after exercise,” says Smith-Ryan, “but what a couple of our studies11 have shown is that pre-exercise timing might be more important for women.” In one study out of her lab11, eating protein in the hours leading up to a high-intensity resistance training workout helped enhance fat loss and increase training volume in a group of adult women.


Most active women will want to consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Your protein needs increase during periods of intense exercise, during pregnancy, and after you turn 65. Early studies are also finding that women may need to eat more protein during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycles, and once they hit perimenopause, but we need more research to be sure.


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How to calculate how much protein you need.

To fall within the 1.2 – 2.0 grams per kilogram range, a 160-pound woman will want to eat between 87 to 144 grams of protein per day.

If you’d rather not count down to every last gram, leading protein and amino acid requirements researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., previously told mindbodygreen that getting around 100 grams a day is a solid goal for most women. “We find from a metabolic standpoint, working predominantly with women, that if they get below 100 grams per day, they lose most of the benefits of protein: fatty acid metabolism, insulin sensitivity, weight loss, satiety,” Layman said on the mindbodygreen podcast.

Breaking up your protein intake throughout the day will give your body a steady supply of those amino acid building blocks. Consuming around 25-30 grams of protein during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and eating a protein-rich snack or two, will fulfill your daily requirements. “We should strive to get some type of protein feeding every 3-4 hours or so,” says Kerksick.

Keep in mind that you might want to eat slightly more protein during periods of heavy activity, during your luteal phase, or once you reach perimenopause.

As for what to eat to meet this target, aim to get as much protein from whole foods (like those listed below) as possible. Getting protein from a variety of different sources throughout the day is also smart–especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan. This is because plant proteins, though packed with fiber and phytonutrients, usually don’t have adequate amounts of all the amino acids your body needs (particularly leucine). Animal proteins do, and they can be utilized in the body more efficiently.

Protein powders and supplements can be helpful if you’re in a pinch and don’t have the time or appetite to eat a complete meal. Be sure to look for one that has at least 20-25 grams of protein per serving and isn’t packed with sugars or unnecessary additives.

Here are a few foods that can help you meet your protein needs. (Find a more complete list of protein-rich foods here.) If you’re new to building a protein-rich plate, keeping a food journal to start may be helpful and make the process more intuitive.


While it depends on body weight and activity level, most women will want to aim to eat at least 100 grams of protein a day–split across at least three meals (with 25-30 grams of protein per meal). Eating protein-rich foods like eggs, chicken, and some plant proteins like beans and nuts, can help you meet this range.


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Protein for weight loss.

There is research to show that eating a higher protein diet–at or beyond the 2.0 gram/ kilogram range–can assist with weight loss21, if that’s a goal of yours.

“In general, as long as you are cutting your calories, you will lose weight. That’s the whole idea of energy balance,” says Tang. In caloric deficit, eating a higher proportion of protein can help you lose more fat and less muscle, due to the way protein helps preserve lean mass (when paired with weight training). Protein also tends to be very satiating21, so it can help you become full on fewer calories. See here for a complete guide to using protein to lose fat.

Be sure to pair your higher-protein diet with resistance training, and get plenty of sleep–as sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce muscle protein synthesis22.


Eating a higher-protein diet can assist with weight loss, specifically fat loss, as long as you maintain a net calorie deficit, get plenty of resistance-based exercise, and prioritize sleep.


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Can you eat too much protein?

When you eat too much protein (far above that 2.0 gram per kilogram threshold for long periods of time), the excess amino acids are not used as efficiently and it could cause side effects23 like abdominal discomfort, dehydration, and nausea.

Getting most of your protein from highly processed sources isn’t so healthy either. Consume minimally processed and nutrient-rich plant and animal protein sources (ideally ones that are organic/regeneratively grown) to protect your cardiovascular and metabolic health.

“For chronic kidney disease patients unable to regulate protein metabolism and fluid balance in the body, too much protein can be harmful,” functional medicine physician Gabrielle Lyon, DO previously told mindbodygreen. Those with kidney health issues will want to talk to their doctor about their specific protein requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much protein does a 150-pound woman need per day?

While it depends on the person, a 150-pound woman will want to eat around 81-135 grams of protein per day, with 100 grams being a nice midrange to aim for. Women who are pregnant, perimenopausal, or very active might benefit from increasing their protein intake.

How many grams of protein should a woman have a day to lose weight?

It depends on your weight, age, and body composition. But to lose fat while preserving muscle, eating a high-protein (over 136 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound woman) diet may be helpful as long as it’s paired with resistance training. But talk to your doctor before you make any drastic changes in your diet.


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The takeaway.

The amount of protein women need to consume depends on their age, activity level, and body composition, but it usually falls around the 100 grams a day range. Emerging research suggests eating a higher protein diet may also help women lose weight and get through the menstrual cycle and perimenopause with more ease. No matter who you are it’s important to split your protein intake throughout the day–starting with a protein-rich breakfast.

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