Protein is legitimately found in every cell in the body, and we need it to build new cells and repair old ones. You could say it’s a non-negotiable. That said, as women, there’s a lot of confusion around how much protein we actually need. I think a lot of that ambiguity comes from the faulty — and very American — mindset that “if some of this important health-promoting thing is good for me, then a #$%&-ton must be incredible!” Not to mention all the protein shakes, bars and supplements we’re encouraged to buy on the regular, which reinforce the notion that we’re probably deficient if we’re not mega-dosing. The thing is, though, mega-dosing is almost never ideal, even when it comes to healthy stuff.
There’s no absolute number for how many grams of protein women should get each day because this depends on a number of factors, like weight, how active you are and whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, among others things. The good news is, there’s a pretty easy way to calculate the amount of protein that’s right for you on the daily.
Cue up your calculator app, take your weight in pounds and divide that by 2.2 to determine your weight in kilograms. Then multiply that number by the below factors, depending on what your deal is.
Basic calculation: your weight in kilograms (pounds/2.2) x 0.8 to 1 = daily protein needs in grams
Pregnant and active women: your weight in kilograms (pounds/2.2) x 1.1 = daily protein needs in grams
Breastfeeding and super-active women: your weight in kilograms (pounds/2.2) x 1.3 = daily protein needs in grams
So, for a 130 pound woman in the first category, the calculation would look like this:
130 pounds (divided by 2.2) = 59 kilograms; 59 kilograms x [0.8 to 1] = 47 to 59 grams of protein per day
*If you’re not into weighing yourself, use the above calculations to guesstimate your needs. If you’re not into math, sorry about the above.
What does this even look like in terms of actual food? Since a lot of people I work with fall in the 60 gram range, below is meant to give you a feel for what 60 grams of protein looks like in terms of actual food.
2 eggs (14g)
1 oz. nuts (6g)
1/2 cup beans (7g)
1/2 cup quinoa (4g)
6 oz greek yogurt (18g)
1/4 cup goji berries = (4g)
1 Tbsp spirulina = (4g)
1 oz. hemp seeds (5g)
= 62 grams
I chose these foods because they illustrate the extra-wide range of protein sources available. Animal sources like chicken, fish, meat, eggs, milk and yogurt provide high quality protein that contains all of the essential amino acids our body needs. Quinoa, spirulina, hemp seeds and nutritional yeast are examples of plant-based proteins that also contain all the essential amino acids. On the other hand, most plant-based sources like nuts, beans, most grains, greens and goji berries don’t contain all the essential ones. However, as long as you consume a variety of good sources within a 24-hour period, your body should do just fine pairing complete proteins together.
Shira Lenchewski, MS, RD is a Los Angeles based nutritionist and writer. She emphasizes self-compassion as a way to help people develop a healthier relationship with food. You can find Shira’s recipes and realness on Instagram @shira_RD, Twitter @Shira_RD and Facebook. Photo by Shira Lenchewski.