High Protein Foods For Women Who Work Out
Protein is a macronutrient that contains amino acids. These are molecules that are essential for almost every function of the human body!
Adequate protein intake is especially important for maintaining cell structure and the regeneration which leads to muscle repair and growth.
For women who work out, it’s important to maintain as much lean muscle as possible. As you build lean muscle, you become fitter and stronger.
To maintain or increase lean muscle, sufficient protein intake is crucial. It’s not just animal sources of protein that help to build muscle, the good news is that you can build muscle on a plant-based diet!
Even if you have other health and fitness goals, adequate protein intake is a requirement for everyone.
- How much protein you need
- How to choose high protein foods
- High protein low carb foods
- High protein low fat foods
- High protein vegan foods
- What to do if you aren’t getting enough protein
- Benefits of eating high protein foods
How much protein do you need?
Everyone’s protein needs are different, depending on gender, age, activity level and general health. For women over the age of 18, the recommended daily intake is 0.75g of protein per kg (or 0.3 oz per 2.2 pounds) of body weight.
However, women who are very active often need 1.2 to 2 times more. Why? Exercise damages muscle tissue which your body then repairs, rebuilding the muscle even stronger than it was before.
Protein is the essential nutrient in this process, so it’s really important for anyone who is training regularly to make sure they are getting enough.
In fact, research shows that an optimal amount of protein to have after exercise to promote this recovery process is around 20-25g of protein. If you aren’t able to have this amount after a workout, don’t worry! Any amount of protein that you eat throughout the day will still contribute to your daily intake, which is the primary goal you should be aiming for.
For those women following one of our SWEAT programs, your protein needs may be higher than normal, and you might find it difficult to achieve your daily protein intake unless you’re incorporating high protein foods.
Choosing high protein foods
Some high protein foods are considered better quality than others due to the number of amino acids they contain.
When a food contains all of the essential amino acids (ones that you need to get from your diet) it is known as a ‘complete protein’. These foods generally come from animal sources and include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy.
However, this doesn’t mean that complete protein foods are better than plant-based protein foods which are mostly ‘incomplete protein’ sources. The most important factor for your overall health is simply eating a varied diet that meets your energy needs!
When you eat healthy foods to support your fitness you should aim to include a wide range of high protein foods, whether these come from plant or animal sources, or both.
The amount of protein can be higher or lower depending on how much of it you choose to eat within a meal.
High protein foods for any eating style
There’s no single high protein food that is best — as you establish healthy eating habits that fit with your lifestyle, you should try to include a wide range of high protein foods that you enjoy eating!
This will help you to reach your recommended protein intake and it will also provide you with a range of other nutrients, including carbohydrate, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Some high protein foods have a very high percentage of pure protein. However, sometimes a protein source will still contain a percentage of carbohydrate, fat or both. This may be something to consider if you have specific carbohydrate and fat requirements.
Depending on your fitness goals, there are a range of high-protein foods you can incorporate into your diet that will also complement your chosen training style.
High protein low carb foods
Here are some examples of foods that are low in carbohydrate and high in protein:
Grilled or baked, lean chicken breast contains a huge 31g of protein per 100g serve. Chicken can be prepared in a variety of different ways — we love this Healthy Middle Eastern Spiced Chicken.
How the chicken is cooked does matter — be conscious that highly processed foods, like fried or breaded chicken may have less nutritional value than whole foods.
Beef contains around 25g of protein per 100g. It’s also an excellent source of bioavailable iron and vitamin b12, two minerals that are important for women’s health.
One of the protein myths that’s recently been disproved is that the cholesterol in eggs contributes to heart disease. Phew! That’s great news because eggs contain around 6g of protein, including all of the essential amino acids.
Most of the nutrients are found in the egg’s yolk, so you can definitely include these when making protein pancakes and other egg dishes.
Fish can be a healthy source of protein — tinned tuna contains an impressive 22g of protein per 85g can. Oily fish, like salmon, tuna and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids which help with heart health. This high protein food can be a healthy choice for anyone following a pescetarian or keto diet.
High protein low fat foods
These foods are high in protein and low in fat. They are also suitable for anyone following a vegetarian diet!
Lentils and beans
Lentils have around 9g of protein per 100g. Legumes like lentils and chickpeas are low in fat and high in fibre. You can include them in your snacks and meals, for example, with this Chilli Kale Toast With Hummus.
Low-fat milk and yoghurt
Plain, low-fat Greek yoghurt contains around 10g of protein per 100g. When selecting yoghurt, look for an option with no added sugar.
One cup of low-fat milk contains around 8g of protein and includes other important nutrients. This means grabbing a latte on the way to work can help you to reach your daily protein target!
This gluten-free grain has a high protein content, with around 8g of protein for every cooked cup. It’s also a complete protein with all nine of the essential amino acids. Enjoy this Vegetarian Rainbow Quinoa Bowl or add quinoa flakes to your breakfast smoothie.
Cottage cheese is low in fat and contains calcium, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin B12, riboflavin and other nutrients. Almost 60% of the energy in cottage cheese comes from protein.
High protein vegan foods
For those following a plant-based or vegan diet, some of the foods already mentioned will be suitable! Here are some additional high protein plant foods:
Edamame can make a convenient snack, giving you a boost of fibre, vitamins and minerals, plus around 8g of protein for every half-cup serving.
Nuts and seeds
Lots of nuts seeds are more than 10% protein, including peanuts, almonds, pistachios and chia seeds. Peanut butter and other types of nut butter can be added to smoothies, spread on toast or crackers or enjoyed with raw vegetables like celery or carrot sticks.
Tofu contains around 8g of protein per 100g, including all of the nine essential amino acids. It can be scrambled, used in stir-fries or added to a noodle salad.
Did you know that almost 20% of the energy in broccoli is from protein? Broccoli is incredibly healthy, with fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium.
What if I’m still not getting enough protein?
Generally, people will get enough quality protein when following a balanced, nutritious diet. However, if one of your goals is to build muscle, a high protein food supplement might be an option.
There are a variety of dairy or plant-based protein powders available that can be incorporated into your diet. These should always be used as a supplement and should never replace whole foods. Talk to your health professional for more advice.
The benefits of high protein foods go beyond building muscle!
Protein plays a role in immune system function, assisting with appetite management and keeping your bones, nails and skin healthy — so even if you aren’t super active, it’s essential to meet your recommended protein intake each day.
Knowing approximately how much protein you need each day can help you with portion control. When you know what your protein requirements are, you can select foods that will give you all the different nutrients you need to feel at your best!
How do you make sure that you get enough protein each day? Let us know in the comments below
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.