What is protein and why do you need it?

Women's Best Health Team

Reading time: 5min

Protein powders, amino acids, protein shakes, and BCAAs can be confusing. What actually is protein? How much protein do you really need and how much of protein you should have per day to build muscles? When should you start your journey with proteins and when is the right time for which supplement? Is there any special diet you should follow? We’ve got all the answers to ALL your questions!

The questions, our Women’s Best Health Team gets asked most frequently are: How much protein do I need as a woman? When should I drink a protein shake and do I need the BCAAs?

Well, after reading this article you will be a protein-pro!

What is protein?

Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like beads on a string. Some of these amino acids can be produced by the body, while we must get others from food. The ones we cannot produce and must get from our foods are called the “essential” amino acids.

Why do we need protein?

Proteins are the main building blocks of the body. They’re used to make muscles, bones, organs, hair, nails, and skin. Proteins are also used to make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve important functions. Without protein, we wouldn´t be able to survive.

What kinds of proteins do we need?

The best sources of proteins are natural so from food like beef, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, quinoa, soy and legumes like black beans and lentils. Animal-based proteins, of course, are much more like our proteins, thus are used more readily and rapidly than plant proteins. Nevertheless, plant-based diets also provide your body with adequate protein.

Why is protein important for building muscles?

Muscles are largely made of protein. As with most tissues in the body, muscles are dynamic and are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. To gain muscles, the body needs to get more muscle protein than it is breaking down. In other words, there needs to be a positive protein balance. For this reason, people who want more muscles will need to lift heavier weights and eat a greater amount of protein to support the muscle-building process.

Also, both women and men, who would like to keep muscles that they’ve already built may need to increase their protein intake when losing body fat, because a high protein intake can help prevent the muscle loss that usually occurs when dieting.

How much protein does a person need?

That depends on your weight, height and activity level. If you are working out regularly, the common recommendation for gaining muscle is 0,7-1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight or 1,5-2 grams of protein per kg.

Numerous studies have tried to determine the optimal amount of protein for muscle gain and many of them have reached different conclusions.

Some studies show that over 0.8 grams of proteins per pound have no benefit, while others show that intakes slightly higher than 1 gram of protein per pound is the best.

If you’re carrying a lot of body fat, then it is a good idea to use either your lean mass or your goal weight, instead of total body weight, because it’s mostly your lean mass that determines the amount of protein you need

How much protein does an average person need?

If you don’t lift weights or do any exercise, then aiming for 0.36 to 0.6 grams per pound (or 0.8 to 1.3 gram per kg) is a reasonable estimate. This means that a woman needs 46-75 grams of proteins per day.

What are protein powders?

Protein powders are dietary supplements that contain a high percentage of protein. In our Women’s Best shop you can find many different protein powders, like Fit Whey Protein, Vegan Protein and Shape Body Shakes in various flavors (Vanilla, Chocolate, Salted Caramel or Strawberries, etc.). However, protein powders can be also derived from a variety of different food sources, including:

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Chia
  • Whey/Milk
  • Pea
  • Hemp
  • Soy

Which protein powder is the best for me?

  • Whey protein is one of the most commonly used proteins. It contains all the essential amino acids and is easily digested (if you are not lactose- or casein intolerant). It helps boost energy and can reduce stress levels. The best time to use whey protein is after a workout.
  • Soy protein (if not genetically modified) helps reduce high cholesterol and can ease symptoms of menopause for some women. It can also help with osteoporosis by helping build bone mass.
  • Casein (milk protein) supports immune function and enhances muscle growth.
  • Rice protein, which is 100 percent plant-based, is a good choice for vegetarians, vegans, and people who don’t consume dairy products. It’s also gluten-free.
  • Pea protein is highly digestible, hypo-allergenic and economical.
  • Hemp protein is also 100 percent plant based. It’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

When is the best time to drink a protein shake? 

The best time for drinking a protein shake can be both before and after your workout.

Post-Workout: Drinking your protein shake immediately after a workout is always a good idea. Your body has done work and wants to recover, so you must refill the stores. Having a protein shake in such time will give your body the fuel it needs to heal and grow. Moreover, Protein uptake is faster immediately after a workout (within 30 minutes). About 20-30 grams of protein is perfect for recovery and muscle growth.

Pre-Workout: Muscle glycogen (which comes from carbohydrates) is our primary source of energy fueling workouts. If glycogen levels are low, like going too long without eating, your body will begin to break protein down from your muscles during exercise to provide some energy. Loading up on protein and carbs before a workout helps keep you energized and will protect your muscles from being used for energy supply

How much protein is in my food?

Just a few examples:

  • A 4-ounce chicken breast has about 35 grams of protein
  • 3-ounce grilled salmon filet has about 21 grams
  • A typical 8-ounce piece of steak could have over 50 grams of protein
  • One 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein
  • One cup of milk has 8 grams of protein
  • 1 egg has about 6 grams of protein
  • 100 grams of tofu has about 9 grams of protein 

What about amino acid supplements like BCAAs?

Your body uses 21 different amino acids to create all the different proteins necessary for tissue function. However, 9 specific amino acids, called essential amino acids, can’t be produced by your body and must be obtained through your diet. Similarly, additional supplementation with amino acids before exercise can help enhance cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and overall recovery. You can check out all kinds of BCAAs and essential amino acids in the Women’s Best shop and start your supplementation.

What about BCAAs?

Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, include the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids can be found in dietary protein, such as meat or eggs, or they can be supplemented. If you are looking for vegan and support your muscle gain, check out the Women’s Best BCAA. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are most commonly used for their role in building muscle, improving exercise performance and decreasing post-exercise soreness and recovery time.

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