One of the never-ending controversies in fitness and health revolves around protein intake. What's too much? Am I getting enough for my goals and activities? Should I eat a pound of chicken a day? Today we're answering all of those questions, focusing on the question of protein consumption for active women.

We believe in looking to science, and the evidence from our studies is clear: If you are a female who strength trains regularly and has specific physique goals, you need to be eating more protein, and for two reasons:

1. Protein Increases Muscle

In a study performed at the Performance & Physique Enhancement Laboratory, two groups of aspiring female physique athletes were tested.[1] One group ate a high-protein diet consisting of 1.1 grams of protein per pound of body weight, while the other group ate about half that amount.

All the women performed the same workouts four days per week in the lab. By the end of the study, the group eating more protein had gained 4.5 pounds of muscle, while the low-protein group only gained about 1.5 pounds of muscle. This goes to show that your body composition is certainly affected by the amount of protein you eat.

Performing a Deadlift

2. Protein Helps Shed Fat

Eating more protein was also proven effective in helping women lose fat. We tested the body fat of the subjects from the same study and found that the high-protein group lost an impressive 33 percent more fat than the low-protein group.

Shockingly, the high-protein group was also eating nearly 425 calories more, yet they still lost that much fat in the process. This relates to the thermic effect of food. In short, protein increases the metabolic rate by 25 percent, while carbohydrates and fat do it by less than 10 percent, roughly.

Now, before you start getting all your calories from protein, know this: The threshold for ideal daily protein intake is around 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day, and eating more than that doesn't correlate to better body composition. Plus, your body still needs some carbs and fat to function.

Protein consumption only scratches the surface of everything you need to know regarding your food intake as an athlete! For a thorough rundown on calories, macronutrients, and eating for your goals, check out the Foundations of Fitness Nutrition course, available only on BodyFit Elite.

  1. Campbell, B. I., Aguilar, D., Conlin, L., Vargas, A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Corson, A., ... & Couvillion, K. (2018). Effects of high versus low protein intake on body composition and maximal strength in aspiring female physique athletes engaging in an 8-week resistance training program. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(6), 580-585.

About the Author

Bill Campbell, PhD, CSCS, FISSN

Bill Campbell, PhD, CSCS, FISSN

Bill Campbell, PhD, is an associate professor of exercise science and director of the Performance & Physique Enhancement Laboratory at the University of South Florida.

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