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Do Women’s Protein Needs Differ From Men’s?

By Kim McDevitt, MPH RD on November 6, 2014

Do Women’s Protein Needs Differ From Men’s?

As a registered dietitian I often spend my days talking about food as it relates to our health. I educate on dietary needs and food choices, while answering a variety of questions that range from broad nutritional fundamentals to minute nutrient details in a single food.  The questions I hear most often are around protein: “How much do I need”?  “What’s the best source?” “Are women’s protein needs different than men?”

Protein is considered a macronutrient, along with fat and carbohydrates. And together, these three nutrients provide the energy we need to go through daily activity. Daily energy needs vary based on activity, physical size (both height and weight), and overall health goals

Are Women’s Protein Needs Different From Men’s?

Our bodies require generally less protein per day than what many of us believe to be true. On average, a person (male or female) would be fine on approximately 60 grams per day1.  Sex doesn’t determine your protein requirements, but rather a person’s physical size and exercise regimen are what matter.   So, male or female, if you’re resistance training multiple times a week you will need more protein than someone your same size who is not resistance training, in order to rebuild the muscles you’ve broken down.

How much protein do I need?

Male or female, you can estimate your protein needs using this simple equation based on your weight and activity level.

  • Start with your weight in kilograms (divide your weight in pounds by 2.2)
  • Multiply your weight by 0.8  for an average adult
  • Multiply your weight by 1 for a moderately active individual
  • Multiply your weight by 1. 3 – 1.5 if you’re a regular exerciser (strength training can increase up to 1.8)
  • The number you get equals the number of grams of protein you need in a day. You can divide that number into average number of meals to figure out approximately how much protein you need at each meal.

Here’s a quick example of finding the protein needs of a 150lb woman who strength trains 4x / week.

  • 150lb / 2.2 = 68kg
  • 68 x 1.5 = ~102 grams of protein /day.

Best sources of protein

You can learn all the details protein in this cool infographic, but I’ll leave you with this: protein is important. Known as the building blocks of the body, it repairs and rebuild muscle, plays a role in enzyme production, nutrient transport, and more. But as a culture we tend to think we need MUCH more protein than we do. Unless you’re regularly strength training (in which case I would recommend a supplemental protein shake after sport)  work to eat balanced meals that include a protein source, and worry less about quantity and focus on quality.

Focusing on plant based protein provides not just a quality protein source, but also gives the body lots of other nutrients including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. My personal plant-based favorites worth a try include quinoa, sprouted lentils (great salad toppers!), wheat germ and spinach.

What’s your favorite plant-based protein?

1. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.(2006).Good Nutrition. Should guidelines differ for men and women? Accessed 10/13/14 from  http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0906b.shtml
2. Mahan, Kathleen. et al (2012). Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. Elsevier/Saunders. 13th edition.