Think protein powder is just for men? Think again: women can gain significant benefits in muscle tone, weight loss, post-workout recovery, and even bone strength with a good protein powder supplement.
Because protein powder supplies the raw building blocks for all of the key amino acids your body uses to build muscle and bone, the high protein content and low fat content of a protein powder designed for women can help you get lean, toned, and fit.
Here’s what our research team found when reviewing the scientific research on protein powder for women to find out how it benefits you and how to use it.
Protein powder for women benefits
1. Protein is not just for building body mass
Protein is vital if you want to tone the muscles you already have, and it’s even helpful at building bone mass and lowering your body fat content while preserving your muscle mass.
Protein is good for everyone, regardless of what your health goals are. It’s inexpensive, effective, and has no real side effects to speak of for almost everyone, making it an incredibly versatile supplement for women.
2. Just about every woman wants at least one of the things that women’s protein powder supplements can offer
Want to tone your muscles? Taking protein isn’t necessarily going to pack on pounds of muscle mass.
A 1999 study in the American Journal of Physiology tested the effects of protein supplementation in elderly men and women (1).
Even though the subjects in the study didn’t gain any muscle mass, their muscular strength increased and their rate of muscle protein synthesis increased as well. This shows that gaining weight isn’t necessary if you want to gain strength.
3. Protein can help preserve bone mass
A six-month long study by researchers in Japan studied the potential of soy protein to impact bone mass in female subjects (2).
The women in the study were given a soy protein rich in isoflavones, or a whey protein powder as a control. At the study’s conclusion, the authors compared how the women’s’ bone mass had changed over the course of the six-month intervention period. They found that soy protein was uniquely able to preserve bone mass better than whey protein. The authors hypothesized that the soy isoflavones affect bone metabolism in a beneficial way.
This finding was supported by additional research published by a group of scientists at Oklahoma State University (3). A yearlong soy protein supplementation program in female subjects increased markers of bone formation, through bone density was not affected (perhaps because their exercise program wasn’t sufficient to support bone formation).
In any case, it’s clear that if bone health is important for you, you should look for a protein supplement that has soy protein in it.
4. Protein can help women with weight loss too
It seems counterintuitive that protein intake can help you lose weight and gain muscle, but that seems to be the truth.
A 2003 research paper published in the Journal of Nutrition by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana found that increasing the ratio of protein to carbohydrates in the diet of a group of women attempting to lose weight had beneficial effects on both body composition and blood lipids (4).
Put more simply, increasing your protein intake and decreasing your carb intake helps you lose fat, gain muscle, and improve your risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
5. High dietary protein content seems to amplify the weight loss effects of exercise in women
Two years later, the same group of researchers in Illinois published another study which found that women who increased their dietary protein intake and increased their exercise levels experienced an additive effect, where the net benefits were greater than the individual sum of the parts (5).
You might call this a “health-multiplier” effect, and it’s one of the most powerful things in the health and fitness world: when two things work together synergistically to produce better results than each on its own, you can accomplish great things.
6. Protein can help older women improve their bone strength
As noted earlier, one of the unique attractions of protein powder for women is its ability to promote bone and muscle mass maintenance as you get older.
A recent scientific review article published in 2018 in the journal Nutrients argues that this effect can be amplified by combining protein supplementation with vitamin D supplementation and a regular exercise routine (6).
Citing multiple research paper, the authors of the article argue that vitamin D and exercise create hormonal conditions favorable for maintaining or even building bone mass and muscular strength in older women.
These outcomes have a direct influence on the risk for osteoporosis, falls, and frailty in old age. Vitamin D has plenty of benefits on its own, but in light of this recent work, adding vitamin D in conjunction with protein should be seriously considered for older women, especially if they know they are at risk for low bone density.
Protein powder for women side effects
For almost everyone, protein powder is super safe. One of the reasons why protein powder is such a great supplement is that there really aren’t any side effects directly related to the protein content of the supplement.
Protein alone is pretty much strictly beneficial; some hardcore paleo diet advocates get over half their nutritional energy from protein on a daily basis, so high protein alone isn’t going to have any acute health determinants.
Watch out for allergies or sensitivities to specific ingredients, like milk or soy. Now, there could be some negative side effects associated with the ingredients of your particular protein supplement. People who have a milk allergy, for example, are likely disqualified from taking most common protein supplements, because they are whey-protein based.
Note that this is not the same thing as being lactose-intolerant; milk allergies are much more rare. Someone with lactose intolerance can usually consume whey protein without any issues, because there is so little lactose that remains after the protein extraction process.
People with severe food allergies need to check the labels on protein supplements, because even allergen-free supplements are often produced in the same facilities as whey, soy, or other allergen-containing products.
You’ll have to go for a product with a more strictly-controlled manufacturing process if you have serious food allergies, but you probably know that already.
Very high doses of protein powders flavored with sugar alcohols, can cause GI problems. Finally, if you are taking high doses of flavored protein powders on a daily basis, you should watch the content of non-caloric sweeteners.
High doses of sugar alcohols like sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and pain, so watch your ingredients if you are really pounding the protein (7).
Fortunately, it’s easy to find protein supplements for women that have minimal sweeteners, or use natural alternatives like Stevia.
High protein intake can hamper bone strength if your calcium intake is too low. Even though protein for women has benefits on muscular strength and bone mass, there is one paradoxical potential side effect. If your protein intake is too high, and your calcium intake is too low, you might actually lose bone mass.
That’s because high levels of protein induce calcium losses in your urine, and over the long term, if your supplemental protein intake is high and your calcium intake is low, you can end up losing bone mass instead of gaining it.
Fortunately, if you supplement with calcium and vitamin D, you can avoid this negative effect (8).
Protein powder for women dosage
For workout benefits, aim for 0.7-0.8 grams per pound of body weight. The nice thing about a well-studied dietary component like protein is that there are very clear guidelines for dosage.
When it comes to protein intake for building muscular strength and improving athletic performance, athletically-oriented women should aim for 0.7-0.8 grams of protein per day per pound of body weight (9).
So a 130 pound woman would want 91-104 grams of protein every day to achieve optimal athletic and sport performance.
Higher or lower doses of protein might be necessary for weight loss. As for weight loss, the high protein diets used in the weight loss research we discussed earlier used 125 grams of protein per day for all of the women in the study.
Depending on what your body weight is, this might be higher, lower, or about the same as the protein recommendation for athletes–keep your overall caloric intake goals in mind.
Calculate dose based on actual protein content. Do keep in mind that these recommendations are for the number of grams of protein, not protein powder. Even the most pure protein powders are only 80-90% protein by weight, so you’ll have to bump up the volume of protein powder by 10-20%.
Fortunately, it’s easy to figure out the precise protein content of your supplement simply from the nutrition label.
Protein powder for women benefits FAQ
Q: How many grams of protein does a woman need?
A: Most recommendations state that sedentary women need at least 0.7-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day, but recommendations are higher for athletes.
Athletes need a bit more, but not much—1.0 grams per pound of body weight per day is adequate according to current recommendations. In most weight loss studies, in contrast, the prescription is usually a set amount of protein.
Research has used anywhere from 50 to 125 grams of supplemental protein per day—roughly speaking, that translates to two to four scoops of protein powder using a standard-sized protein scoop that you’d get in a tub of protein.
Q: Do older women need more protein?
A: Protein recommendations for older adults hover near what’s recommended for normal adults (0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day), but research indicates that higher intakes are beneficial for older women as long as they are also taking calcium and vitamin D.
Too much protein is bad news for older women if their calcium and vitamin D intake is not adequate, because of the calcium losses that can be induced by high protein intake.
Q: Will taking protein powder make me bulk up?
A: Protein powder can help make you gain muscle mass, but only if your diet includes an overall caloric surplus, and your training is targeted towards gaining muscle mass.
If you have a caloric surplus, and you are doing heavy lifting, you can expect to see gains in muscle mass thanks to protein powder, but if you are in caloric balance, and you swap out a less-healthy snack or meal with a protein shake, you won’t be gaining any fat–in fact, if anything you’re more likely to lose fat thanks to protein’s thermogenic effects.
Q: When should women take protein powder?
A: The right time to take a protein powder for women depends entirely on what purpose you are using your protein supplement for.
If you are taking protein powder to improve workout recovery, tone your muscles, and increase strength or power, you want to take protein within half an hour of finishing your workout, no matter what time of day you go to the gym.
That’s because working out creates a huge change in cellular signaling pathways, and if protein is in your system soon after these signaling pathways ramp up, your body can jump-start your recovery.
On the other hand, if your goal is weight loss, it’s far better to take protein powder in the morning, either with breakfast or as a mid-morning snack.
Taking protein early allows you to leverage both the thermogenic and the appetite suppressing effects of protein so you can increase your caloric expenditure and decrease your caloric intake later in the day.
Hopefully, taking protein early in the day will decrease how much food you eat at lunch and dinner.
Despite its association with lifers and bodybuilders, protein powder is an excellent supplement for all kinds of women, even you have no interest in bulking up.
Taking a good protein powder for women, at a dose of about 0.7 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day, is an excellent way for women to boost post-workout recovery, shed excess body fat, and even strengthen their bones.
Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D to support increases in bone strength, and spread out your protein dosage throughout the day if you want to make best use of its satiety-inducing effects for weight loss.