To fall within the 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram range, a 160-pound woman will want to eat between 87 and 144 grams of protein per day.
If you’d rather not count down to every last gram, leading protein and amino acid requirements researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., previously told mindbodygreen that getting around 100 grams a day is a solid goal for most women. “We find from a metabolic standpoint, working predominantly with women, that if they get below 100 grams per day, they lose most of the benefits of protein: fatty acid metabolism, insulin sensitivity, weight loss, satiety,” Layman said on the mindbodygreen podcast.
Breaking up your protein intake throughout the day will give your body a steady supply of those amino-acid building blocks. Consuming around 25 to 30 grams of protein during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and eating a protein-rich snack or two, will fulfill your daily requirements. “We should strive to get some type of protein feeding every three to four hours or so,” says Kerksick.
Keep in mind that you might want to eat slightly more protein during periods of heavy activity, during your luteal phase, or once you reach perimenopause.
As for what to eat to meet this target, aim to get as much protein from whole foods (like those listed below) as possible. Getting protein from a variety of sources throughout the day is also smart—especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan. This is because plant proteins, though packed with fiber and phytonutrients, usually don’t have adequate amounts of all the amino acids your body needs (particularly leucine). Animal proteins do, and they can be utilized in the body more efficiently.
Protein powders and supplements can be helpful if you’re in a pinch and don’t have the time or appetite to eat a complete meal. Be sure to look for one that has at least 20 to 25 grams of protein per serving and isn’t packed with sugars or unnecessary additives.
Here are a few foods that can help you meet your protein needs. (Find a more complete list of protein-rich foods here.) If you’re new to building a protein-rich plate, keeping a food journal to start may be helpful and make the process more intuitive.