Protein - Practical Tips & Tricks

nutrition women's wellness Jan 09, 2021






The female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, have different effects on how our bodies function. Like many other hormones, they impact everything from bone health, to metabolism, to fluid retention, to muscle protein synthesis. Men do not have the same peaks and troughs of hormones as women, nor do they have the same hormones. The majority of health and fitness recommendations are based on male studies and generalised out to women, which is not always necessarily applicable due to our differences in hormones.




For example, the ACSM recommendations for daily protein consumption is between 0.8-2g per kg of bodyweight. It could be assumed by some that women would fall at the lower end of that range as we have less muscle mass than men. But, as I mentioned yesterday, it has been shown that premenopausal women (eg. after puberty and before menopause) have a higher need for protein , especially when resistance training.

Women also need a higher concentration of leucine (a specific branched chain amino acid) to trigger muscle protein synthesis, so pick protein sources with high amounts of leucine (whey, cows milk, beef).




Before Exercise: If having a hard/heavy training session, it is important to consume 15-20g of protein before you train. It has been shown that coupling protein consumption with hard training sessions can improve your body’s ability to make muscle out of the protein consumed (Sims, 2016).


Note: a gentle run or low-moderate session in the gym will not require a protein top up if you have eaten a meal 2 hours before, but you should not train fasted.

  • During Exercise: If you are training for longer than 1 hour, especially during endurance or heavy training sessions, it is recommended to consume some BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) during your session.

  • After Exercise: If you only do one thing, then do this! It is important to consume 25-30g of protein 30 mins post-session, making sure it contains 5-6g of BCAAs to reduce catabolism (muscle breakdown) and stimulate muscle growth. This avoids you going into a ‘catabolic’ (muscle breakdown) state which can impact recovery as well as negatively impact your body composition/mood/performance (Sims, 2019).

  • Throughout the day: It has been shown that consuming 30g of protein throughout the day with breakfast, lunch, and dinner supports muscle protein synthesis better than consuming it all with one meal, eg. a protein-heavy dinner (Mamerow et al, 2014).





Your hormones change during the course of your menstrual cycle and the different hormones affect how your body builds or breaks down muscles.


Female sex hormones

The female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, have different effects on muscle protein synthesis.

  • Oestrogen is generally anabolic, meaning it helps to build muscle.

  • Progesterone is catabolic, meaning it breaks down muscle.

 Low Hormone Phase - Follicular Phase

During the first half of your menstrual cycle (the low hormone phase), you are more anabolic and better suited to heavy resistance training and HIIT.

  • Both hormones are low during your period. This is when, hormonally speaking, we are most similar to men.

  • Oestrogen is high, without progesterone, during the first half of your menstrual cycle.

  • Recovery tends to be good during this phase

 High Hormone Phase - Luteal Phase

During the second half of your menstrual cycle (the high hormone phase), you are more catabolic and need to ensure sufficient recovery and nutrition strategies. We are also better suited to moderate intensity sessions.

  • Progesterone rises in the second half of your cycle meaning that recovery is a lot harder due to our bodies being more catabolic.

  • Consuming enough protein and refuelling after training session is very important during this stage to try to counteract this physiological change.

  • Recovery can be more important here - prioritising sleep, protein, anti-inflammatory foods etc. is key during this phase.






1 | Refuel post-session

Refuel with protein (complete protein source with the amino acid leucine) 30mins post-session, followed by a full breakfast (mix of carbs, proteins, fats).

  • Example: Have a protein shake with you in your bag for sessionsIf possible, go for whey protein and cows milk as they have a higher leucine content but do what is right for you.

  • Have a portion of protein with breakfast

    • Protein powder - Scoop of whey protein with overnight oats/porridge, add it to a smoothie or make some mud muscle pancakes

    • Eggs - hard boiled, pre-cooked omelette

    • Greek yogurt, quark or skyr - pick a high protein source


Power up your breakfasts

For many of us, we struggle to get protein with our breakfast and think that it has to be eggs of some sort.

Check out my post on easy ways to prep a protein-packed breakie.

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2 | Get some high-leucine sources

Women need a higher concentration of leucine to trigger muscle protein synthesis, so pick protein sources with high amounts of leucine

  • Whey, Cows milk

  • Chicken, Beef,

  • Firm Tofu, Navy Beans,

  • NB - If choosing Vegan protein make sure it is a mixed protein and says it has a ‘complete protein source’ meaning it will have sufficient amounts of all 9 essential amino acids that your body cannot produce naturally, including leucine.


3 | Don’t train fasted

  • Training fasted increases cortisol which promotes fat storage and can decrease the available building blocks needed for your other hormones, like progesterone.

  • Have something to eat 30-45 mins before training, especially if before a heavy training session*

  • Fast releasing carbohydrates and some protein (15-20g of protein)

    • Slice of toast with natural peanut butter/nut butter protein mix

    • Mocha protein shake - protein powder, coffee, milk/milk substitute

    • Banana with natural peanut butter/nut butter protein mix

    • Homemade energy protein balls


* some people will struggle to train with the food in their stomach, so try out what works well for you. If you have eaten in the past 2 hours you should be fuelled for your session. If you train in the morning then have something smaller and lighter, such as the mocha protein shake or toast with PB. If you really struggle, then at least try to add some glucose tables and BCAAs to your drink.



Malowany JM, West DWD, Williamson E, Volterman KA, Abou Sawan S, Mazzulla M, Moore DR. (2019). Protein to Maximize Whole-Body Anabolism in Resistance-trained Females after Exercise.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 51(4), 798-804.

Mamerow, M. M., Mettler, J. A., English, K. L., Casperson, S. L., Arentson-Lantz, E., Sheffield-Moore, M., Layman, D. K., & Paddon-Jones, D. (2014). Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. The Journal of nutrition, 144(6), 876–880.

Roar, Dr. Stacy Sims (would highly recommend), 2016

Note: This article was originally featured in FFS Gyms, March 2020 but has since been updated to include more relevant information.

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