Women Today

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Protein an ally to women looking to get healthy

While protein is used to build and repair muscle tissue and promote neurological function, it also can encourage fat loss, deliver essential nutrients and improve metabolic activity. Because protein can increase satiety better than some other foods, it also can be a good way to curb cravings and help cut out some extra calories.

Although protein is an important component of a nutritious diet, some women do not consume enough of it or even know what "enough protein" entails. According to a recent survey by Luna, 50 percent of women ages 18 to 50 do not know if they're getting enough protein.

How much protein?
How much protein a woman needs isn't an exact science. The Institute of Medicine and the United States Department of Agriculture recommends that all men and women over the age of 19 consume .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but that number can be customized depending on how active a person is. Because high-protein foods also may be high in saturated fats, it's best to choose protein sources that include essential amino acids and are relatively low in saturated fat. Such sources include fish, roasted chicken and soybeans.

Muscle building properties
Many people consume protein to build muscle. By consuming adequate amounts of protein, women can retain lean muscle mass and keep their bodies strong. Physically active women may need more protein than women who are sedentary to help fuel the recovery of muscles after their workouts. Muscles actually are built outside of the gym. During physical activity, muscle tissue is torn and broken down. Amino acids in protein will help repair muscle tissue to grow back stronger.

Fends off hunger pangs
Protein takes longer to break down in the body and digest compared to carbohydrates, which usually produce quick punches of energy. A longer digestion window means you can feel fuller for a longer amount of time and steer clear of excess calories. Slower digestion may also help stabilize energy levels.

Protein helps burn fat
According to BodyBuilding.com, protein has the highest thermic effect of food, or TEF, which is the amount of calories it takes your body to process and utilize a nutrient. This can mean your body actually uses a quarter to 35 percent of the caloric energy from consumed protein just to digest it. Those who eat more protein during the day may see faster weight loss. Furthermore, excess protein consumed will not cause women to bulk up, as the body will excrete whatever it does not use as fuel.

Protein supplements
Much of the protein a healthy body needs can be gotten through food. However, some women like protein shakes to replace a meal or provide extra fuel after a workout.  Two of the most readily available protein powders include whey concentrate, a fast-absorbing pre- and post-workout protein source, and casein, a protein that can be used as a meal or right before bed because it can take five to seven hours to fully breakdown in the body.

Protein can be the missing component in a woman's healthy diet and fitness plan.