From eating a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups to consuming less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars, the USDA's 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) encourage healthy eating patterns to promote health, prevent chronic disease, and help people reach and maintain a healthy weight.
But with the DGAs encompassing both genders and all ages, it can be hard to pinpoint the bottom line for daily nutritional requirements for adult men and women.
Wondering how men's and women’s nutritional needs vary? Dive into this practical breakdown of what important nutrients are different for a female vs male diet.
Daily Nutritional Values for Men vs Women
Getting the right amount of calories, macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water is important for everyone of all ages. However, men’s and women’s daily nutritional requirements can look a little different. Here is a further look at the differences in what is recommended for a female vs male diet.
First and foremost, calories should not be the primary focus of a nutritious and healthy diet. The amount of them consumed should still be acknowledged and checked periodically.
Caloric needs vary based on muscle mass, activity levels, age, and gender. Weight loss and gain goals also impact needs. Therefore, the recommended calorie needs for each person are different.
In general, women typically need fewer calories compared to men because men tend to weigh more. However, to get individualized calorie needs, use a tool such as the USDA calorie calculator.
Women: In general, an adequate calorie range for adult women is between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day.
Men: The healthy range for most men likely varies between 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day.
While protein requirements for women and men vary based on a number of factors, including muscle mass and activity levels, the dietary reference intake (DRI) for both males and females is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight.
This level of protein is quite easy to reach for anyone eating an adequate, varied diet even if following a vegan diet. Many health professionals consider a range of 1.0 to -1.2 grams of protein per kg body weight as healthy.
Women: Based on the DRI, the average sedentary women should be consuming 46 grams of protein per day.
Men: Men require additional protein to support their greater muscle mass but oftentimes overestimate just how much they need, as protein absorption is mostly capped at 30 grams of protein during each meal. So how much really do men need? The same formula applies to them, with the DRI equating to about 56 grams a day for a sedentary male.
For both men and women, the International Society of Sports Nutrition positions that protein intake of 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg for physically active individuals is not only safe but may improve adaptations to exercise training. As with any nutrient, getting too much protein may have negative side effects. Going over this amount may cause side effects for some people.
Dietary fiber is an indigestible plant component that promotes digestive and heart health, along with playing a significant role in managing both weight and blood sugars. Unfortunately, the average American does not get enough fiber.
According to Harvard Health, most American adults only eat 10 to 15 grams of total fiber per day. These intake levels are dramatically lower than general recommendations:
Women: Aim for at least 25 grams per day.
Men: Aim for at least 38 grams per day.
To increase fiber intake, focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Speaking of fiber... When increasing fiber, water needs also increase. But water is not only beneficial for digestion but is vital to support physiological processes and sustain life.
General recommendations for daily water intake suggest at least 64 ounces a day or eight 8-ounce cups. However, the adequate intake (AI) of fluid varies between genders, which includes plain water, milk, and other drinks.
Ultimately, health experts suggest water is the preferred fluid source to not only moderate calories, but to stay hydrated.
Women: The AI for women (ages 19 and older) is 2,100 milliliters (mL), or about eight cups per day. Pregnant and lactating women are generally encouraged to increase fluid intake to nine cups daily.
Men: The AI for men is 2,600 mL, or about 10 cups per day.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While often feared, dietary fat is just as imperative to health as carbs, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. While trans fats and saturated fats should be limited, healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids benefit health the most.
Omega-3s are broken down into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). They support normal fetal development and heart health, among many other benefits.
Women: The AI of omega-3s, for women aged 19 and older, is 1.1 grams per day. Considering omega-3 fatty acids are vital for fetal and infant growth and development of the central nervous system, pregnant women require an extra amount of 1.4 grams per day.
Women should also choose from fish varieties with higher EPA and DHA content and lower in methyl mercury, including salmon, herring, sardines, and trout, along with avoiding the intake of king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish and keeping albacore tuna to no more than six ounces per week.
Lactating women should obtain 1.3 grams per day, along with consuming one to two servings of fish per week, to achieve 200 to 300 mg of DHA and guarantee an adequate amount of DHA in breast milk for the baby.
Men: The AI for men is 1.6 grams per day, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) advises consuming no more than three grams a day of EPA and DHA combined, including up to two grams a day from supplements.
Calcium is a mineral needed by both genders to support bone health, although women often have greater needs.
Women: Based on recommended dietary allowances (RDAs), women aged 19 to 50 years need 1,000 milligrams (mg), including when pregnant and lactating. However, women are more susceptible than men to weakened bones and osteoporosis with women 51 years and older requiring 1,200 mg per day.
Men: Like women, men aged 19 to 50 require 1,000 mg of calcium each day, though the recommendation increases to 1,200 mg at age 71.
Dairy is considered the most known calcium source, but you can also meet daily nutrition requirements for calcium from non-dairy sources.
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin and without it, the body cannot produce enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells, in turn, compromising sufficient oxygen to the body's cells and organs.
Despite its critical need, iron requirements are vastly different between genders, predominately related to blood loss during women's menstruation cycles and childbearing years.
Women: Based on RDAs, the average pre-menopausal woman needs about 18 milligrams of iron per day to support menstruation and childbearing years, and 27 mg is needed to support the increase in blood volume during pregnancy. Iron needs in post-menopausal women decrease to eight mg per day.
Men: Men need less than half of what women need, as the RDA for iron is eight milligrams for men.
Also known as folic acid, folate is a B vitamin critical for manufacturing DNA and other genetic material and needed for the body's cells to divide. But the amount of folate is mostly dependent on age and if a woman is pregnant.
Women: The RDA for adult women is 400 micrograms (mcg) per day, whereas the RDAs for pregnant teens, women, breastfeeding teens, and women are 600 and 500 mcg, respectively.
However, doctors strongly advise pregnant women and teens to take a folic acid supplement to achieve the recommended daily 400 micrograms to ensure healthy fetal development and lower the risk of neural tube defects.
Men: Men aged 19 and older are recommended to consume 400 mcg of folate.
Other B vitamins have similar daily nutritional requirements for B vitamins, but folate needs mostly vary between men and women due to folate’s role in pregnancy.
While both men and women may experience health benefits from moderated alcohol consumption, heavy consumption can cause weight gain, harm the body's organs, lead to malabsorption issues, and pose the risk of numerous other consequences.
Nonetheless, both men and women should be moderating their intake levels of alcohol.
Women: Consume no more than one serving of alcohol per day. But what constitutes one serving size? 12 ounces of regular or light beer, 5 ounces of red or white wine, and 1.5 ounces of spirits... Not the entire wine bottle.
Men: Moderate to two servings (or less) per day.
Adult Daily Recommended Nutrition Values Recap
For some nutrients, men and women of the same age have the same daily nutrition recommendations, but some nutrients vary in how much men vs women should get per day.
Some nutrients, like calories, water, omega 3’s, and fiber, men need more of due to larger body size and muscle mass compared to most women. Similarly, the recommended intake of alcohol is slightly higher for men because of this.
Some nutrients, like folate and iron, women need more per day compared to men.
Other nutrients like protein and calcium are similar for women compared to men. Protein needs are based on body weight as well as exercise levels.
Current dietary guidelines. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and Online Materials | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials.
Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 14, 20 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
Katherine D. McManus MS. Should I be eating more fiber? Harvard Health. Published February 27, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/should-i-be-eating-more-fiber-2019022115927.
Office of dietary supplements - omega-3 fatty acids. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/.
Popkin BM, D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews. Published August 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/.