Why Aging Mandates More Protein

After the age of 50, the body starts to lose muscle mass at approximately 0.5 – 2% per year (1). In order to fight this inevitable process, it’s important to increase protein intake and physical activity. Research shows that regular resistance exercises, such as weight lifting or yoga twice a week, in conjunction with adequate protein consumption, can help to preserve muscle mass in the aging population (1).

Part of the reason older adults need more protein is due to the fact that they lose the ability to synthesize leucine, an essential amino acid for building muscle. This phenomenon is known as “leucine resistance.” Leucine “turns on” muscle building at the cellular level. Without adequate intake of this crucial amino acid, the body doesn’t optimize muscle building even when there is adequate protein consumption. Because the body becomes resistant to leucine, more protein is required to achieve the same maximal muscle-building and recovery benefits derived from a serving of protein; thus, you need to eat more protein to elicit the same benefits. In order to help combat this loss, it is helpful to increase the intake of protein sources that are high in leucine such as: chicken, beef, pork, tuna, firm tofu, navy beans, dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), and pumpkin seeds

For an average-sized person between the ages of 18 – 40 years of age, 20 – 25 grams of protein has been proven to be adequate to elicit maximal benefit from a serving of protein. For individuals over the age of 50, protein requirements almost double to 40 grams of protein in order to stimulate a similar response (or 1.0 gram per kilogram of body weight) (2). Some research indicates that a dietary protein intake of at least 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight is even more protective against sarcopenia, a progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength strictly correlated with physical disability, poor quality of life and death, and overall strength decline (3).

It is notable that protein is not just used for muscle synthesis, but has several other roles in the body. As we age, decreased protein stores contribute to increased skin fragility, lower immunity, poorer healing and longer recuperation time when one gets sick (2).

Because appetite may also decrease with age, it is important to ensure that a high-quality protein source is consumed with each meal. While animal-based proteins are the most bioavailable, combined plant-based sources of protein can also be used to ingest a complete amino acid profile. For example, eggs are a complete protein, whereas combining rice and beans makes up a complete protein.

In conclusion, it is crucial to increase protein consumption as we age in order to protect against skin health, immunity and muscle, bone and strength loss. The good news is that it is never too late to make dietary and lifestyle changes in order to protect our health. So, get moving and fuel up (with some protein) afterwards!

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References:

  1. Webb D. & nbsp; protein for fitness: Age demands greater protein needs.https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/040715p16.shtml. Updated 2015. Accessed 10/24/, 2019.
  2. Chernoff R. Protein and older adults.Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004;23(Supplement 6):627S-630S.http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/abstract/23/suppl_6/627S. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2004.10719434.