When it comes to getting necessary nutrients, a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work. Does a child need the same amount of protein as an adult? And does a sedentary person who spends all day at a desk and all night on the sofa need as many carbohydrates as a marathon runner?
Clearly our needs depend on our age and our lifestyle, among other factors. And the latest research finds that for older adults, it seems more protein– double – is just what the doctor ordered.
Published in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, the study by researchers at the University of Arkansas Center for Translational Research in Aging & Longevity finds that if you’re over fifty, the current protein guidelines just aren’t good enough for optimal fitness.
“A higher protein intake has a positive effect on almost every aspect of getting older”
Twenty older adults between the ages of 52 – 75 were recruited and randomly assigned to one of four groups. Two groups consumed the Institutes of Health’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, either divided equally between all three meals or with the majority of the protein consumed at dinner. The remaining two groups consumed double the RDA – 1.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight – also divided between meals like groups one and two.
Four days into the study, researchers found that when the participants ate more protein, their bodies were better at building muscle, regardless of when the protein was consumed. In particular, those who ate double the RDA of protein increased their rates of muscle protein synthesis, the process of cells building muscles using protein, and improved their net protein balance.
Lead study author Il-Young Kim, a researcher specializing in aging and longevity at the University of Arkansas, stated, “The intake [of protein] by an older person needs to be 70 percent higher [than in your 20s and 30s] to get the same response.”
“A higher protein intake has a positive effect on almost every aspect of getting older,” added Arby Ferrando, professor at the University of Arkansas’ Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. “With more muscularity you can function better, and if you function better you’re more active, and with activity all these other diseases tend to dissipate.”
The Bottom Line
Maintaining and building muscle is especially important for older adults, and increased muscle mass can contribute to a healthier weight, better fitness, better mobility, better balance, and improved quality of life.
Numerous studies show the benefits of protein in weight management, too:
- Protein is more satiating than carbs or fat, which keeps you feeling full longer between meals.
- Modestly increasing protein intake, while controlling total calories, improves body composition, facilitates fat loss and improves body weight maintenance after weight loss.
- Consuming dietary protein at double the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) protects lean body mass while increasing loss of fat mass during short-term weight loss.
- Higher protein diets are associated with increased thermogenesis and retention of muscle mass.
So if a 130 pound woman should be getting about 50 grams of protein per day to meet the current RDA, based on this and other studies, this means you want to shoot for 75 to 90 grams daily.
How can you increase protein? Don’t have to eat steaks at every meal. The best sources of protein are quality, lean proteins such as:
- A medium egg has about 6 grams of complete protein.
- Non-Fat or Low-Fat Dairy. Products like yogurt are made up of casein and quickly-digested whey protein and provide about 12 grams of protein per cup.
- A 5 oz. serving can have up to 36 grams of protein.
- One 3-5 oz. serving of white meat poultry has 21-36 grams of protein.
- Pasture-Fed Beef. Pasture or grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than conventional grain-fed beef. Leaner cuts like top round, bottom round, eye of round, flank, and strip are best and can provide about 5 grams of protein per oz.
- Foods like lentils and chickpeas pack about 14-18 grams of protein per serving.
- Seeds such as hemp seeds, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds, can provide between 6-10 grams of protein per serving.
- A one oz. serving of nuts like pistachios, cashews, and almonds has between 4-6 grams of protein, but can be high in calories and fat.
You can also augment protein intake with a high quality protein shake or meal replacement drink like LeanBiotics LeanMeal RS Drink Mix. Choose wisely, however. Plant proteins like soy or pea are not as bioavailable as whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate, which can be over 98% bioavailable. And some protein powders, like soy protein, can have a fair amount of sodium in them. Just one a day can boost your protein intake by up to 25 grams.
As you grow older and wiser, don’t let age get the best of you; get more protein and be a “body builder” in your later years!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.