How Much Protein Do You Really Need as You Age?

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[vc_row enable_grid_lines=””][vc_column][vc_column_text]There are many changes that you can expect as you age. A long life takes a toll on the body, untrained muscles get weaker, bones become more fragile and our ability to absorb nutrients decreases. All of this means that as you age you need to be paying attention to your nutrient intake to make sure you are getting enough to keep you active. In this article, we are going to highlight the importance of getting enough protein as you age and how it can impact your overall strength, independence and health.

What Does Protein Do?

Protein is 1 of 3 major macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fats. A macronutrient is something that must be consumed in larger quantities in order to maintain a healthy body.

Protein serves many important functions. Protein is involved in many structural elements of the body, such as hair, teeth, skin, nails, bones, muscles, etc. Protein also plays a part in metabolism, allowing those reactions to occur. It repairs and rebuilds cells and can even be used for energy in extreme circumstances. 

Protein is so important for maintaining good health, yet it is often the one nutrient that people have the hardest time getting enough of. So what happens when you don’t get enough protein?

Protein Deficiency

So the good news is that protein deficiency is very rare – extremely rare. Because protein plays an important role in so many critical functions, we’ve evolved to have multiple back-up plans. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 of them, 9 of which are essential because we cannot produce them ourselves. However, in the case of a low-protein diet, our body has ways to take incomplete proteins and make them complete by recycling amino acids.

There are a few ways the body will tell you that it needs more protein. 

  • If you are having a hard time recovering quickly after a workout, it could be because you haven’t given your body adequate protein to rebuild the muscles. 
  • If your skin, hair and nails feel brittle or dry
  • Mental fog
  • Swelling of the hands, ankles and feet
  • Cravings
  • Poor sleep

If you want to avoid this, the recommended daily intake of protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight (10%-35% of daily caloric intake). But does this cover the needs for the older population?

Protein Needs as You Age

There are two sides to understanding how much protein is required as you age. The first, is that your body is going to get rid of energy-expensive tissues first. It takes a lot to maintain muscles, which is why muscle mass decreases significantly in the older population.

In order to *maintain* muscle mass, you have to be eating adequate protein. The second side of this is, if you continue to do resistance training as you age (which we and the scientific community encourage), you will need more protein to fuel the recovery process after your workouts.

So how much do you need?

In a small study (10 participants), researchers found that the decrease in nitrogen excretion in urine and the decrease in mid-thigh size could possibly mean that the 0.8g/kg of body weight may not be enough.

In a slightly larger study (29 participants), researchers testing the adequacy of protein and the efficacy of lower body vs. full-body resistance training also found that there was a decrease in weight and mid-thigh size. They also concluded that the protein recommendations may not be enough for the ageing population.

So how much has been observed to be enough?

In a study with almost 800 participants, researchers found that older adults who consumed slightly more than the recommended amount saw improvements in their muscle health. More specifically they saw that older adults who were eating 1.0 – 1.3g/kg of body weight had a greater resistance to developing weaknesses and physical disability.

The moderate increase is likely due to the body’s increasing limitations on nutrient absorption. Everything starts to slow down and that means that the systems within the body that absorb proteins have also lost some of their efficiency. This is why *slightly* more is required as you age. 

If you’re an older adult looking to maintain their muscle mass and stay strong, fill out the form below and get a free consultation with one of our personal trainers. New clients get their first 8 sessions for $96.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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