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Protein's Role In Healthy Aging

Protein's Role In Healthy Aging

By Emily Niswanger, Founder, Anywhere Nutrition

True or false: Our protein needs increase as we age?

True! You may have assumed that as you age your baseline protein needs (RDA) decrease, but research shows that the opposite is actually true. Although you may participate in less high intensity activity and even lose your appetite for protein, your baseline dietary needs go up due to a decrease in your body’s ability to digest and utilize protein like it did when you were younger. (1) This means that those 65+ need to be diligent in hitting their minimum protein needs to maintain their current protein stores and prevent age-related muscle loss known as sarcopenia.

In addition to maintaining muscle mass, getting adequate protein is also crucial for supporting immune health, adequate wound healing, and supporting hair, skin and nail growth. (2,3)

The most important factors to consider for protein intake are:

  1. Are you meeting your daily needs? Head to the protein calculator to see how much you need.
  2. Where is your protein coming from?
    • Food: Food is the preferred source of protein. Since animal protein (grass-fed beef, bison, fish, eggs) contain all of the essential amino acids needed to build muscle, this is what you want to consume first, followed by a mix of plant-based proteins (lentils, quinoa, organic tofu, black beans).
    • Supplements: Supplementing protein is a great way to increase protein intake when eating more food may be difficult to do due to lack of appetite or busy schedule. Research shows that whey protein outperforms casein and soy proteins to prevent age-related muscle loss. (4) See “Why Whey” to read about the additional benefits of whey protein. 

Getting started! Tracking your protein intake for 1 week is a great way to learn how much you’re currently consuming and see where the protein gaps are in your diet. When making changes, remember to start slow and consult a registered dietitian if you have any health conditions that may require you to eat a modified diet. 

Please note that the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for adults 50+ is currently set at 0.80 g /kg bodyweight. This is an estimation of minimum protein needed to meet basic body functions. More recent research suggests that those 65+ would benefit from a minimum of 1.0-1.2 g /kg protein daily to maintain and regain body mass and function and that those with an acute or chronic health condition should aim for 1.2 g/kg. (5-6)

 

Sources:

  1. Fry, C.S., Drummond, M.J., Glynn, E.L. et al.Aging impairs contraction-induced human skeletal muscle mTORC1 signaling and protein synthesis. Skeletal Muscle1, 11 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/2044-5040-1-11
  2. Zhao J, Zhang X, Liu H, Brown MA, Qiao S. Dietary Protein and Gut Microbiota Composition and Function. Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2019;20(2):145-154. doi: 10.2174/1389203719666180514145437. PMID: 29756574.
  3. Finner AM. Nutrition and hair: deficiencies and supplements. Dermatol Clin. 2013 Jan;31(1):167-72. doi: 10.1016/j.det.2012.08.015. Epub 2012 Oct 18. PMID: 23159185.
  4. Beasley JM, Shikany JM, Thomson CA. The role of dietary protein intake in the prevention of sarcopenia of aging. Nutr Clin Pract. 2013 Dec;28(6):684-90. doi: 10.1177/0884533613507607. Epub 2013 Oct 25. PMID: 24163319; PMCID: PMC3928027.
  5. Bauer, J.; Biolo, G.; Cederholm, T.; Cesari, M.; Cruz-Jentoft, A.J.; Morley, J.E.; Phillips, S.; Sieber, C.; Stehle, P.; Teta, D.; et al. Evidence-based recommendations for optimal dietary protein intake in older people: A position paper from the PROT-AGE Study Group. J. Am. Med. Dir. Assoc. 2013, 14, 542–559. 
  6. IOFM. Dietary reference intakes. 2005. Page 649. https://www.nap.edu/read/10490/chapter/12#650