High quality protein and exercise could reduce or prevent the loss of muscle mass associated with aging therefore health related adverse events.
How can we slow down the aging process through diet and exercise? High protein choices do play a role in health. Eating healthy protein sources like fish, chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, dairy (skim or 1%) can lower the risk of several health issues such as falls, sarcopenia, fractures and premature death.
First of all, our bodies need protein from the foods we eat to build and maintain bones, muscle and skin. Lack of protein can cause growth failure, weakness of the heart and respiratory system, loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity and malnutrition.
Protein is built from building blocks called amino acids. Essential amino acids come from food.
- Animal source of protein tend to deliver all the amino acids we need.
- Other protein sources, such as nuts and seeds, beans, legumes may lack one or more of the essential amino acids.
You need to eat protein every day because your body doesn’t store it the way it stores fats or carbohydrates. Protein should be consumed evenly across the day and be part of each meal. How much you need depends on your age, sex, health and level of physical activity.
It’s common that people eat less food with age. Contributing factors can be lack of appetite, change in smell and taste, living alone, little interest in cooking or difficulty in eating due to teeth/gum or denture problems. Eating less or eating sub-optimally means that older adults often miss out on getting enough important macronutrients and micronutrients. Several studies have reported that elderly people consume less than the daily recommended amount of protein. Inadequate protein intake is closely linked to loss of muscle strength and functionality.
- The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for adults is 0.8 g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day.
- Several nutrition experts and research have recommended that elderly people should increase their protein intake compared to younger adults up to 1.0- 1.2 g protein per kilogram bodyweight per day for adults older than 65+ years and even higher intakes for those who are exercising and otherwise active.
- A 50+ year old man weighing 80 kilograms should consume 80 to 96g (1.0g-1.2g/kg BW) of protein per day.
A 50+ year old woman weighing 60 kilograms should consume 60 to 72g (1.0g-1.2g/kg BW) of protein per day.
Approximately 45% of older adults in the United States are affected by sarcopenia, a number that will continue to increase as the population ages. Sarcopenia, is the progressive loss of muscle mass, function, quality, and strength driven by the aging process. This loss of muscle mass often leads to diminished strength and decreased activity levels and can contribute to mobility issues, osteoporosis, falls and fractures, frailty, and loss of physical function and independence. After the age of 70, muscle loss accelerates to 15% per decade. Prevention of sarcopenia is important for reducing risk of fracture and osteoporosis and it appears that higher levels of dietary protein, particularly when combined with resistance exercise, can effectively reduce fracture risk and osteoporosis.
Metabolic changes in older adults result in the production of less muscle protein than for younger adults who consume the same amount of dietary protein. Protein turnover in skeletal muscle tissue is enhanced by ingestion of amino acids and/or protein which strongly stimulates muscle protein synthesis and inhibits protein breakdown. Older adults should seek to get enough protein through a healthy and balanced diet, and/or with the support of high quality nutritional supplements. Most important consume amino acid such as Leucine for muscle mass. Leucine plays a key role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Studies indicate that an amino acid mixture of 30 g per meal produced protein synthesis similar to younger people.
Supplementing the diet with whey protein is beneficial because whey protein delivers the correct amino acids in proportion to the ratio of skeletal muscle. Whey protein supplementation stimulates an important mechanism that preserves muscle mass by creating and maintaining a high concentration of essential amino acids in the blood.
Resistance exercise several times per week is considered to be crucial to maintain muscle strength, maintain muscle mass, and reduce falls and fractures, it is important that nutritional interventions are assessed within the context of recommended exercise regimes. It has been addressed the impact on muscle mass and strength with the combined approach of resistance exercise and increased dietary protein.
The current guidelines for older people aged 65 and over at least:
- 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or walking every week.
- Progressive resistance exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)
As a conclusion, high protein intake including essential amino acids (approximately 30 g per meal) on each meal everyday reduces the risk of muscle mass loss preventing falls, mobility issues, sarcopenia, fractures in older people aged 65 and over. Supplements such as whey protein are beneficial to preserve muscle mass.