- Maintaining muscle mass and strength is crucial as we age, and a diet rich in protein can aid in this. Protein from both animal and plant sources can contribute to maintaining lean muscle mass and strength.
- Consistent protein intake is a key strategy for preserving muscle mass and strength, with intake recommended as part of every meal. Men require nearly 3 ounces of protein daily, while women need around 2.6 ounces.
- While intake of plant protein does not show a direct correlation with lean mass, it is associated with increased thigh muscle strength. The alkaline properties or the generally healthier diet of those consuming more plant protein could contribute to muscle strength preservation in older adults.
- Elderly individuals often potentially have a deficiency of balanced nutrition due to various factors, underlining the need for regular protein intake. Protein sources can include nonfat Greek yogurt, cooked beans, roasted chicken breasts, tofu, and whole wheat bread.
- Exercise plays a crucial role in increasing muscle strength. Even with consistent protein intake, exercise is necessary for increasing muscle mass.
As we age, it is essential to maintain muscle mass and strength to preserve mobility and independence, and a protein-laden diet could be the key, according to recent research findings.
The Source of Protein Matters
Protein, a crucial component in building muscle, should ideally come from both animal and plant sources. These two types of protein both play unique roles in maintaining lean muscle mass and strength in your legs. On one hand, animal protein is associated with muscle mass. On the other hand, consuming plant protein has been seen to contribute to muscle strength.
Shivani Sahni, nutrition program director at the Hebrew Senior Life Institute for Aging Research, underlines the importance of protein for older individuals, stating, “With aging, there is loss of muscle mass and strength.” She explains that muscle loss generally starts after the age of 50, reducing about 1.5 percent annually between 50 and 60 years. Once over 60, this rate potentially can escalate to 3 percent yearly.
Losses of muscle mass and strength affect an individual’s capacity to move and carry out daily activities. This loss might even lead to balance problems, increasing the risk of falls that result in bone fractures and head injuries.
Maintaining Muscle Mass and Strength
Consistent protein intake is a key strategy for maintaining muscle mass and strength. Sahni emphasizes, “You should have protein as part of every meal.” This study has been supported and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and its findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition.
During the study, data was gathered from over 2,600 participants, both men and women, of the Framingham Offspring Cohort study. Individuals, average age 60, had their protein consumption, leg lean muscle mass and thigh muscle strength evaluated between 1998 and 2001.
The research found that men required nearly 3 ounces of protein daily to maintain muscle mass and strength, whereas women needed around 2.6 ounces. Those who consumed the most total protein and the most animal protein appeared to have the highest lean muscle mass.
The Benefits of Plant Protein
Intake of plant protein – from sources such as nuts and beans – did not show a direct correlation with lean mass in men or women. However, participants who consumed the most plant protein had more thigh muscle strength compared to those who consumed fewer plant proteins.
The alkaline properties of plant protein or perhaps the generally healthier diet of those consuming more plant protein could contribute to muscle strength preservation in older adults, speculates the research team. Samatha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, agrees, emphasizing the importance of the sources of protein for maintaining health.
The Dangers of Protein Deficiency and How to Address It
Heller points out that many elder people’s diets are deficient in a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. She believes that as we grow older, we might require more protein. Various factors may contribute to this deficiency, from decreased activity or appetite, to poor dental health, limited income, or restricted access to food.
Echoing the words of Sahni, Heller suggests that protein intake should be evenly distributed throughout the day, with each meal containing a protein source. She recommends including foods like nonfat Greek yogurt, fat-free milk, cooked beans, nut butter, roasted chicken breasts, tofu, and whole wheat bread as protein sources in the diet.
For reference, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread paired with a glass of milk can provide up to an ounce of protein. It’s worthwhile to note that in the United States, protein content is typically listed in grams on product labels, with one ounce equivalent to 28 grams.
Don’t Forget About Exercise
While Heller concurs with the study’s emphasis on protein intake, she also encourages exercise, a key component often overlooked. “You can eat all the protein you want, but exercise is necessary to increase muscle strength.” she says. Loss of muscle strength is directly proportional to muscle mass reduction; therefore, exercise is crucial to promote muscle mass increases.
More Knowledge on Protein
Learn more about dietary protein from the Harvard School of Public Health.