Protein Maintaining Muscle Mass As You Age
From around 50 years of age, humans begin to gradually lose skeletal muscle. This is known as sarcopenia and is common in older people. Loss of muscle mass is worsened by chronic illness, poor diet and inactivity.
Meeting the daily recommended protein intake may help you maintain muscle mass and strength. This is important for maintaining your ability to walk and reducing your risk of injury from falls.
To maintain muscle mass, its important for older people to eat protein effectively. This means consuming high-quality protein foods, such as lean meats.
Signs Youre Not Eating Enough Protein
Not all women need to count grams of protein. If your client has very specific fitness goals, or really struggles to balance macros or lose weight, counting can be useful. For the rest of us it may just take greater awareness to realize if were not getting enough protein:
- Feeling unusually fatigued or weak
- Brittle or damaged hair and nails, flaky skin
- Being hungry a lot of the time
- Getting sick a lot or staying sick longer than expected
- Slow healing of wounds
- Edema, swollen feet or hands
Check out this post on the ISSA blog about protein myths to learn more about this important macronutrient and why its hard to get too much.
Balancing Protein With Fat And Carbs
You may also want to consider counting your protein by balancing macros. Measuring protein as a percentage of your calorie intake is worthwhile. Eating the right amount of protein is about more than just protein. Macronutrients dont exist separately they interact with each other in the body. Getting the right balance is important for health and for hitting fitness and weight loss goals.
One way to determine the right balance of macronutrients is to look at body type. The percentages given here refer to the ratio of calories coming from a particular macronutrient:
- Ectomorph. This body type is naturally thin because of a relatively high metabolic rate. Ectomorphs should aim for a ratio of 25 percent protein, 55 percent carbohydrates, and 20 percent fat.
- Endomorph. Endomorph body type is naturally heavier with a slower metabolism. These clients should eat a ratio closer to 35 percent protein, 25 percent carbohydrates, and 40 percent fat.
- Mesomorph. A mesomorph has an athletic body and builds muscle fairly easily. A ratio of 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat is ideal.
Keep in mind that not everyone fits neatly into one body type category. But this is a good place to start for your client who wants to consider all her macros. She can start with the guidelines for the body type she is closest to and adjust as needed for weight loss or maintenance or for muscle building.
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How Much Protein Do You Need Per Day
As with most things in nutrition, theres no simple answer. Your ideal intake of calories and protein depends on your health, body composition, main goal, and the type, intensity, duration, and frequency of your physical activity. And even taking all this into account, youll end up with a starting number, which youll need to adjust through self-experimentation.
Tip: Calculating your caloric needs
Your height, weight, age, and level of physical activity all contribute to your caloric needs. There are many calorie calculators out there, but the NIH Body Weight Planner stands out. It has been tested and validated against real-world data and can estimate the number of calories you need to reach then maintain a specific weight.
Calorie-wise, there are only three types of diets:
Daily protein requirements are expressed in grams, either per kilogram of body weight or per pound of body weight . Ranges in the table below reflect known individual variances.
Maintenance: eucaloric diet | Muscle gain: eucaloric diet or hypercaloric diet | Fat loss: hypocaloric diet | * Grams per kilogram of body weight
Also, note that
Protein intake should be based on body weight, not on caloric intake.
Most studies have looked at dosages up to 1.5 g/kg only a few have looked at dosages as high as 2.23.3 g/kg. However, in healthy people, even those higher dosages dont seem to have negative effects.
Tip: Calculating your protein needs
Other Effects On Protein Requirements
There is little evidence that muscular activity increases the need for protein, except for the small amount required for the development of muscles during physical conditioning . Vigorous activity that leads to profuse sweating, such as in heavy work and sports, and exposure to heat increases nitrogen loss from the skin, but with acclimatization to a warm environment, the excessive skin loss is reduced and may be partially compensated by decreased renal excretion . In view of the margin of safety in the RDA, no increment is added for work or training.
No added allowance is made here for the usual stresses encountered in daily living, which can give rise to transient increases in urinary nitrogen output . It is assumed that the subjects of experiments forming the basis for the requirement estimates are usually exposed to the same stresses as the population generally.
Proteins Are Made Of Amino Acids
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are about 20 different amino acids that link together in different combinations. Your body uses them to make new proteins, such as muscle and bone, and other compounds such as enzymes and hormones. It can also use them as an energy source.
Some amino acids can be made by your body there are 11 of these and theyre known as non-essential amino acids. There are nine amino acids that your body cannot make, and they are known as essential amino acids. You need to include enough of these in your diet so that your body can function.
Forms Used In Supplements
Similarly to how your body contains different types of this protein, so do many collagen supplements.
The most used types include (
- Hydrolyzed collagen . This type is derived from bovine , marine , poultry , pigs, and other animal sources, and its broken down into smaller and easier-to-absorb peptide particles.
- Undenatured collagen. This is raw collagen derived from chicken cartilage.
- Gelatin: This is cooked collagen, usually derived from animal sources.
The type used in your supplement of choice could influence the supplement form and its dosage instructions.
Note that there arent any vegan substitutes for collagen. Supplements may be free of dairy, gluten, or sugar, but collagen is only available from animal sources.
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Percent Of Daily Calories
Current U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines suggest that adults should consume between 10% and 35% of their total calories from protein. To get your number and track your intake, you’ll need to know how many calories you consume each day.
Once you know how many calories you consume, multiply that number by 10% and 35% to get your range. As an example, a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day would need to consume 200 to 700 calories each day from protein.
Eating More May Help Older People Prevent Muscle Loss
Beans and legumes, including all types of dried beans, split peas and lentils, are considered good sources of protein.
Protein helps to keep our muscles strong, which is important for maintaining the balance and mobility needed to continue to live independently as we age. Yet, unlike with fruits and veggies, we may not focus on getting enough of this important nutrient. And recommendations on exactly how much protein older adults need vary.
The current recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight a day for adults over 18, or about 2.3 ounces for a 180-pound adult. But research is showing that higher levels may be needed for adults age 65-plus.
In our older years, we are at risk of sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass, strength and function. The essential amino acids in protein are key nutrients for muscle health, but older adults are less responsive to low doses of amino acid intake compared to younger people. A 2016 study from researchers at the departments of Food Science and Geriatrics at the University of Arkansas found that this lack of responsiveness can be overcome with higher levels of protein consumption. The study says that protein levels in the range of 30 to 35 percent of total caloric intake may prove beneficial, although the researchers acknowledge that level could be difficult to reach for many people.
The Cleveland Clinic polled six dietitians on their top four sources of protein, and the winners were:
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How Much Protein Should You Eat If You’re Trying To Lose Weight
Calculating the ideal amount of protein while cutting calories is a little more complex. “Typically I like to recommend that 10 to 15 percent of the total calories consumed comes from protein for the average person,” says Wilson. A lot of factors play into how many calories you should consume when trying to lose weight, though, like your activity level and the timeframe you’re trying to lose weight within. Wilson warns against playing around with these numbers too much if you aren’t versed in nutrition. “Screwing around with your metabolism when you really don’t know what you’re doing and not under the guidance of a knowledgeable health professional can have some unintended consequences, not only for the number on your scale but possibly for your overall health as well,” she says.
How Much Protein After Exercise
After exercising, when your muscles are more sensitive to the anabolic effect of protein, take a dose in the range of your desirable minimal protein intake per meal. If youve been exercising on an empty stomach, youll be in negative protein balance, so take this dose as soon as possible. Otherwise, try to take it within a couple of hours the exact size of your window of opportunity depends on how much protein youre still digesting.
Digging Deeper: After better than before?
Is it better to eat before or after exercising?
In a 2020 crossover trial we first summarized for Examine Members, 8 healthy young men were divided into three groups.
All three groups performed a full-body strength workout in the morning. One group ate a meal 1.5 hours before, another just after, and the last waited for lunchtime.
This happened three times, with three days in between. Each time, the men switched to a different group. Thus, at the end of the trial, they had all tried all three meal times.
Blood insulin and certain modified amino acids were measured as indicators of muscle breakdown. The results? Eating a mixed-nutrient meal immediately after resistance training, rather than 1.5 hours before or not until lunchtime, resulted in the greatest suppression of muscle protein breakdown.
Whether or not this correlates with improvements in muscle growth and recovery, however, is unclear.
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Why Older Adults Should Eat More Protein
Navigating Aging focuses on medical issues and advice associated with aging and end-of-life care, helping Americas 45 million seniors and their families navigate the health care system.
To contact Judith Graham with a question or comment, .
Older adults need to eat more protein-rich foods when losing weight, dealing with a chronic or acute illness, or facing a hospitalization, according to a growing consensus among scientists.
During these stressful periods, aging bodies process protein less efficiently and need more of it to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health and other essential physiological functions.
Even healthy seniors need more protein than when they were younger to help preserve muscle mass, experts suggest. Yet up to one-third of older adults dont eat an adequate amount due to reduced appetite, dental issues, impaired taste, swallowing problems and limited financial resources. Combined with a tendency to become more sedentary, this puts them at risk of deteriorating muscles, compromised mobility, slower recovery from bouts of illness and the loss of independence.
While not conclusive , our work suggests that older adults who consume more protein have better outcomes, said Paul Jacques, co-author of the study and director of the nutritional epidemiology program at Tufts Universitys Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
Groups With Increased Protein Requirements
- Growing teenagers during their adolescent growth spurt protein needs are high to cover both energy requirements and support the growing body.
- Pregnant and breastfeedingwomen – protein requirements are increased to support the changes in the mother and foetal growth.
- People with illnesses and injuries – as protein aids the repair of body tissue, and keeps our immune systems healthy. When your body doesnt get enough protein, it might break down muscle for the fuel it needs. This makes it take longer to recover from illness and can lower resistance to infection.
- Athletes and the very active – Endurance athletes in heavy training require extra protein to cover a small proportion of the energy costs of their training and to assist in the repair and recovery process after exercise. Strength athletes, who are interested in gaining muscle size and function, require more protein in the early stages of very intensive resistance exercise.
- Older adults – The increased protein recommendation for older age groups counters the age-associated loss of muscle mass and overall body protein stores. Eating more protein as we age can reduce the risk of falls, frailty and infection.
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Protein Calculator: How Much Protein Do I Need
Determining how much protein to eat per day is important for any lifter, athlete, or person, period! Here’s the number to aim for to build muscle, lose weight, and support your exercise goals.
The amount of protein you need depends on a number of factors, including your weight, age, goals, and activity level. The daily minimum recommended by the National Institutes of Health is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight for a sedentary person. However, if you do intense workouts, have a physically demanding job, or both, experts say you may need moreâperhaps as much as double.
This calculator will tell you how much protein to eat each day based on your specific body and lifestyle. Dial in this nutritional priority to take control of your nutrition and nail your goals!
Protein: Is More Better
For a relatively active adult, a daily protein intake to meet the RDA would supply as little as 10% of his or her total daily calories. In comparison, the average American consumes around 16% of his or her daily calories in the form of protein, from both plant and animal sources.
The Protein Summit reports in AJCN argue that 16% is anything but excessive. In fact, the reports suggest that Americans may eat too little protein, not too much. The potential benefits of higher daily protein intake, these researchers argue, include preserving muscle strength despite aging and maintaining a lean, fat-burning physique. Some studies described in the summit reports suggest that protein is more effective if you space it out over the days meals and snacks, rather than loading up at dinner like many Americans do.
Based on the totality of the research presented at the summit, Rodriguez estimates that taking in up to twice the RDA of protein “is a safe and good range to aim for.” This equates roughly to 15% to 25% of total daily calories, although it could be above or below this range depending on your age, sex, and activity level.
However, over the last several years, the public health message has shifted away from desired percentages of protein, fats and carbohydrates. For example, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize the importance of eating healthier protein rich foods rather than concentrating on specific amounts of daily protein.
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How Do I Get More Than Just Enough In My Diet
There are plenty of easy ways to get the nutrients your body needs.
The trick is to fill your diet with a variety of nutritious foods. Variety matters because its tough to nail every nutrient, every day.
Luckily, you dont need to: You want your numbers to average out over the long term as high, so if youre a bit low on vitamin C one day, its not the end of the world, as long as you make up for it another time.
Eating a variety of vitamin C-rich foods means youll hit a good level overall. And dont worry in your quest for good health, you dont need to eliminate nutrient-poor indulgences entirely.
But if you want your vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient intake to surpass the RDAs and DVs, most of what you eat should focus on quality.
Its an easy daily habit that can help keep your diet on the right track so you can spend more time enjoying your life instead of fretting over nutritional math.
How Much Protein Per Day To Lose Weight
If you want to lose weight, aim for a daily protein intake between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight . Athletes and heavy exercisers should consume 2.2-3.4 grams of protein per kilogram if aiming for weight loss.
My practical recommendation to people is that if you carry a BMI of over 30 or a body fat percentage above 25-30% it makes more sense to base your protein recommendations off of your goal weight.
For the correct amount of protein to gain muscle, check this resource out.
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Optimal Daily Protein Intake For Pregnant Women
The protein RDA for pregnant women is 1.1 g/kg. This value was estimated by adding three values:
The RDA for a healthy adult
The amount of additional body protein a pregnant woman accumulates
The amount of protein used by the developing fetus
However, as we saw previously with non-pregnant healthy adults, the RDA may not be sufficient, let alone optimal. Theres some IAAO evidence that the RDA for pregnant women should be about 1.66 g/kg during early gestation and 1.77 g/kg during late gestation . Moreover, a meta-analysis of 16 intervention studies reported that protein supplementation during pregnancy led to reduced risks for the baby:
34% lower risk of low gestational weight
32% lower risk of low birth weight
38% lower risk of stillbirth
This effect was more pronounced in undernourished women than in adequately nourished women. Importantly, these values were determined from sedentary women carrying one child, meaning that pregnant women who engage in regular physical activity or are supporting the growth of more than one child may need even higher amounts.
Also, keep in mind that we can only tell you what the studies reported we cant possibly know about your health and your pregnancy specifically. Please be sure to consult with your obstetrician/gynecologist before making any changes.