Why You Need More Protein As You Age

By on December 10, 2019

As a woman over 50, your tastes have likely come a long way! You may not wear the same cut of jeans as you did 20 years ago or even listen to the same music. And your eating habits may have evolved too. But as you grow older, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re nourishing your body with the fuel it needs to stay strong and healthy, like protein. Because diet may be a key factor to help prevent frailty. (More on this in a moment!)

Frailty can be defined as low grip strength, low energy, slowed walking speed, low physical activity, and unintentional weight loss. This syndrome greatly increases your vulnerability to stressors, as well as your risk of suffering an injury.

And as you age, your susceptibility to becoming frail increases. So what dietary factors are at play here?

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The Link Between Protein Intake and Frailty

A recent study points to protein intake as the main factor. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis that looked at 10 studies and included 50,284 older adults from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.S. from 2006 to 2018. In the end, they concluded that “high consumption of dietary protein is inversely associated with frailty in older adults.”

Simply put, high protein intake may protect against frailty! The researchers suggested that this is because of protein’s importance for muscle mass and strength.

Like your bones, your muscles are constantly rebuilding in response to the daily stresses of life. But when you don’t consume enough dietary protein, you compromise your ability to produce new muscle. Over time, the net result is a loss of muscle mass.

What’s more, as you age, your ability to use the protein you consume to build muscle (called your anabolic response) lessens. That means you need to consume more protein than young adults to maintain your muscle mass!

All this to say, if you’re not proactive about getting plenty of protein, especially once you hit 50, you may be at increased risk of frailty. Specifically, you could develop sarcopenia — a condition where your muscle is replaced by fat.

In addition to making everyday tasks more challenging, sarcopenia is bad news for your bones. This is because muscle contractions stimulate the bone-building process by putting stress on bones. But when you lose muscle mass, you end up putting less positive stress on your bones!

So the question is, how much protein do you need to ward off frailty and sarcopenia?

How Much Protein Do Women Over 50 Need?

In the meta-analysis mentioned above, older adults who consumed a higher level of dietary protein lowered their risk of frailty by 33%.

Now, knowing you need “a higher level of protein” isn’t that helpful! Thankfully, further research provides more precise guidelines for older adults who want to maintain healthy muscle mass.

For a long time, the consensus was that 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day was enough. But this recommended daily intake (RDA) was set over a decade ago based on studies conducted in young, healthy adults. Plus, it was set with preventing a deficiency in mind — not for optimal health. So it’s no surprise that recommendations are changing for older adults.

In fact, experts believe that older adults should get at least 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day to maintain healthy muscle mass.

To figure out exactly how much protein you need:

  1. Use this calculator to convert your weight in pounds to kilograms.
  2. Multiply your weight in kilograms by 1.2.
  3. The answer will tell you how many grams of protein you should aim for daily.

The main takeaway here is that, as you age, protein becomes even more important!

So make sure you complete the steps above to find out how much protein you need to keep your muscles and bones strong and healthy. For a list of protein-rich food and more information on all the ways protein supports optimal health, visit this page.

Lara Pizzorno, MDIV, MA, LMT, is the best-selling author of “Your Bones: How You Can Prevent Osteoporosis and Have Strong Bones for Life – Naturally”. She’s also a member of the American Medical Writers Association with 30+ years of experience and the Resident Bone Health Expert at AlgaeCal.

About Living Better

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Why You Need More Protein As You Age