Aging Well

Why all the fuss about protein?

Protein and Aging

Protein and Aging
As someone who has been in the fitness industry for over 30 years as well as someone who has "formal training" in nutrition and exercise, I felt as though I had a pretty good handle on protein requirement and intake. As a physically active vegetarian, I have been keenly aware that I must make sure I am getting adequate protein in my diet at every meal and most snacks. I felt confident that I was eating properly for my body size and lifestyle.

After turning 50 I often felt unusual muscular fatigue, even with basic activity such as climbing a flight of stairs. I was so perplexed by this that I saw my physician just to make sure there was not a serious health problem underlying my fatigue. He was unable to find anything physically that could be causing my fatigue. I remained baffled and continued looking for answers on my own.  Shortly thereafter, as part of my work with A.T. Still University in "Gerokinesiology", one of the students brought in an article on the importance of protein intake for middle aged and older adults to prevent Sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia is a type of "muscle wasting" that occurs due to many of the physiological changes that takes place as we age.

As much as I tried to deny it was applicable to me, these changes seem to begin for most people at middle age and I had to admit being over 50 put me in that category!  I began looking at the research on Protein Requirements and aging. What I discovered helped me and I believe could help others like me.

The general protein recommendations for adults is .8g/kg/day.

For example: To convert pounds to kilogram, divide the pounds by 2.2

150 pounds = 68.18 kg

68.18 kg x .8 = 54 g of protein per day.

However, research shows that as we age our protein requirements increase. We can forestall or prevent sarcopenia by increasing our protein intake to 1.2 – 1.5g/kg/day.

Using the above example that would boost the person's proteins needs to 82-102.27g/kg/day

At the same time most of us are trying to prevent weight gain - particularly as we age.

How much food would it take to make up this difference in protein requirement?

6 oz steak


3.5 oz chicken breast AND a thigh


6 oz can of tuna


7 eggs


2 cups of beans


10 Tbs of peanut butter

Remember these guidelines are targeted for the prevention of muscle wasting in older adults. When we are exercising regularly chances are we need even more protein! When I sat down an actually looked at the amount of protein I was taking in and compared it to these guidelines, I was short at least 50g of protein per day!

My dilemma was how to get enough protein to maintain muscle mass (or improve) without adding too many extra calories.

In order to solve this problem taking a protein supplement seemed like the easy way to go.. But take a look around any health food store and you will find shelves of protein powders and concoctions; many of which may have 50 g of protein and close to 1000 calories per serving!

More is NOT necessarily better...

Once again, looking at the research, our bodies cannot metabolize more the 30g of protein in a single serving. So trying to take more protein in one serving in order to get your requirements is simply a waste of money and calories. Here are a few suggestions in for selecting a protein supplement:

Know the source of your protein:

  1. Choose a high quality protein source – preferably organic. Whey and Egg White protein are high quality protein sources. Research has shown that taking a quality protein supplement after a workout can help build muscle mass.
    For Vegans, Pea Protein has also shown to be beneficial.
    Personally, I stay away from Soy. Health professionals disagree on the benefit of eating non-fermented Soy products. If you are interested in more information on Soy the Weston A. Price Foundation has developed report covering the myths and facts on Soy
  2. Look at the ingredients – what is in the product other than protein. Watch out for added sugars, chemicals or artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
  3. Check the amount of protein & calories per serving – You don't need a supplement that offers more than 30g of protein per serving. Protein itself does not have a lot of calories. If the supplement is high in calories, double check the ingredients list to see where the calories are coming from.

If all of this is just too overwhelming, please feel free to check out the Whey Protein from Maine Natural Health listed on this site. I have found them to be a company sincerely devoted to developing high quality wellness products.

I would love to here about your experiences as well. Please feel free to comment!

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