It seems that eating adequate, good quality protein combined with resistance exercise and physical activity are of particular importance as we age.
According to CSIRO, from the age of 40 onwards, our skeletal muscle mass decreases between 3-8% every decade and by the age of 60; it continues its decline at a rate of 10-15% every ten years. (1)
Regular resistance exercise and adequate, good quality protein can improve muscle mass and strength and it’s never too late to start. Studies have shown that eating proteins like fish, meat, chicken and eggs may improve muscle protein synthesis. Interestingly, it was also found that spreading the protein over 3 meals was beneficial in the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. (1, 3)
So why is protein so important? And what is it necessary for?
Protein, often described as the “building blocks” of the body, – is used for a myriad of functions that include maintenance, repair, replacement and rebuilding of tissue. Some of our hormones are proteins and when we eat, the enzymes needed for digestion are themselves proteins. Proteins have a role to play in our immune system and are essential for strength, health and of course managing our weight. Proteins give us a sense of satiety at the end of a meal and help curb sugar cravings.
As you may already know- not all dietary proteins are alike.
Animal proteins like meat, fish, dairy and eggs are considered, in general, higher quality protein because many of them contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts.
Plant sources may be seen, in general, as lower quality as many may lack all the essential amino acids and may be less efficiently absorbed.
Vegetarians can meet all their protein requirements as long as they choose a wide variety of protein rich plant-based foods and combine them effectively. Planning your diet if you are vegetarian is a really important aspect of making sure you meet your protein needs. (1,2)
If you are concerned and would like to find out whether you meet the necessary requirements in protein intake – please feel free to book a consult with one of our qualified nutritionists or naturopaths.
Recently, CSIRO released one of its newest books called “PROTEIN PLUS”, it seems they too are revisiting their protein recommendations and highlight the importance of regular, good quality protein in our diet as we age. Researchers are placing more emphasis on “optimal” rather than “minimal” protein requirements especially for older adults. (1,3)
So, what can you do to preserve muscle mass and strength? And why is it so important to do so?
Witard et al in a review article in 2016 proposes that preserving muscle mass and strength is a “critical aspect of ageing with health and vitality” and even more so that “poor nutrition and physical INACTIVITY are known to accelerate the gradual age related decline in muscle mass and strength”; known as sarcopenia. (3)
Researchers are in agreement that including lifestyle changes like “high quality protein at each meal, in combination with physical activity”; may help to prevent or even “delay the onset of sarcopenia” (4)
Including simple resistance exercises in your weekly exercise regime is a great tool in your lifestyle prevention toolkit. Exercises like using stretching bands, body weight exercises, pilates and circuit training are all good examples of strength or resistance exercise which uses muscles to contract against a resistance.
It seems that resistance training may even improve glucose levels and reduce waist circumference. In fact, in one study that investigated the role of muscle strength in the prevention of developing type 2 diabetes – it demonstrated that muscle strength may even lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 32%. Yet another reason to add these exercises to your lifestyle plan. (6)
Developing lifestyle interventions that target preserving muscle mass and strength using exercise and nutrition are critical in maintaining longer, happier and healthier lives in older age. Please feel free to contact any of our naturopaths or nutritionists if you want to further discuss your protein requirements, or you would like us to assess your current diet.
- Bowen J, Brinkworth G & James-Martin G, 2019,CSIRO PROTEIN PLUS, nutrition and exercise plan, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd.
- Wolfe, R. R. et al, 2018, Factors contributing to the selection of dietary protein food sources. Clin Nutr, 37, 130-138.
- Witard, O.C., et al 2016, Growing older with health and vitality: a nexus of physical activity, exercise and nutrition. Biogerentology, 17,529-546
- Bosaeus, I., et al 2016, Nutrition and physical activity for the prevention and treatment of age-related sarcopenia. Proc Nutr Soc, 75, 174-180
- Hardcastle AC, et al, 2011, Dietary patterns, bone resorption and bone mineral density in early post-menopausal Scottish women, European journal of Clinical nutrition, 65, 378-385.
- Association of Muscular Strength and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.08.037