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Senior Nutrition: Why Active Seniors Need Protein

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Strength training is important for people of all ages, but it’s especially important for older adults. Along with aging comes a gradual loss of muscle mass and overall muscle strength. Surprisingly, by age eighty about half of an adult’s overall muscle mass has been lost. Not only does this loss of muscle make it more difficult to carry out their daily activities, it also increases the risk of injury and mortality in seniors. The good news is much of this loss can be offset by senior strength exercises and a good resistance training program. When it comes to preserving elderly muscle mass and muscle strength, another important consideration is diet. Getting an adequate amount of protein is important for preserving muscle, and it may be particularly important for older adults to get sufficient amounts of protein in their diet. Protein for Older Adults: Are They Getting Enough? As a generalization, seniors get less protein in their diet than younger adults. This stems from a variety of factors. One reason is older people tend to have reduced appetites and may take in inadequate calories, increasing their risk for protein deficiency. Some seniors also have difficulty digesting protein due to an age-related decline in digestive enzymes and may end up with indigestion and bloating after eating a high protein meal. As a result, many seniors aren’t meeting the daily recommended requirements for protein intake. This makes preserving senior muscle mass and strength more difficult despite regular resistance training exercises. After all, protein is needed for building lean body mass. Protein for Older Adults: Why They May Need More There’s even evidence that seniors need more protein than younger people do. This is because their muscle cells are less responsive to the effects of insulin, the hormone which transports protein into the muscle cells. It’s recommended that adults get one gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight. In terms of protein for older adults, one-and-a-half grams per kilogram may be more appropriate for preserving senior muscle mass. In terms of senior strength exercises and resistance training, the best time for a protein meal is immediately before and after a strength or resistance training workout. This timing allows the protein to be best utilized by the muscles for growth. Keep in mind that resistance training in the absence of sufficient protein will give minimal results. Choosing Protein for Older Adults When selecting protein for older adults, some good sources are tuna fish, lean chicken, and salmon. These types of proteins are easy to digest for most seniors. Other sources that may be more difficult to digest are lentils and low-fat dairy products. For older adults who have problems eating solid foods, there are a variety of high protein shakes available at most health food stores. The Bottom Line? Protein for older adults is important for maintaining strength and muscle mass and should be combined with regular senior strength exercises and a resistance training program for best results. The good news is resistance training combined with a diet of high-quality protein can have a dramatic impact on strength and muscle composition in older people which can help to reduce their risk of injury.

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