Even if you’re not trying to bulk up, protein should still account for a specific portion of your diet. Adult women need about 46 grams of protein per day, whereas males aged eighteen and up need 56 grams. Our bodies’ need for this nutrient doesn’t diminish with age; in fact, it plays a significant role in maintaining the health of older adults.
A Steady Decline
The body undergoes numerous changes with age, and they’re usually not positive. One such area that takes a turn for the worse is muscle mass; past the age of fifty, we shed about 1.5 percent of our muscle strength annually. This trend only accelerates after sixty, possibly reaching a decline of 3 percent per year. Not only does muscle loss make it more difficult for the body to function, but it can also lead to loss of balance, thereby increasing the likelihood of falls. Accidental falls often result in hip fractures, head traumas and other serious injuries.
Solutions from the Grocery Store?
According to a study from Boston’s Hebrew Senior Life Institute for Aging Research (IFAR), a diet that emphasizes protein can help older adults preserve both muscle mass and strength. The IFAR team reviewed data from the Framingham Offspring Cohort, a long-running project designed to measure cardiovascular disease risk in families.
Appearing in the July 1, 2015 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, the report examined data from over 2,600 older adults.Over the span of roughly three years, the Framingham Cohort repeatedly measured the subjects’ thigh muscle strength and leg lean muscle mass. In addition, the participants’ protein consumption was also monitored during this timespan.
On average, male participants consumed more protein (80 grams daily) than their female counterparts (76). The amount of protein needed to maintain muscle mass and strength also differed based on gender; 3 ounces for men, compared to only 2.6 ounces for women. Not surprisingly, those who consumed the greatest amounts of animal and total protein were found to have higher levels of lean muscle mass.
In contrast, a connection could not be established between lean muscle mass and plant protein. However, protein from nuts, beans and similar sources did have a noticeable impact on thigh strength. Compared to those most reluctant to eat plant-based protein, participants with the highest intake of such foods had stronger thigh muscles.
By eating a sufficient amount of protein, the authors believe that older adults could help seniors quite literally stay on their feet. Study co-author Marian T. Hannan noted that “eating a diet rich in protein may help preserve leg muscle mass and strength as we age, which could mitigate risk of falls. Further investigation of the impact of plant protein on muscle strength is needed.”