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Do You Need More Protein The Older You Get?

The woman eats salad in the kitchen | Hurry The Food Up

💪Introduction of protein and relation to aging

Protein plays a crucial role in maintaining our immune function, hormonal health, and muscle mass. As we age, the importance of protein in our diet becomes even more pronounced.

Age-related muscle wasting (sarcopenia), is a common problem and sufficient dietary protein is one way to mitigate the loss.

However, it’s even more crucial because older adults require a higher intake of protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis effectively, a process vital for muscle maintenance and repair.

In simple terms, this is the name that describes a continuous process where new, healthy muscle tissue is created.

As we get older, our body needs more protein for the same effect. Two separate studies have highlighted the need for high protein requirements as we age.*

* Study 1 (Protein requirements). Study 2 (Protein and Frailty).

🧠Mental and cognitive benefits of protein

A meta-analysis has explored the relationship between protein intake and cognitive benefits in older adults.

While there was no definitive evidence to suggest a broad cognitive benefit from higher protein intake, several studies within the analysis did show significant associations.

Three studies highlighted a significant relationship between higher protein intake and improved memory.

Additionally, one study found a significant association with visuospatial skills, and another identified a positive correlation with verbal fluency, processing speed, and sustained attention.

The elderly couple make protein drink in the kitchen | Hurry The Food Up

However, the studies which were included in the meta-analysis were not easily compared (due to high heterogeneity) which makes it difficult to interpret the results clearly.

Notably, the protein intake levels in these studies were still relatively low, ranging from approximately 0.90g/kg (0.41g/lb) to about 1.4g/kg (0.64/lb) of body weight.

Moreover, the meta-analysis only included cross-sectional studies, which makes it challenging to ascertain cause-effect relationships.

Cross-sectional studies only look at data at one point in time, which means that you can investigate associations but cannot conclude that, in this scenario, high protein diets improve memory function.

This study is a longitudinal design, which is more reliable for assessing outcomes. It suggests that a high protein diet helps prevent cognitive decline, as shown by the reduction in adverse health outcomes in the higher protein-consuming groups.

Furthermore, it suggests that plant-based protein is associated with further favourable outcomes.

⚠️Health concerns with high protein diets

Regarding the consumption of high levels of protein, there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a “high protein” diet.

Typically, intakes in the range of 1.4-2.2g/kg (0.64g-1g/lb)of body weight are considered high.

Multiple studies* do not suggest any adverse effects from consuming protein within this range, with the exception of individuals with specific health conditions such as chronic kidney disease.

For these individuals, a tailored protein intake might be necessary upon medical advice.

* Study 3 (High protein diet), study 4 (One-year crossover), study 5 (safety).

UK protein guidelines provide a daily requirement of protein of at least 0.75g protein/kg of body weight. However, this is provided to stop a “protein deficiency” and is not in line with current research for optimal health and fitness.

🥦What protein is most impactful?

Food sources of plant-based protein | Hurry The Food Up

The consensus in research is that total daily protein intake is of highest importance.

If the total protein intake is equal, the source of protein—whether animal-based or plant-based—does not impact the effect of the protein.

However, ensuring a high total protein intake includes strategies like evenly distributing protein intake throughout the day and not skimping on protein during breakfast and lunch.

One study has shown that evenly spacing protein intake is positively associated with lean muscle mass and strength in healthy women.

For the general population, without specific dietary restrictions, my recommendation is to consume between 1.4 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram (0.64g-1g per pound) of body weight daily.

As we age, leaning towards the upper end of this range may be more beneficial. A more practical recommendation would be to include at least 30g of protein in every main meal, as this should put the average individual into the optimum range.

I would recommend this for both males and females.

Here are some of my favourite recipes for getting enough protein:

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