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Ep. 01 – How Protein Needs Change As You Age

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A photo of James on an orange background with the words Vegetarian Health and Longevity

Here’s the very first podcast of Vegetarian Health and Longevity from Hurry The Food Up and Sports Nutritionist James LeBaigue.

Listen to the podcast on your favourite provider or click play below.

Why the guidance for protein is wrong – how much you should really eat

There’s one thing which is crucial in a diet if you want to stay healthy, active and live for longer. Unfortunately, it’s something which is harder to get on a vegetarian diet, but not impossible.

In today’s podcast, I’m going to walk you through this key nutrient and how you can ensure you get enough of it to thrive.

Welcome to Vegetarian Health and Longevity

Hey, and welcome to vegetarian health and longevity, the podcast where we cover amazing topics that help vegetarians live longer in better health.

I’m your host, James LeBaigue. And I get to interview expert guests and also share my own experiences working as a sports nutritionist, and as an advanced clinical practitioner in family medicine.

So today’s topic is something I really care about, because I think it’s so undervalued, sure, people are aware of it, but it actually gets a bit of a bad rap.

It’s often associated with bodybuilders or people who only care about building huge amounts of muscle. But it’s so much more than that. I am, of course talking about protein.

The Misunderstood Protein: Beyond Bodybuilders

Now, you might be thinking that either this doesn’t apply to you, or that you eat enough already. But what if I was to tell you that the national guidelines are wrong, and that protein is something that will keep you healthy, keep you strong, and for example, able to play with your family, even into your later life.

So I’m going to give you an overview of protein, how protein needs change as we age, and why it’s so important, and run you through challenges vegetarians face, as well as ways to overcome them.

I’m also going to bust one huge vegetarian protein myth for you.

The Vital Role of Protein: A Repair Mechanism

So let’s get into it.

I’d like to start by talking about your house or property where you live, perhaps it’s a relatively new house, or maybe it’s actually quite old, the chances are, you have to do some work to keep it functioning. It needs ongoing repairs and maintenance as it ages.

And if you don’t keep it in good condition, then bits of it start to break down. Well, that’s basically your body and protein, you can think of protein as critical repair parts, which helped to keep it functioning in optimum condition.

And without enough of it, things start to go wrong. So when it comes to protein, most people just think about muscle and its role there.

And while that is important, and we’re going to talk about this more in the podcast, it’s also integral to so many other functions in your body, dietary protein contributes to your hormonal system and hormone production is heavily involved in your immune response.

So even if you discount everything else, you need it to stay healthy, but people are right and that it’s heavily linked to muscle. And this becomes even more important as we get older.

Protein’s Impact on Muscle Health

Now there’s something called muscle protein synthesis, which is the term given to describe your body producing and maintaining muscle tissue and creating new healthy, better tissue as well.

It’s in a constant flux between this production of new muscle tissue with the breakdown of muscle tissue, appropriately named muscle protein breakdown.

Now when we consume food, it’s the protein in it that triggers this muscle protein synthesis.

And the important thing to note is that as we get older, the amount of protein that you need to consume to trigger muscle protein synthesis increases, which essentially means you need to consume more protein for the same effect as when you were younger.

Sarcopenia: Aging and Muscle Wastage

There’s also something called sarcopenia. And this is a term you may have heard before, and it essentially means age related muscle wastage.

This is a natural process. And it happens as we get older, and we can’t stop it. But we can reduce how quickly or how significantly it happens.

And you’ve guessed it, protein is heavily involved in that we know that adequate amounts of protein in the diet can reduce the rate or the significance of sarcopenia. So we definitely want that and I’m not just talking about big, strong, bulky muscles.

I’m talking about muscles that just get you through everyday activities, walking up the stairs or playing with your kids or grandkids.

Having that muscle is important.

And it also keeps you more independent later on in life. Now if you look at government guidance from the UK or the US, you’ll see a figure for recommended protein intake somewhere around naught point seven five grammes of protein per kilogramme of body weight per day.

Now, in my opinion, this is misleading. This number is actually based on preventing a protein deficiency, not for optimum health or sporting performance. If you look at the data, it shows that at least 1.4 Four grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is actually much better.

And I generally suggest up to about 2.2 gramms of protein per kilogram of body weight per day as the top max value. And it’s important to remember that we need more protein as we get older. So my preference is to start opting towards that higher end of the range.

Later on in life as a rough guidance, something like 30 grams of protein per meal is a really good aim. And that will keep you in that optimum range.

Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins: Myth Busted

Now, you may have heard before about complete and incomplete proteins, and how you might need to combine vegetarian protein sources.

To get a complete protein, amino acids make up a protein. And there are nine which are termed essential amino acids. And these are the ones that our body cannot produce.

So we have to consume them from our diet, plant based sources of protein will typically contain lower amounts of certain essential amino acids, which is where the notion has come from that you need to combine protein sources to get this complete amino acid profile.

Now, this isn’t actually necessary, because your body is a very clever thing. It has a pool of amino acids available, which it can draw from. And if you’re eating a variety of protein sources over the day, then you’re going to be absolutely fine. But it’s still important to think about.

And a nice way to remember it is to remember the rhyme a green, a green and the bean, this doesn’t have to be with every meal. But you can just consider this over the course of the day. And make sure you’re ticking those boxes, it’s probably worth highlighting as well, that dairy sources of protein. So we’re thinking animal sources of protein, contain a complete amino acid profile.

So you don’t have to worry about that if you’re consuming animal sources of protein.

Diverse Sources of Vegetarian Protein

Now, one of the comments which we frequently get on our website, is what are the best sources of vegetarian protein, there’s actually a load and once you know, you’ll see these protein sources in so many different foods, and you’ll start to be able to include them in your diet naturally, things like lentils, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, certain nuts, and seeds are all excellent sources of protein, and can really help to bump up your protein intake of your meals.

Now, we’re going to talk about this in a moment because there’s a huge problem with something called protein spacing that I typically see in vegetarians diets. But what I want you to try is include different sources of proteins in all of your main meals.

Overcoming Protein Spacing: Breakfast to Dinner

So for example, if you have oatmeal in the morning, then you could add some low fat greek yoghurt, or some nuts and seeds to it to help bump up the protein content of that meal. If you’re looking to try the Vegetarian Diet, and you’re not sure where to start, then we’ve got you covered.

We have free meal plans available on our website for whatever your goal, whether that’s weight loss, muscle gain, and toning, or just generally healthy living, had to hurry the food up.com forward slash try, that’s t r y to check them out and download your free plan and get started.

Now, it’s not always easy to get a good amount of protein in every meal. And it’s even more difficult as we get older. Because there are potential barriers that make it harder, it might be that you have a natural decline in your appetite, you have difficulty preparing certain foods, or your taste preferences are different to what they used to be.

These are the sorts of things that can make it challenging. Along with this, there is the huge problem that I mentioned with protein spacing. Now one of the things which I typically see with a vegetarian diet is that people skimp on their protein with breakfast and lunch. And they make far more of an effort with dinner.

So for example, they might have some oatmeal in the morning, or they might have something like a slice of toast, or maybe even a muffin. And then at lunchtime, they go for a salad because it’s healthy. And all of that is fair enough.

But the likelihood is that unless you’re putting specific focus on protein, it’s going to be far lower than it should be. And nowhere near that 30 grams mark that I mentioned earlier, so you want to pay specific attention to your breakfast and your lunch because the likelihood is you’re falling short of your protein requirements during these meals as well.

Now you might want to opt for some protein rich snacks.

And there are various different ways that you could do this. You could go for something like a smoothie, and include some blended oats you can have semi skimmed milk or soy milk for a higher protein content than something like almond milk or oat milk.

Nut Butters

You could add in some nut butter, peanut butter, almond butter, and you can add in nuts and seeds as well and blend that all up to have a nice delicious but high protein smoothie. You can also use things like low fat dairy to help bump up your protein content as well.

And one of my absolute favourites is low fat Greek yoghurt with something like berries, so blueberries or cherries, because those are generally low in calories, but it means you get a good amount of protein.

And it’s really filling and satisfying. At this point, it’s probably worth talking about protein shakes as well, because they have a bit of a bad reputation, which isn’t necessarily warranted.

The Role of Protein Supplements

Now, protein shakes are simply just blended versions of protein, that’s the same protein that you would typically eat. If, for example, you ate a piece of chicken, which you probably won’t if you’re listening to this podcast, or some eggs, dairy, but it is simply just a blended version of that. So it is not inherently bad.

For some people, it’s actually really useful as it’s a very easy and convenient way of getting protein into the diet with minimal extra calories, and minimal extra ingredient. And it’s easy and well tolerated. So I actually do quite often recommend them to people, especially as we’re getting older.

Because if you are trying to deal with everything else that might be going on in life, and one area that you want to improve your protein intake. Simply having a protein shake is a very easy way to bump this up, it doesn’t mean you have to do that.

And you can definitely get enough protein just through having normal meals and not using any supplement. But it’s not wrong to do it. So while protein is definitely connected to muscle mass and muscle maintenance, it’s also worth just thinking a bit wider about this and about your overall health. As we get older, typically we see our bone density drop.

Protein’s Impact Beyond Muscle: Bone Health and Longevity

And this is a really big issue. Now while protein won’t specifically help with your bone density, it does help with recovery from the one thing that does impact your bone density. And that’s exercise or more specifically resistance or strength training.

By strength training, I mean doing exercise where you’re putting your muscles and your bones under load. So think of things like using dumbbells, or squatting, this might come in various different forms. And it’s going to be different for every person, depending on where you are in your health and fitness journey.

Stay Strong

But strength training is one thing which is so important for longevity, it’s one of the most important things that we can do for staying healthy and active into later life.

And protein is going to help you to recover well from it, which means that you’re not going to feel as sore, you’re not going to feel as beaten up.

And you’re actually going to make adaptations from that strength training. And by that I mean, you’re going to be able to actually generate that healthy new muscle tissue. And then by doing that, it means that you’ll have more muscle, you’ll be able to exercise more, you’ll recover better.

So it’s just a virtuous cycle. We know as well that exercise is so important for so many different things, it’s good for reducing your blood pressure, your risk of type two diabetes, your risk of high cholesterol.

So when you tie it all in together, having a good amount of protein in your diet simply helps with so many facets of staying healthy.

As we get older, hopefully you can see how it’s not just related solely to having bigger, stronger, massive muscles.

It’s actually just the joining thing that connects our health as a whole. It’s only fair to say though, that while protein is so important, it should be part of a varied and balanced diet. Typically, I say a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.

All of these are vital for staying healthy, especially as we get older. But I think protein is something that’s so misunderstood.

And a lot of people miss the required amounts of protein to keep them healthy as they get old. So as a summary, it’s fair to say that protein is far more than just being involved with muscle building.

Protein and Aging Conclusion

It’s integral for your hormonal health, for your immune system, and it has links to so many parts of your overall health, you lose muscle as you age and protein is one thing that can help to stop this, you need to make sure that you eat more than the government guidance, because that’s just focused on stopping a protein deficiency, not the optimum amount.

If you don’t already put a bit more effort into your protein intake at breakfast and lunch and not just your dinner. Lastly, it’s important to focus on protein but still have a balanced diet.

So I would love to hear your thoughts on this and whether it’s made you consider protein in a different light.

Now if you found this podcast useful then please share it with your friends and give it a five star rating because it helps it to spread and we’ll be able to help more people stay healthy and happy as they get older.

And finally – everything discussed today is backed up by several studies.

Studies used in this podcast and article:

Evenness of Protein Intake

High-Protein Diet Induced Weight Loss

High Protein Diet Safety

Dietary Protein in Relation to Aging

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