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How much protein should you be eating?

Nutrition | Apr 27, 2016

As we age, our bodies begin to lose muscle mass. This increased loss, as explained by U.S. News & World Report, is caused by changes that naturally occur as we get older, such as a reduction in physical activity and an adjustment in hormones. One major change is our muscles become less efficient at processing protein, which is a key ingredient to keeping our muscles strong.

To account for this, it is important that adults ages 50 and over take extra care to increase their protein consumption by adding more protein-rich foods to their diet. According to HelpGuide, a protein-rich diet provides an incredible host of benefits in addition to helping you maintain your strength, including:

  • Greater clarity of thought
  • Mood improvement
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Enhanced resistance to depression

"There is a right and a wrong way to go about increasing your protein intake."

There is, however, a right and a wrong way to go about increasing your protein intake. Unfortunately, your body's need for protein doesn't mean you should simply add more burgers to your diet. A healthy, protein-rich diet involves a variety of protein-heavy foods and requires careful thought to ensure you're getting the nutrition you need.

Just how much protein do older adults need?

According to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Physiology, older adults require almost double the amount of protein as the Institutes of Health's Recommended Daily Allowance for adults, which was about 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Arkansas and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging in Little Rock, Arkansas, studied the protein intake of adults between the ages of 52 and 75. It found the amount of protein ingested made a big difference in a body's net protein balance.

Essentially, the study found that by doubling the recommended dose of protein, older adults' bodies experienced greater protein synthesis, which led their bodies to be able to retain a greater amount of protein and build more muscle.

While this particular study found that the time of the day the protein is eaten is irrelevant, experts disagree on whether or not it is important for one to spread out his or her protein intake throughout the day. What seems quite clear, however, is that consuming a lot of it (about 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight) is important.

"The best way to get protein is through animal sources."

What kinds of protein-rich foods are best to eat?

The study's lead author, IL-Young Kim, told U.S. News & World Report the best way to get protein is through animal sources like fish, cheese, beef and milk. While there are plant-based foods that contain protein, Kim explained that these foods tend to lack all of the necessary amino acids adults need. If you're not into eating animal products, consider making soy, quinoa and chia essential parts of your diet, as all of these foods will give you the nine amino acids you need.

HelpGuide broke protein-rich foods into low-quality protein and high-quality protein and placed a strong emphasis on the importance of ingesting more high- and less low-quality protein-filled foods.

Foods containing high-quality proteins include turkey, dairy, free-range chicken, fish, plant-based protein sources and organic, grass-fed red meat. Foods with low-quality protein are processed meat products like bacon and hot dogs as well as industrially raised red meat, which often contain hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. An excessive consumption of low-quality protein could put you at an increased risk of health problems.

When sitting down for a snack or a meal, do your best to fill up on healthy, protein-filled foods before moving on to processed carbohydrates. In doing so, your appetite should be quenched before you feel an urge to skip the protein in favor of unhealthier foods.

What else can you do to build muscle?

In addition to consuming more protein, physical activity is key to keeping your muscle mass high. Make strength training a regular part of your week. U.S. News & World Report recommended exercising your muscles at least three times per week. Kim explained that when you do so, you will experience an added perk: you will crave more protein and automatically consume more. When you strength train, your body converts the food you eat into amino acids, meaning it will continue to ask you for more amino acids as it uses them up. The more you exercise, the more you will find yourself choosing protein-rich foods without trying.

Protein is only one key element of a healthy diet. Make sure you are also eating whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Before adding more protein to your diet, talk to your doctor to make sure it is the right choice for you.