Eating more protein at breakfast or lunch could help older adults maintain muscle mass as they age. However, most people eat protein unevenly throughout the day, suggests new research from the University of Birmingham.
To produce new muscle, the body needs a stimulus which occurs when we eat protein-rich foods. Older adults, however, have a blunted response to muscle building when consuming a certain amount of protein. So older adults need to eat more protein to get the same muscle-building response as younger and middle-aged adults.
Just eating more protein is not enough, though. Older adults also need to spread their protein intake evenly across all meals to ensure they maximize the benefits of protein for muscle health.
Related: Eating protein three times a day could make seniors stronger
About the study
Researchers at the University of Birmingham studied the diets of 120 young, middle-aged and old-aged individuals with a particular focus on the amount, pattern and source of protein consumed.
The results showed that, while the most people across all age groups met or exceeded current national guidelines for protein intake, the protein intake and distribution across daily meals and snacks were very varied.
All participants were asked to complete a food diary over a three-day period, weighing out every single food item consumed. Researchers evaluated the protein intake across the different age groups.
Most noticeably, the team found that older adults, compared to young and middle-aged adults, were more likely to eat a lower-quality protein source, such as bread, at lunch.
While most people met daily requirements for protein, the results suggest that a one-size-fits-all guideline for protein intake isn't appropriate across all age groups. Simply saying older adults should eat more protein isn't enough.
An individualized approach is needed that can help people understand when and how much protein to consume to support muscle mass.
Source: Frontiers in Nutrition, March 16, 2020.
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