Protein and ageing

Date: 25 January 2018

Demand for protein is swiftly on the rise. As consumer awareness of the role that protein plays in good health increases, so does demand for more sources of protein. Loaded with health benefits, protein is used in virtually every facet of healthy living from preventing weight gain and promoting satiety to increasing muscle development and helping with healthy ageing.

Healthy ageing
Independence, quality of life, and good health are all crucial factors for healthy ageing. One of the major problems of ageing is the gradual loss of muscle mass, strength, and function; a condition known as sarcopenia.

Research has shown that protein, particularly the essential amino acids, is a vital nutrient for maintaining muscle health in older adults and preventing sarcopenia. Older adults, however, are less responsive to the anabolic stimulus of low doses of amino acid intake compared to younger adults – an issue which can be overcome with higher levels of protein consumption, requiring older adults to consume a larger dose of protein to generate responses similar to that seen in younger adults.

Protein alone is not enough
While increasing intake of protein is beneficial to older adults, upping protein intake alone is not enough according to new research. Clinical studies carried out by a team at Wageningen Univesity in the Netherlands show that resistance training must be paired with sufficient protein intake to maintain or improve muscle health and function in older adults.

As part of the study, the adults taking part in the trials were given either a protein supplement or a placebo. By the 24 week deadline, those taking the supplement showed a 40% increase in muscle strength, an increase of 1.3 kilos in muscle mass, and a substantial improvement in physical functioning. The placebo group improved in strength and physical performance but showed no difference in muscle mass.

These results led the research team to conclude that protein supplementation is needed to allow muscle mass gain during exercise training in older adults.

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Baum, J. I., Kim, I.-Y., & Wolfe, R. R. (2016) Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake? Nutrients, 8(6), 359. 

Dongen, E.J.I. van, Leerlooijer, J.N., Steijns, J.M., Tieland, C.A.B., Groot, C.P.G.M. de, and Haveman-Nies, A. 

Tieland, C.A.B., Dirks, M.L., Zwaluw, N.L. van der, Verdijk, L., Rest, O. van de, Groot, C.P.G.M. de, and Loon, L.C. van Protein Supplementation Increases Muscle Mass Gain During Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Frail Elderly People: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association 13(8), 713 – 719.