It is extremely common to lose skeletal muscle mass as you age. In fact, due to a medical condition known as sarcopenia, the average adult begins losing muscle mass at a rate of 3% to 8% per decade beginning at the age of 30. Over time, the loss of lean muscle contributes to a decrease in both muscular strength and power, which are important predictors of issues such as the loss of mobility, slower recovery time from illness, and eventually, the forfeiture of independence.

While the reasons for age-related muscle loss are complex, they include a decrease in physical activity and a decline in good nutrition, particularly protein. Unfortunately, up to one-third of older adults do not eat enough protein each day, often because of things like reduced appetite, dental issues, declining sense of taste, and problems swallowing. Equally important, however, is that older adults may not get enough protein because they do not realize how important it is. Ironically, older adults need more protein than when they were young, but they are getting considerably less.

Recommended Daily Allowance for Protein

Based on early studies, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein for all adults – regardless of age – was established as 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (or 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight). Because older adults were not included in the studies used to establish the RDA for protein, experts warned that this amount might not adequately address the health needs of older adults.

A 2015 study concluded that because older adults have lower rates of protein synthesis, their RDA for protein should be considerably higher than for their younger counterparts. Specifically, the study recommended that older adults get 0.45 to 0.585 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (or 1.0 to 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of weight). In another study, adults over the age of 50 who roughly doubled the RDA for protein (eating 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, or 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight), were able to rebuild and retain more muscle after only four days (compared to those who only met the RDA).

As important as it is to get substantially more than the RDA for protein, it is equally important that protein consumption be spread throughout the day. This recommendation stems from research demonstrating that older adults are less efficient in using amino acids for muscle protein synthesis. Thus, a per-meal dose of protein helps them process it more efficiently throughout the day. In other words, the total amount of protein that you eat during the day may not matter as much as making sure that each meal and snack includes protein. But if you eat too little protein at any meal or snack, it may not stimulate the uptake of amino acids into skeletal muscle. Conversely, if you eat too much protein, it will likely be too much your body to be able to process.

Rethinking Your Eating Habits

Attorney Greg Bishop, located in Park City, Utah, suggests that as a practical matter, the need to consume more protein than you are accustomed to means that you will need to rethink your eating habits. For example, even a healthy-sounding breakfast of oatmeal and low-fat milk won’t provide anywhere near the level of protein you need for that meal. You should consider adding protein-rich foods such as Greek yogurt, eggs, or turkey sausage to your morning meal. Similarly, having a sensible salad for lunch is fine, but you will need to supplement it by adding chicken or some other protein. Finally, you will need to make sure that your last meal of the day gets you across the finish line of your daily target for protein consumption.

About: Greg Bishop is a business-oriented corporate attorney who always strives for improvement. He makes it a practice to only hire people who are smarter than him so that his team can raise the bar in helping the company be successful. Currently residing in Park City, Utah, he is passionate about living life to the fullest and helping others reach their full potential.

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