A lack of protein is a marker of not just a port diet, but of overall health, says a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. Here’s a link to the study published in February 2019: (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12603-019-1174-1)
Though we all know protein is important, the reality is many middle aged and older adults—close to half of American adults over the age of 50, in fact—still aren’t getting enough protein, says the study.
If you’re in this 50-plus crew, it might be even more important to consume adequate protein than when you were younger, as your body starts to lose muscle mass. Though lifting weights and strength training helps, sarcopenia (muscle loss due to age) is a natural part of the aging process and leads to a decrease in strength, as well as an increased risk of fractures. In other words, a lack of protein over time will limit overall quality of life: If you’re weak and frail, your day-to-day life will suffer. Period.
This study looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 2005 to 2014, which gathered information from almost 12,000 adults in the 50-plus age range. Specifically, the researchers examined protein intake and dietary patterns and their impact on physical function.
As many as 46 percent of older participants aren’t eating enough protein. There was also a link between low protein consumption and overall diet choices. Low protein intake seemed to go hand-in-hand with a lack of other healthy foods, such as green vegetables, and seafood.
Further, the researchers discovered those who didn’t eat enough protein were also the ones who were limited in various daily activities, such as standing, kneeling, crouching and walking. The whole quality life thing again…
Finally, the research found a lack of protein was also linked to various vitamin and mineral deficiencies, namely zinc, selenium, Vitamin C, D and E. Being deficient in those vitamins and minerals can have negative affects on the immune system, which is also something you want to avoid as you age, as your body becomes less efficient at fighting off illness and disease.
So How Much Protein Do You Need?
It’s dicey to make blanket dietary recommendations, as diet is so individual—it depends on your age, size, activity level, goals, body composition, genetics and on and on—and even the experts can’t seem to agree on how much protein we should consume. Thus, it’s a dilemma when it comes to prescribing a general number of minimum protein grams per day. Check out this article by Robb Wolf about the confusion surrounding HOW MUCH PROTEIN YOU SHOULD EAT, even among the experts: (https://robbwolf.com/2016/11/07/how-much-protein-do-we-really-need/)
With all that being said, what we have noticed with our clients is when they increase their protein and reduce their carbohydrate intake, they tend to feel better and stronger and have more energy, not to mention they usually increase their lean mass and reduce their body fat.
This happens when they start consuming approximately 40 percent of their daily macros in protein(along with approximately 30 percent carbohydrates and 30 percent fat). This varies person to person, but 40 percent or so seems to be a good number to strive for, and it’s certainly much higher than most people are getting now.
Just to compare this to other information out there: If we look at “general guidelines” that exist, they tend to be more conservative on protein requirements than what I just suggested. The US Dietary Guidelines, for example, suggests a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight (https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/) This would mean the average (albeit sedentary) person who weighs 75 kg (165 lb.) should consume 60 grams of protein a day, which is likely not going to amount to 40 percent of their daily macros.
However, it’s important to note that 0.8 g per kg of bodyweight is simply the minimum amount of protein a person of that size needs to consume to avoid losing muscle mass, and to avoid getting sick etc, whereas we’re striving for more than just avoiding being not sick (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096)!
Whether you’re in the 50-plus crew or not, come talk to us if you want some help figuring out how much protein you should be eating.