Protein Intake and Exercise in Older Adults

Many sometimes think resistance training and high protein intake are only recommended for a younger active gym-bound population.  But did you know that this recommendation is actually more important for older adults.  Seniors require more protein/kilogram of body weight than younger adults.   Resistance training in older adults is crucial to help slow muscle atrophy (loss of muscle) and loss of strength as quality of life is affected by reduced strength and endurance.  Recommendation is 3 days/week of resistance training.  One of the most important benefits for seniors in regards to resistance training is that it can increase the muscle protein anabolic response to nutritional stimuli.  In short, exercise increases blood flow towards the muscles and digestive tract, which can help move food through the digestive tract and increase nutrient absorption.  Exercise also alleviates heartburn, gas, stomach cramps and constipation.

As people age body composition changes.  A reduction in body protein causes a decrease in skeletal muscle and a reduction in other proteins as organ tissue, blood components, immune bodies as well a decline in the body’s total potassium and water content. The standard Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per day.  But older adults were rarely included in studies that established RDAs and experts say this standard may not adequately address the needs in the older population.  A review of additional evidence prompted the European Union Geriatric Medicine Society (EUGMS), in cooperation with other scientific organizations to appoint an international study group to review dietary protein needs for the aging population (seniors over 65 years of age).   RDA’s out of this study recommended higher daily averages of 1 – 1.2g protein/kilogram of body weight daily to maintain and regain lean body mass and function.  An example would be 69-81 grams for a 150lb woman and 81-98 grams for a 180lb man. For those doing both endurance and resistance type exercises to be on the 1.2g side and even higher protein intake for those who have acute or chronic diseases to 1.2–1.5g protein/kilogram of body weight daily. (Note people with severe kidney disease are an exception to this rule and may actually need to limit protein intake).  

The importance of dietary protein cannot be underestimated in older adults; inadequate protein intake contributes to a decrease in reserve capacity, increased skin fragility, decreased immune function, poorer healing, and longer recovery from illness.

Good high-quality protein is usually of animal sources as they have all the required amino acids to make a complete protein and nitrogen balance.  Plant proteins can be combined to make complete proteins but there are also other combinations needed to make sure important other nutrients like iron, are being absorbed as well.  In this case it would require vitamin C to help this happen.  Also, if you are a vegetarian as in a vegan where all animal products are avoided, vitamin B12 needs to be monitored and supplemented.  If not supplemented in some way you could be facing irreversible neurological damage and even heart failure.   Don’t be fooled B12 is synthesized only by certain bacteria and archaeon, but not by plants.  This is so crucially important if you have moved away from animal proteins and are new to being vegan.  At first you may not notice any ill feelings as you will most likely have B12 reserves for about 2–4 years.  But as you run low, symptoms will start to appear and the more serious complication as mentioned above will happen if you go too low.  Fortunately, a lot of foods are fortified, like in cereals or soy milks but you still must be monitored to make sure you have an adequate amount in your system.

Make sure to check out DEEM Health Facebook Page.  We are doing free classes for the month of May during this time of isolation.  We want to help keep you healthy 😊

Mikkie Nettles, Certified Personal Trainer/Holistic & Sports Nutritionist

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