Getting enough protein daily is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Protein is crucial in building muscles, recovering energy, maintaining a healthy metabolism, managing blood pressure, and feeling full and satiated.
The need for daily protein becomes even more critical as we age. Most older adults suffer from sarcopenia or the age-related decline in muscle mass, which often causes them to break a bone in a fall. Thankfully, enough daily protein can prevent or reverse this muscle loss.
Importance of Protein in Building Muscles
Protein plays a crucial role in our muscle development, muscle mass, and lean tissue. When we build muscles, our body will break down protein into amino acids, the building blocks of the human body. These amino acids will then repair and maintain muscle tissues.
Our body can make many amino acids, except for twenty that can be taken from food sources. Nine of these, namely histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine, are called essential amino acids (EAA).
These EAAs build vital proteins for the optimization of liver function and brain neurotransmitters and the growth of tissues, organs, and muscles. Among them, leucine is the most important for muscle protein synthesis.
Leucine is responsible for many of the anabolic or muscle-building processes. Research has shown that older adults who are already suffering from muscle loss will lose even more muscles if they have lower blood levels of leucine.
Muscles After Age 50+
As we get older, we start to lose muscles. It starts slowly but ramps up as our age increases. On average, a person can lose 0.5% to 1.5% of lean body mass each year between 50 and 80. This loss adds up over the years, meaning more muscle mass has been lost by age 80.
Older adults also tend to suffer from anabolic resistance, a condition that lowers your body’s ability to break down and utilize protein. It can result in a protein deficiency known as a negative protein balance, which causes the amino acid pool to get picky about where the amino acids go, leaving other places deprived.
This deficient processing spares many amino acids with essential molecules, such as white blood cells (WBC), that support immunity and muscle building. Since there are often too few molecules, it’s hard to maintain immune functioning proteins, let alone build muscle. This is why the aging population has a hard time building and retaining muscles.
Apart from the inevitable age-related psychical changes like muscle breakdown, aging is also associated with chronic, low-level inflammation. This inflammation triggers and accelerates muscle mass.
Additionally, the vicious cycles of age-related aches and pains aren’t the only reason older adults live a sedentary lifestyle. Many are getting more comfortable in their old age and prefer not to challenge their muscles regularly. As a result, not only their muscle mass but also their independence starts to decrease.
Protein’s Recommended Dietary Allowance
Our bodies don’t store protein. That’s why we have to get our daily protein intake, which is usually 0.8 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of your body weight. In another way, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36.
Apart from body size, other factors like age, activity levels, and pregnancy status also matter when calculating a person’s daily protein intake. For example, a 50-year-old woman weighing 140 lbs and who’s sedentary (doesn’t exercise) may need around 53 grams of protein daily.
Safety Concerns of Protein Powders for Adults Over 50
Overconsuming protein doesn’t benefit one’s health, especially for older adults. Many high-protein foods come with high saturated fat, such as red meat. Overeating this protein may result in heart disease and colon cancer. Despite getting protein from low-fat sources, extra protein intake has been associated with kidney stones.
There’s no one-size-fits-all on how much protein is too much. However, here are some dos that everyone can follow:
- Consume protein that’s 2 grams per kilogram or lesser of your body weight.
- Avoid high-fat and highly processed protein sources.
- Opt for low-fat nuts, beans, and dairy food.
- Spread out your protein throughout the day. Consider the “30-30-30” daily protein intake rule: 30 grams at breakfast, 30 grams at lunch, and 30 grams at dinner.
- Consult a doctor on whether a high-protein diet is suitable and safe for you.
High-Protein Foods for Adults 50+
According to several dietitians, the following are the best protein-heavy foods to eat after 50:
Many dairy foods, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, provide high-quality protein. Milk, in particular, contains the amino acid leucine. Besides protein, they also have high calcium content, which promotes strong, healthy bones. However, they’re not the best options for people who have lactose intolerance and dairy allergies.
A plant-based alternative to dairy foods is quinoa. Although it’s a whole grain, it has a high protein content that can meet your daily protein needs. In fact, it’s a source of complete protein, which means it provides all EAAs.
Quinoa is also rich in fiber. It has a lot of aging benefits. First, it lowers the risk of heart disease by getting rid of cholesterol in the body. Second, it feeds the good gut bacteria to improve the immune system by feeding the good gut bacteria.
Like dairy products, lean is another protein source that often gets a bad rap, especially once people reach their 50s. However, beef is packed with several essential nutrients, including high-quality protein, the antioxidant selenium, iron, and vitamin B-12, all great for old age.
While many claim its potential effects on your cholesterol, eggs are the most bioavailable protein for us. Not only a lean source of protein but eggs also provide healthy fats. These two help you feel full for longer, helping you manage or lose weight well.
Eggs also have vitamin D and iron, which both promotes strong bones and the normal function of the immune system. Eggs also have vitamin B12 and choline, which slows down the aging of the brain and promotes brain and cognitive health.
Beans and legumes
Most animal protein sources are naturally complete proteins, while plant-based proteins aren’t. However, combining beans and legumes, such as rice and beans, can provide you with the right combination of complete proteins.
Besides having a chock-full of protein, they also contain helpful levels of fiber. As mentioned, fiber is great for feeding your gut’s good bacteria and lowering cholesterol levels. It can also help bind and flush out toxins and waste from your body.
Dietary Protein vs. Protein Supplements
You can get your daily protein intake from protein-rich whole foods. According to Harvard, they’re much more affordable and less risky. They also offer complex nutrition, naturally providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats that are unavailable in protein powder.
In contrast, protein supplements, as their name implies, are only for supplementation. While they have a higher protein concentration, they can’t replace whole foods. They lack beneficial nutrients that naturally accompany proteins in whole foods.
However, protein supplements can help people who can’t normally get enough protein. These include trained professional athletes, people with a restricted diet, or older adults with a limited appetite or anabolic resistance.
Recommended Protein Powders for Adults 50+
Protein supplements come in various forms. The most commonly used are whey, soy, and casein protein powders. Whey protein, in particular, is the most popular due to its low fat and high “complete” protein content.
For the plant-based option, soy protein is at the top of the list. You may also choose from peas, rice, and potato powders. There’s also egg protein powder, but it’s not so in demand because it doesn’t dissolve easily and isn’t tasty.
Whey: Best Post-Workout Protein Powder
A study suggested protein intake after a workout becomes more important as you age. The participants were men over 50 who gained muscle mass after drinking protein shakes immediately after training. Since whey is the only rapidly absorbed protein powder, experts recommended it as the best post-workout protein powder for men over 50.
Casein: Best Protein Powder Before Bed
Research supports the practice of drinking pre-sleep casein protein in older adults. It gives their muscles a steady supply of amino acids and boosts muscle protein synthesis throughout the night.
Unlike whey, casein is a slow-acting protein. Having enough protein that’s slowly absorbed in the body helps older adults keep muscle protein synthesis rates elevated. Moreover, soy protein is an alternative if you can’t use dairy products.
How Long Does Protein Powder Last?
Protein powders typically have a shelf life of nine to 19 months, as long as stored under normal conditions (usually, 70°F and 35% humidity). If they have additives, they can last up to 24 months.
Plant-based protein powders, such as soy, peas, rice, and potato, can also last up to 24 months. Unlike whey protein or casein protein, they don’t contain milk ingredients and have less likely bacterial concerns. Nonetheless, whether animal-based or plant-based, nearly all protein powders are low-moisture foods. This means they’re less susceptible to bacterial growth overall.
Learn more about the shelf life of protein powder at reputable sources. You may also consult a professional, such as a nutritionist, for more safety precautions and ways to use protein powder before it expires.
Age-related muscle loss is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you just have to stand by and accept it without doing anything. By getting enough daily protein intake and maintaining an active lifestyle, you can keep your age and muscle loss at bay!