Your body changes as you age, and that means you need to make adjustments in your diet to continue to fulfil your nutritional needs. Our protein requirements are determined by our biological sex, our weight, our overall health and fitness, and our goals, and these requirements also change with age.
As we get older, the rate of muscle protein synthesis (the process by which the body produces muscle), starts to decrease. This means that our muscles need more help maintaining themselves, so it’s important to consider this when thinking about your meal plans and supplementation past the age of 50.
Well, the loss of muscle mass can result in a condition called sarcopenia, which can reduce your muscle mass by up to 8%. This condition becomes much more common around the age of 50, affecting around 10% of people. Not only can the loss of muscle mass from sarcopenia reduce your quality of life, it can actually shorten your lifespan (Angulo, El Assar and Rodríguez-Mañas, 2016).
Even people with active lifestyles can find themselves losing muscle mass as they age, as the body can no longer continue muscle protein synthesis at the same rates. This can lead to a decline in our physical abilities which has a direct impact on the levels of physical activity we can achieve throughout the day.
Older men in particular might find themselves needing to increase their protein intake, due to a condition called anabolic resistance, which lowers your body’s ability to break down proteins. When you’re building muscle, your body needs to break down proteins into amino acids, and if this rate is lowered then you can’t build or maintain muscle mass. Older women, too, tend to exercise less, which can have an effect on the loss of lean muscle mass. Eating enough protein can help to offset this. Although ensuring that you’re maintaining moderate levels of activity will also be a huge help.
How can I avoid this?
One of the biggest reasons that we begin to lose muscle mass and trigger the onset of sarcopenia is not being active enough to maintain the muscle mass we already have. This is especially relevant as we get older, when injury might lead to long periods of immobilisation. In fact, some studies have shown that lower rates of movement for only two to three weeks can increase the rate of muscle loss in older adults (Murton, 2015). Consistently partaking in gentle or moderate exercise, such as walking, is an excellent way to keep your muscles moving.
Another is an imbalance in diet. If you’re not getting enough calories in your diet - specifically an insufficient amount of protein - this can not only lead to weight loss, but also to the loss of muscle mass. Studies have suggested that the optimal amount of protein to eat at each meal to prevent sarcopenia is between 25 and 30 grams (Yanai, 2015).
Eating plenty of protein rich foods is one way of ensuring that you are meeting your protein requirements to prevent muscle loss, encourage muscle building and maintain your existing muscle mass. For the majority of people, appetite diminishes with age, which can lead to eating fewer calories and ingesting less protein, encouraging the onset of sarcopenia.
Therefore, you might want to consider adding a protein shake into your daily routine to bolster your protein intake. Studies have shown that up to one third of older adults might not be getting enough protein. Protein or nutritional shakes are one way to encourage a consistent protein intake which can help to preserve lean body mass (Bhasin et al., 2017).
Protein powders are also a good option for bolstering your protein intake, and often contain extra nutritional benefits - plus, they’re not just for athletes! Take Vivo Life’s VEGAN PROTEIN, for example. It contains 21g of plant-based protein per serving, designed to be kind to your digestion and contain only natural ingredients to offer a cleaner source of protein, with nothing artificial.
Not only are the flavours natural, and delicious, but you can also get an unflavoured version, which can be added to meals if you’d prefer not to add a shake to your day.
Bhasin, S., Apovian, C.M., Travison, T.G., Pencina, K., Huang, G., Moore, L.L., Campbell, W.W., Howland, A., Chen, R., Singer, M.R., Shah, M., Eder, R., Schram, H., Bearup, R., Beleva, Y.M., McCarthy, A.C., Li, Z., Woodbury, E., McKinnon, J. and Storer, T.W. (2017). Design of a randomized trial to determine the optimum protein intake to preserve lean body mass and to optimize response to a promyogenic anabolic agent in older men with physical functional limitation. Contemporary Clinical Trials, [online] 58, pp.86–93. doi:10.1016/j.cct.2017.05.004.
Angulo, J., El Assar, M. and Rodríguez-Mañas, L. (2016). Frailty and sarcopenia as the basis for the phenotypic manifestation of chronic diseases in older adults. Molecular Aspects of Medicine, 50, pp.1–32. doi:10.1016/j.mam.2016.06.001.
Murton, A.J. (2015). Muscle protein turnover in the elderly and its potential contribution to the development of sarcopenia. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, [online] 74(4), pp.387–396. doi:10.1017/S0029665115000130.