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Daily protein essential for active older women

Last week, I reported on the positive effect which a 35-gram daily intake of a whey protein hydrolysate in conjunction with a resistance exercise program had on older women — helping to offset the effects of sarcopenia — the aging loss of lean muscle. An important part of that equation is the appropriate amount of daily protein consumed.

Reporting in the September issue of the online journal Nutrients — Impact of Meeting Different Guidelines for Protein Intake on Muscle Mass and Physical Function in Physically Active Older Women — researchers from the School of Health Sciences, Orebro University, Sweden, support the current RDA (recommended daily allotment) of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram ( of bodyweight (BW) to prevent the loss of muscle mass and physical function in the elderly. However, it was also emphasized that a higher protein intake of at least 1.1 g·kg BW is required to infer additional benefits on “constructs of physical function preventing the occurrence of physical limitations in the elderly.”

Researchers pointed out that “findings were evident in women who met guidelines for PA, supporting the role of dietary habits in general and protein intake in particular in the promotion of healthy ageing.”

To reach these conclusions, investigators recruited one hundred and six women between the ages of 65 and 70, who met the currently accepted exercise guidelines of 150 minutes of weekly moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, be free of diagnosed coronary heart disease, and diabetes mellitus, have no disabling mobility issues and be non-smokers.

Study participants were then assessed for body weight, height, body mass index — with those participants having a BMI of greater than 25 being classified as overweight — and a skeletal muscle mass index (SMI) using bio-electrical impedance. A weekly physical activity assessment was ascertained using an accelerometer (Actigraph GT3x) — along with a standardized, submaximal cycle ergometer exercise determination and a maximal isometric quadriceps (thigh) strength assessment. Dietary intake was monitored using a six-day food record. Based on existing guidelines for protein intake (0.8 or 1.1 BW), participants were characterized as to higher or lower dietary protein intakes.

One interesting finding was that “while an RDA of 0.8 g·kg BW seems to be a protein amount sufficient to prevent sarcopenic (aging) loss of muscle mass, our findings indicate that this threshold is insufficient to preserve physical function. Indeed, not meeting an intake of 1.1 g·kg BW was associated with a higher likelihood of having physical limitations and lower muscle strength.”

Thus, “conflicting results exist regarding the role and amount of dietary proteins in the maintenance of physical function in older adults,” the researchers determined.

Moreover, it appears that the RDA for protein intake wasn’t associated with aerobic fitness in the participants, which the researchers concluded was not a main factor determining cardiovascular health.

“Together with data from previous studies, it is suggested that associations between protein intake and physical function are partly dependent on the selected aspect of physical capability,” which translates to the type and intensity of exercise.

As for muscular strength relative to the leg (quadriceps) strength, it appears that protein intake may indirectly influence muscle strength through its impact on muscle mass. Protein intake post resistance exercise builds muscle.

After 30 years of hospital affiliated weight management and wellness programs in a diverse population, I can attest that the proper protein quality and intake — dependent on age, health status, activity and stress level, and gender, is critical to offset the sarcopenic and dynapenic effects we all may experience with age — without intervention.

The key to perform beyond what age throws at us is to lower your health and performance age below your chronological age. The main solution is movement. So, move it or lose it. And, consult a registered nutritionist for dietary recommendations.

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