Posted on Aug 08, 2017, 5 a.m.
Eating protein at all three meals may help seniors stave off muscle decline.
New research shows consuming protein during each daily meal might help senior citizens maintain their strength. Unfortunately, many senior citizens and people in other age cohorts often save their daily protein consumption for dinner. The study was performed by Canadian researchers. They found meals rich in protein evenly spaced out throughout the day reduced muscle decline. However, spreading out protein consumption throughout the day did not improve seniors' mobility. The study was co-authored by McGill University assistant professor Stephanie Chevalier.
The Roller Coaster of Muscle Protein
Muscle protein is not static. It is highly dynamic, moving up and down with little stagnation. Muscle protein is regularly broken down only to be built right back up. Protein is necessary for this phenomenon to occur. This is true for people of all ages. However, muscle protein is more inclined to break down than build up later in life.
Chevalier's team tracked about 1,700 fairly healthy men and women in Quebec across three years. The study participants were between the ages of 67 and 84. Each provided dietary information and underwent annual arm, hand and leg strength testing. These participants were also tested to determine if their mobility changed.
The research team determined men and women suffered worsening physical performance across the three years. Participants' muscle strength decreased more than their mobility. However, the participants who spaced out their protein consumption across the usual three daily meals retained more muscle strength. Yet they did not enjoy better mobility than those who consumed the majority of their protein later in the day.
The Moral of the Story
Chevalier is adamant that seniors should make a concerted effort to consume sufficient protein in three meals every single day. Saving a protein-packed food for dinner will not suffice. Insufficient protein and the failure to consume protein across the day's entirety has the potential to prevent the building of muscle and consequently reduce seniors' strength. Chevalier believes better-distributed protein could be connected to improved physical performance and a reduction in seniors' rate of decline. Plenty of seniors endure harsh falls due to a lack of lower body and core strength.
Chevalier is quick to note the study has not pinpointed a direct cause and effect between spacing out protein consumption and enjoying improved muscle strength. Rather, her research team observed an association between protein consumption distribution and muscle strength. This means it can't be concluded that older individuals enjoyed greater strength simply because they consumed protein at an even distribution across each meal of the day. Additional research will have to be performed to establish direct proof. However, Chevalier noted the study's finding held up when varying amounts of protein were consumed.
Previous research indicated adults of every age should eat 1.2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight. This means a 130-pound woman would need slightly less than one ounce of protein per meal. A man who weighs 155 pounds would need somewhere around three ounces of protein each day. Ideally, he would spread this protein out across each meal, equaling an ounce of protein for every meal. Prior research has also shown older adults require more protein than people in other age cohorts.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines advise those beyond the age of 50 to eat between 5 and 7 ounces of protein each day. The USDA reports an ounce of protein can be derived from one egg, half an ounce of seeds or nuts, a quarter-cup of beans, a tablespoon of peanut butter or an ounce of meat, fish or poultry.
Stephanie Chevalier, R.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, department of medicine, McGill University, and associate member, school of human nutrition, MUHC-Research Institute, Montreal, Canada; Lona Sandon, Ph.D., RDN, LD, program director and assistant professor, department of clinical nutrition, School of Health Professions, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; July 2017 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition