Food & Fitness After 50: Is There an Optimal Protein Intake for Older Adults?

A recent paper from three international protein gurus reviews the science behind the recommendations that older adults need more protein than young, healthy adults. The opening sentence of the paper sums up the current state of the science: “The optimum protein intake for adult health remains controversial.” How could that be?  The authors explain that why we know general requirements for protein we don’t know optimal intakes. Why there are limits to what we know about protein and aging?

  • Older adults, especially older women, are often not included as participants in research studies on protein needs.
  • Recommendations for protein are often derived from young, healthy adults. Healthy is a key word because we know that many older adults have chronic health conditions. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer affect 3 of 4 adults over the age of 65.
  • Research studies that look at protein intake and muscle mass in older adults are of short duration; most last less than 6 months. Since muscle loss is gradual, the short-term studies may not have time to show a positive effect of increasing protein.

While we may not have the definitive answer to the question posed in the title of this post, there is much we do know and here are some key points from the article:

  • The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is inadequate for older adults due to something called the “anabolic resistance” of muscle. (Anabolic means building up and is the opposite of catabolic or breaking down.) Anabolic resistance means that the signals to build up muscle through strength training or eating protein is muted in older adults. This resistance can be overcome with an increased amount of strength training or a higher intake of protein.
  • When older adults experience a period of muscle disuse, which can occur during illness or injury, signals to muscle protein are blunted and a practical way to overcome this is through a higher protein intake, especially protein-rich foods that contain a key amino acid, leucine. Protein is made up of units called amino acids and 9 of the 22 amino acids are considered essential, meaning that we can’t make them in the body, so they must be consumed through diet. Leucine is one of the 9 essential amino acids and has been found to play a critical role in protein synthesis.
  • Sarcopenia, literally meaning vanishing flesh, is the progressive loss of muscle as we age. It doesn’t start when we are 60; it starts at about the age of 40 (even earlier in those who are inactive). Between the ages of 20 and 90, we can lose over 50% of our muscle mass due to sarcopenia and inactivity.

So, where does all of this leave us? The authors conclude that older adults should increase protein…both quality and quantity at meals. Consuming at least 30 grams of protein per meal, with 2.5 grams of leucine or more can overcome the anabolic resistance of aging muscle. While not all studies agree on meal timing, the authors also conclude that spreading the protein evenly across meals is better than backloading all the protein at one meal.

So, what does that mean for us? To recap to maintain muscle you need two things: progressive, resistance strength training and nutrition. Protein is a key nutrient for building and keeping muscle.  A few facts about protein:

  • High quality protein contains all 9 of the essential amino acids (EAAs) and includes:
    • Animal protein (beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, kefir, yogurt)
    • Soy protein (tofu, edamame, soy burgers, patties, crumbles, soymilk, cheese, yogurt)
  • The following foods do not contain all the EAAs, but they contribute to total protein intake:
    • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.), almond butter, seeds (sunflower, chia, flax), legumes (peanuts, pinto, navy black beans, split peas, black-eyed peas, and other starchy beans and peas), peanut butter, pasta, rice, and whole grain bread.
  • Try and spread the protein evenly in 3-4 meals each day.

Examples of 30-gram protein meals

Sample meals and snacks with ~30 grams of protein

6 oz Greek yogurt (18)*

1 oz granola (4)

Small banana (1)

Skim milk latte (6)

2 scrambled eggs with 1 oz cheese and spinach (21)

8 oz soymilk (7)

½ slice whole grain toast (2)

Smoothie made with 1 ounce whey protein powder (20)**

6 oz Greek vanilla yogurt (18)

½ cup frozen berries (1)

Large green salad with veggies (2)

4 oz grilled chicken or salmon (28)

1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds (1)

1 Tablespoon chopped nuts (1)

3 oz tuna mixed with mayo (21)

2 slices of whole grain bread (7)

Lettuce, tomato, banana peppers or other veggies (2)

1 cup pasta (6)

3 oz turkey or beef meatballs (21)

Green salad with balsamic vinegar dressing (1)

1 cup cottage cheese (28)

1 Tablespoon chopped nuts (1)

3 slices fresh or canned peaches (1)

Stir fry with ½ cup tofu (10)

Carrots, broccoli, edamame (16)

1 cup brown rice (5)

3 oz cheddar cheese (21)

6 whole grain crackers (2)

8 ounces skim milk (8)

*grams protein in parentheses

 **most protein powders have ~20 grams protein per serving, but check labels

For those not used to thinking in terms of grams of protein (probably most of you), here are a few keys to understanding protein:

  • 1-ounce of beef, pork, fish, poultry, and cheese has about 7 grams of protein. Most of us don’t eat 1-ounce portions of these foods, so if you eat a 5-ounce portion of grilled salmon for dinner, you’ve eaten 35 grams of protein and that doesn’t count the other foods you have with the meal.
  • Dairy foods are rich in protein, the amino acid leucine, as well as other nutrients needed for muscle health such as vitamin D and calcium. 8-ounces (1 cup) of dairy milk has 8 grams of protein, but 8-ounces of ultra-filtered milk, such as Fairlife, has 13 grams of protein. Contrast that with Silk Almond milk that has only 1 gram of protein per serving. The point is that not all “milk” is a rich-protein source.
  • Foods carry a nutrition facts panel that tell you 2 important pieces of information: the serving size is of the food and how many grams of protein are in in one serving. That’s an important thing to keep in mind because you might be eating more than the stated serving size, meaning you are also getting more protein.

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  • I like to look for snacks that are nutrient-rich but not too high in calories. My recent favorite is kefir, a fermented milk drink with 11 grams of protein in 8-ounces, and is rich in probiotics, too.

I reached out the authors (aka, protein gurus) to ask them for a practical take-away from their article.

Meet the gurus

Dr. Stuart Phillips is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada (follow him on twitter @mackinprof).

“I’d recommend emphasizing the consumption of nutrient-dense sources of high-quality protein like dairy and eggs at meals that are traditionally lower protein: breakfast and lunch. My go-to protein food at breakfast (and sometimes lunch too) is Greek-style yogurt or Icelandic Skyr. Both are cultured dairy, rich in high quality protein, and many other necessary nutrients, and tasty and versatile as a base for berries and nuts.”

Dr. Doug Padden-Jones is a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Metabolism at The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas .

“For generally healthy adults, establish a dietary framework that includes a moderate amount of high-quality protein at each meal. Factors such as energy needs, physical activity, health status, body composition goals, and satiety should be weighed to determine protein needs. But, During periods of  physical disuse (injury, illness, inactivity) middle-age and older adults are at increased risk of muscle/function loss so just meeting the RDA for protein ( 0.8 g protein/kg/day)  is insufficient. Aggressive support with high quality protein (whey /leucine) and activity may help preserve muscle health.”

Dr. Donald Layman is a an emeritus professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition a the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois. (Follow him on twitter @donlayman).

 “A key for maintaining muscle health as we get older is dietary protein. Surprisingly, adults have higher protein needs than children because we have a continuous need to repair and replace proteins in our body but our efficiency of making new proteins declines with age. The best proteins are meats (including fish), eggs, and dairy. Vegetable proteins are popular, but they always have lower quality than animal proteins. You will need to consume 30% to 50% more total protein if you chose to use plant proteins. So, a 25 g whey protein shake would require at least 35 g of soy protein to be equivalent.” 

 

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved

Food & Fitness After 50: Recovery After Hard Exercise

iStock-Older couple runningMany folks over the age of 50 are incredibility active: pickleball, tennis, swimming, running, hiking, and cycling are all popular with the 50+ crowd. I am often asked about hydration and recovery strategies and sometimes I hear some crazy things. So, what do you really need to help your body recover after a long, hard work out or competition? First let’s talk about two things you don’t need.

One, a new fad called “dry fasting,” or in other words, starvation and dehydration. The idea of dry fasting (no food or water) for a set period (anywhere from 3 days to a couple of weeks) is just plain dumb for everyone, but especially for older, active adults. We’ve talked about the important of hydration in previous posts, so click here for more information on the importance of hydration for older, active people. Just say no when you come across the YouTube videos of dry fasting enthusiastic followers and stick to your tried and true fueling and hydration strategies.

Another thing you don’t need is expensive waters that claim to be “smart” by changing the acidity and alkalinity (pH) of your blood. Organs, like lungs and kidneys, tightly control our blood pH in the range of 7.35 to 7.45; if gets higher it is called respiratory or metabolic alkalosis and if it is lower it is respiratory or metabolic acidosis and both are life threatening. There is no need to try to acidify or alkalize your body because your lungs and kidneys won’t let you do it anyway. The only thing “smart” about these waters is the money they are making for their promoters.

blood ph

For real recovery and hydration, here is what we know:

  • Fluids help restore body water.
  • Carbohydrates replenish muscle carbohydrate stores (glycogen).
  • High quality protein provides key amino acids for repairing muscles.
  • Antioxidant-rich beverages like tart cherry or blueberry juice provide plant compounds that can reduce inflammation and help with muscle soreness after a hard workout.
  • Omega-3s (often called fish oils) are also anti-inflammatory and most Americans don’t get enough of these healthy fats in their diets.

ERSA Norwegian food scientist, Janne Sande Mathisen, has combined all these ingredients into a new recovery beverage called Enhanced Recovery Sports Drink. The beverage contains 20 grams of whey protein with 2 grams of leucine (an amino acid referred to as the anabolic trigger), and 1600 milligrams of omega-3s. It was tricky to find a form of omega-3s that worked in solution that didn’t taste fishy.

The carbohydrate source is from fruit juices (apple, pear, and black current) to give both rapidly absorbed carbs and polyphenol-rich fruits (those antioxidant healthy plant compounds).

I was sent some samples to try and I shared them with some very active friends. The overwhelming consensus is that it is a tasty drink, not too sweet, and serving size of just a little over 8-ounces is the right amount to drink after a workout without bloating, aftertaste, or too much volume. I think it tastes like kefir; others say it tastes like a yogurt smoothie.

I like the food forward approach of this recovery drink and think it might be a good solution for combining recovery elements in to one simple-to-drink beverage. For competitive athletes who may have to undergo drug tests, the product is certified by Informed Sport to contain no banned substances that could disqualify an athlete from competition.

Disclosure: I was sent free samples of the product to try, but I was not asked to or compensated to write this post. I have no connection to the company.

For more tips on staying healthy while being active, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available on Amazon or other booksellers.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Owning a Dog Might be Good for Your Fitness

Thanks to Dr. Bob Murray for writing this post. As a dog-lover and dog-owner (well, I think Samson and Buddy own me!) I can related to the benefits of having a dog. Even when I don’t feel like walking, those pleading doggie eyes get me every time!

woman-walking-dogThat sure is a wishy-washy title.  Why not something more definitive such as “Owning a Dog Makes You More Fit”?  After all, most dog owners can vouch for the increase in their daily physical activity just to care for their pet, including regular walks around the neighborhood.  About half of U.S. households own at least one dog and some studies do suggest that dog owners walk more than non-dog owners and are much more likely to meet the current physical activity recommendations (150 minutes of physical activity each week).  I use the word “suggest” because it is not yet fully clear if dog owners walk more just because they already lead more active lifestyles or if the dog owners studied overestimated the amount of time they actually spend walking their pets.  On a more positive note, other studies report that dog owners are less sedentary because they do move more and sit less during the day.

a-person-walking-a-dogIn theory, dog ownership might help reduce the epidemic of sedentary behavior that increases the risk of all sorts of diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.  It is clear that increased daily physical activity combats all those nasty outcomes, yet most adult Americans do not come close to getting the recommended amount of physical activity (150 minutes each week).

isolated jack russell terrier holding leather leach over white backgroundWe often think of physical activity as something to be scheduled into our days rather than as the total of all the movement we’re able to accomplish during a day.  It’s actually the sum of that movement—day after day—that provides lifelong benefits to health and well-being.  For example, if a person goes to a one-hour daily exercise class, works up a sweat, but is then sedentary the remaining 23 hours, the benefits of that hour of exercise are greatly diminished.  In contrast, there are great benefits for those who are active all day long in one way or another, be it housework, gardening, walking, labor, and so on.  Add to that list taking care of pets, especially dogs.

Motivating people to swap a sedentary lifestyle for an active lifestyle is no easy task.  It’s relatively simple for us to change our habits in the short-term (e.g., joining a gym), but sustained long-term behavior change (e.g., going to the gym regularly) is much more difficult for most people.  And that’s where dog ownership comes in.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that some scientists have put a lot of thought into what motivates us to exercise.  Here’s one recent scientific explanation: “… the multi-action control (M-PAC) framework is a [physical activity] PA-specific model that recognizes reflective processes (e.g., perceived capability) as antecedents of PA intention formation, regulatory processes as key to the translation of intention to behavior (also known as action control), and reflexive processes (e.g., habit) as potential hallmarks of PA maintenance.” (Click here to see the study cited.)

Responsible dog owners recognize their pet’s need for physical activity and that involves daily walks, among other dog-related activities (feeding, petting, grooming, etc.)  Good dog parents develop sustainable, repeatable daily physical activity habits that can last for many years, motivated by the love they feel for their pet and their desire to provide the best care possible to ensure their dog has a long healthspan.

funny-5-miles-dog-walkingOwning a dog is obviously not a sure solution for reducing sedentary time and increasing physical activity time, but being a responsible dog owner does mean that you’ll be taking more walks (and bending over more often) than you did before you owned a dog.  And if those activities add to your daily activity total, you’ll be better off both physically and emotionally.

If your spouse or partner is reluctant to take on the responsibilities of a pet parent, perhaps a convincing argument might be “But honey, owning a puppy will help us both live longer, happier lives and there’s nothing I’d like more than to spend more time with you.”

For more tips on moving well as we age, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Physical Activity is a Polypill – Say What?

Poly means many and polypharmacy refers to taking many drugs, prescription as well as over the counter, that can bring unwanted problems for older adults. Some people have shoe boxes full of prescription medicines, vitamin supplements, pain relievers, and other dietary supplements claiming to cure all ills. But, what if there was a polypill; one pill that could help us all improve our healthspan? In today’s post, Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, lets us in on the secret of a polypill.

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray

There is little doubt that regular physical activity lengthens our healthspan—the number of years when we are in good health.  Lots of research has made it clear that no medication is more effective than physical activity in helping us stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  For that reason, exercise has been referred to as a pollypill —a medication with multiple benefits.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that all the physical activity we encounter during the course of a normal day has a role in preventing heart disease.  The researchers looked at the daily physical activity habits of 5,861 older women (average age was 78) over a 5-year period and found that even light activity reduced the chances of death from heart disease.

Only about 25% of adults in the U.S. achieve the current recommendations for physical activity of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity) each week.  For anyone who is intimidated by the prospect of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, the notion that all movement counts may well promote more light physical activity during the day.  Let’s hope that’s the case.

Walking, dusting, vacuuming, climbing stairs at home, gardening and lawn work, playing with children and pets, and similar low-intensity activities are part of everyday life for most Americans.  In the JAMA study, the older women engaged in a total of 3 to over 6 hours of light physical activity each day.  Not surprisingly, more physical activity was associated with lower risk of heart disease, a finding that is likely also true for older men, although that likelihood awaits confirmation.

exerciseAny time we get our heart, lungs, and muscles out of their comfort zones—even for a little bit—our bodies benefit.  A quick look at the list of health benefits of physical activity should be enough to convince even the most sedentary person to move more.

  • Lower deaths from all causes
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower risk of hypertension
  • Lower risk of stroke
  • Lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Lower risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancers
  • Lower risk of serious falls
  • Lower risk of complications after surgery
  • Lower risk of metabolic syndrome (includes obesity)
  • Lower risk of depression (and reduces the severity of depression)
  • Better memory and cognitive function
  • Better bone health
  • Improved quality of life
  • Greater life expectancy

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if even light physical activity conferred all those same benefits, even if to a lesser extent than more vigorous physical activity?  There is a strong possibility that is the case, although much more research is needed to confirm that educated guess.  What is known is that moving more during the day is a goal we all should embrace.

In general, Americans sit too often for too long.  Research has shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, and cancer.  Even if we exercise during the day, sitting for hours on end increases our risk of those disorders.  Happily, interrupting prolonged sitting with periodic 5-minute physical activity “snacks” counters the negative aspects of sitting.  Climbing a few flights of stairs, taking a brisk walk, or doing simple calisthenics can be easily accomplished during a 5-minute break.

Physical activity is indeed a polypill that can help us lead longer, happier, healthier lives and the fact that all movement counts helps make it easier for all of us to keep moving toward a longer healthspan.

Dr. Bob Murray is an exercise physiologist and managing principal of a sports science consulting company. His passion for exercise and health began as a physical education teacher and coach, and continues today in his late 60s as an avid swimmer, cyclist, and fitness fan.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.