Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for older adults to build and maintain muscle mass. Skin, bones, and organ are largely made up of protein. The functions of protein include repair and maintenance of cells, making hormones and enzymes, transporting and storing small molecules within cells throughout the body, helping in healing wounds, and making antibodies to fight disease. Proteins are made up of smaller units of amino acids which are attached to each other in long chains. There are 20 different amino acids. The body can produce some of them, but there are nine essential amino acids which must be consumed in the diet.
Muscle plays an important role in human health. Strong muscles help decrease back pain and prevent falls. Muscle mass is key for optimal calorie burning, dense bones, and increased energy. Slow muscle mass loss that occurs from aging is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia may contribute to decreased strength, mobility issues, and falls. Consistent resistance training is imperative for all ages, but especially for seniors. Older adults also need to consume an adequate amount of high-quality protein.
The current RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Research indicates that protein needs increase after age 60. Current studies suggest that most people over 65 years of age should consume about 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. An example: a 150-pound female over 65 would need 68 to 82 grams of protein daily. Sources of high quality include meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. Plant (vegetarian) sources include beans, tofu, and chia seeds. Older adults should eat approximately 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal and consume snacks which contain protein. It is especially important to include protein at breakfast. An example of a breakfast with 30 grams of protein would be one scrambled egg and two Italian veggie sausages. Eggs, low fat milk and Greek yogurt are high quality sources of protein, especially for older adults who have issues with chewing or swallowing
Lack of enough protein in the diet can lead to reduced reserve capacity, fragile skin, decreased immune function, poorer healing of wounds, and longer recuperation from illness. Protein is essential for wound healing. The amount of protein required depends on the type and stage of the wound. Most Americans get plenty of protein from their diets. Dietary surveys show that they consume 1 and ½ times the RDA for protein. Getting adequate protein at any age is vital. It is necessary for good health and quality of life, especially for older adults.
www.eatright.org, the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Webb, Denise, PhD, RD, Protein for Fitness: Age Demands Greater Protein Needs, Today’s Dietitian, April 2015, Volume 17, Number 4, Page 16