Seniors Need More Protein to Be Strong

To be strong, seniors need to focus mainly on two things: strength training  and protein in their diet.

Seniors are taking advantage of weight-training classes, yoga, aqua aerobics  and even spinning, and the pluses are worth the effort: improved strength and  balance, stronger heart and lungs and a lower risk of diabetes or a bone  fracture.

But to reap the benefits, seniors need to pay attention to what they eat,  too. Recent research finds more protein is needed as we age – necessary to keep  muscles and joints strong and enable the body to manufacture substances, like  hemoglobin, insulin, neurotransmitters and others.

Counting grams

The recommended dietary allowance is for adults to divide their body weight  by three to get the number of grams recommended – for example, 50 grams of  protein for a 150-pound person.

Researchers at The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Department  of Geriatrics, are finding that is too low to improve muscle mass, strength and  function in the elderly, and they recommend almost doubling the amount.

As the research continues, experts say it is prudent for seniors to aim for  halving their weight number – for example, 75 grams for a 150-pound person or 60  grams for 120 pounds.

Better food choices

Experts recommend switching to a high-protein breakfast after middle age,  which is when we start to lose muscle mass. Options could be a yogurt smoothie  with fruit, a vegetable omelet or oatmeal with milk rather than water.

Although grains and vegetables supply an average of 3 grams of protein per  half-cup serving, the bulk of dietary protein should come from animal sources or  soy protein because they contain an essential amino acid, called leucine, found  to stimulate muscle building.

Whey protein in milk contains the richest concentration of leucine as well  as eggs, meat, poultry, fish and other dairy products.

Each 1-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish contains an average of 7 grams  of protein. An egg contains 6 grams, and a cup of milk or a serving of yogurt is  8 grams. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are more concentrated with about 17  grams of protein per serving. A veggie burger or 4 ounces of tofu has 14 to 18  grams.

Time it out

Active seniors should aim to eat protein-rich foods like yogurt, cottage  cheese or a tuna sandwich right after exercise because this is when the body is  primed to build muscle, and it helps improve strength.

Spread out protein during the day because the body can only use 30 grams at  a meal or snack for muscle building. Instead of choosing 6 to 8 ounces of  chicken breast at dinner, for example, a better option is to eat half that  serving at lunch. Aim for balanced meals and snacks that contain protein to meet  the daily protein aim.

To avoid weight gain and excess saturated fat, choose leaner chicken, turkey  and white fish (same protein content but roughly half the calories per ounce  compared to beef) and fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. If  lactose intolerance is a problem, try lactose-free varieties or soy milk.

Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in food and  nutrition. Send your questions to her at www.wicked This column  is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Check with your doctor before  changing your diet.

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