As I age, how much protein do I need? And do I need to take supplements to get enough?

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If you’re a woman in your 50s, you’ve probably seen advice on social media or from influencers telling you that your protein needs increase dramatically in middle age. The guidelines suggest that a 70-kilogram woman needs about 150 grams of protein each day. That’s the equivalent of 25 boiled eggs, with 6 grams of protein per egg.

Is that right? Let’s first look at what protein is and where you get it.

Protein is an essential macronutrient in our diet. It gives us energy and is used to repair and rebuild muscles, bones, and soft tissues. Hormones and Enzymes Most of us associate animal foods (dairy, meat, and eggs) with being rich in protein. Plant foods such as bread, grains, and legumes are also valuable protein sources.

But what happens to our needs as we age?

Age and stage

Protein needs change at different stages of life. This reflects changes in growth. Especially from infancy to adulthood. Approximate average requirements by age are:

  • 1.43 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight at birth
  • 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight at age 612 months (when protein needs are at their peak)
  • Protein needs decreased from 0.92 grams to 0.62 grams per kilogram of body weight from 618 years of age.

When we enter adulthood Protein needs are different for men and women. This reflects a higher muscle mass in men than women:

  • 0.68 grams per 1 kilogram of body weight for men
  • 0.6 grams per 1 kilogram of body weight for women.

Australian recommendations for people over 70 reflect the increased need for tissue repair and muscle maintenance:

  • 0.86 grams per kilogram of body weight for men
  • 0.75 grams per 1 kilogram of body weight for women.

For a 70 kg man, the difference is 12.6 grams/protein per day. For a 70kg woman, the amount increases by 10.5g per day. You can increase protein by 10g by consuming 300ml of milk, 60g of cheese, 35g of chicken, 140g of lentils or 34 slices of bread.

Evidence appears that higher intakes for people over 70 years of age (up to 0.941.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day) may reduce muscle mass that declines with age. However, this has not been included in any national dietary guidelines.

But what about middle age?

So part of the push for higher protein intake in middle age may be due to a desire to prevent age-related muscle loss. And it may be part of a shared desire to prevent weight gain that can accompany hormonal changes.

There have been relatively few studies specifically examining protein intake in middle-aged women. One large observational study in 2017 (in which researchers looked for patterns in a population sample) of more than 85,000 middle-aged nurses found higher vegetable protein intake. But it is not animal protein or all protein. It is linked to a lower incidence of early menopause.

in the same group of women Another study found that higher vegetable protein intakes were linked to a lower risk of frailty. (refers to the risk of falls, disability, hospital admission and reduced mortality). Higher animal protein intakes are linked to a higher risk of frailty. But total protein intake had no effect.

Another observational study of 103 postmenopausal women found that lean muscle mass was higher in middle-aged women with higher protein intake. But intervention studies Another study (in which researchers tested specific changes) showed no effect of higher protein intake on lean body mass in late postmenopausal women.

Some researchers are theorizing that higher protein intake along with lower kilojoules can reduce weight gain during menopause. But it has not been tested in clinical trials.

increasing protein intake Increases satiety (feeling full), which may play a role in reducing body weight and maintaining muscle mass. The amount of protein to improve satiety in the study was approximately 1.01.6 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. However, the study did not specifically look at middle-aged women. But it covers all ages and both men and women.

What are we actually eating?

If we look at the average daily protein intake, we see that 99% of Australians under 70 meet their dietary protein needs. Therefore, most adults will not need supplements.

Only 14% of men over 70 and 4% of women over 70 did not meet their estimated average protein needs. This could be for a number of reasons. including decreased overall health Illness or injury which leads to a reduction in appetite Decreased ability to prepare food for oneself and the cost of animal protein sources

Although they may benefit from increased protein from the supplement. But opting for a food-based approach is better. In addition to being more familiar and delicious, it also comes with other essential nutrients. For example, red meat also contains iron and zinc. Fish contains omega-3 fats, eggs contain vitamins A and D. Iron and some omega-3 fats, and dairy products contain calcium.

So what should I do?

Symptoms of protein deficiency include muscle loss. Poor wound healing, edema (fluid accumulation) and anemia (When blood doesn’t provide enough oxygen to cells), but the amount of protein in the average Australian diet means deficiencies are rare. The Australian Nutrition Guidelines provide information on how many servings you need from each food group. To achieve a balanced diet that will meet your nutritional needs

If you are concerned about your protein intake due to poor health Increased demand due to sports or because you are vegan or vegetarian. Talk to your GP or certified nutritionist.

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Reference: As I age, how much protein do I need? And do I need to take supplements to get enough? (2023, 6 November) Retrieved on 9 November 2023 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-11-protein-older-supplements.html.

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