Protein plays a vital role in ensuring we age in healthy, optimal ways. It’s important that you get enough as you get older, but you don’t have to overdo it. For some older people, supplements might be the best way to fill in nutritional gaps. Protein powders and shakes, and protein pills for seniors are available options.
Below, we discuss what all seniors should know about protein and how to choose a supplement for your needs.
Protein for Healthy Aging
Our bodies are primarily made up mostly of proteins, and they are called the building blocks of life. There are a lot of varying types of protein in our bodies, and they include:
- Proteins make up your muscle mass
- Collagen strengthens and structures your tissues
- Your nails, hair, and your skin are made up of protein
- Hemoglobin is a protein, and it carries oxygen around your body
- Hormones are proteins and act as chemical messengers for your body
- Enzymes are proteins that regulate your metabolism, and they help you generate energy and insulin and digest food
- Antibodies are a certain type of protein that is part of your immune response
As we age, we lose 30-50% of our muscle mass. This happens between the ages of 40 and 80, meaning that you need to make sure that you’re getting enough protein to slow this loss and continue to maintain or even add muscle.
Less than half of older adults get the amount of recommended protein, which is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. To give you a point of reference, three ounces of chicken have around 50 grams of protein.
Even if you’re technically getting enough protein or having as much as you did when you were younger, it might be enough. If you have inflammation or medical problems like injuries or chronic diseases, you need more protein. Older people are more likely to have ongoing, chronic systemic inflammation, which increases your need for protein.
Medications can also mean you need more protein, such as steroids like prednisone.
If you don’t get enough of what you need from your diet, your body pulls it from your muscles, speeding up the loss of strength and muscle mass.
How Much Protein Do Seniors Need?
Research supports the need for seniors to up their protein intake by as much as 50%. If you’re over 65, you should try to get 0.45 to 0.55 grams of protein per pound of your own body weight, each day. If you weigh around 150 pounds, you should try to get 68 to 83 grams.
If you exercise regularly and strength train, you want to try and be on the higher end of that.
If you have a chronic disease or illness, you should aim for 102 grams if you’re 150 pounds.
Some of the signs that you might have a protein deficiency and loss of muscle mass include an increased risk of bone fractures, hair loss or problems, and an impaired immune system that often leaves you getting infections. Fatty liver is also a symptom of protein deficiency.
The Best Sources of Protein
Food is the best way to get the protein you need for most people. Dairy, seafood, meat, and poultry all provide protein. You can also get it from plant-derived sources, including soy, nuts, seeds, lentils, and beans.
The difference between animal and plant-based proteins is the type of amino acids. Animal-based protein sources are complete. Complete proteins have all nine amino acids you need to get through food. A few plant foods like soy and quinoa are also complete.
If you only get protein from plant sources, you may need to eat more food to get adequate protein.
If you’re an older person, this can be tough for you because you might not have a big appetite, or you could have a hard time chewing.
What About Protein Supplements?
If you’d like to add more protein to your diet, or you’re mostly getting it from plant-based sources, good supplements are available. Protein powders and drinks often come from soy, whey, or pea protein. Be careful that if you opt for drinks or powders, they aren’t high in sugar or additives.
If you don’t have a huge appetite, powders or drinks can provide as much as 30 grams of protein in a serving, which might work well for your needs.
Protein pills are another way to supplement. Protein pills typically come from bone broth or are collagen supplements. They don’t give you as much protein per serving as a powder or shake, but they have unique benefits.
For example, bone broth and collagen protein can help with inflammation and joint pain, which may be an issue as you age.
If you aren’t sure whether you’re getting enough protein to support healthy aging, talk to your health care provider about the best options to fill in the gaps.