Protein as you Age
When you hear high protein diet do you think of bodybuilders? Men and women with large arm, chest and leg muscles?
But a high protein diet is important for seniors, too. No matter your age or level of fitness, you also need protein. As we age, our bodies process protein less efficiently and need more of it to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health, and other essential physiological functions.
Even if you’re healthy, you would need more protein than when you were younger to help preserve muscle mass, experts suggest. Yet some older adults don’t eat an adequate amount due to reduced appetite, dental issues, impaired taste, swallowing problems and limited financial resources.
Combined with a tendency to become more sedentary, this puts them at risk of deteriorating muscles and strength (or sarcopenia), which in turn can affect balance, gait and the ability to perform the simple tasks of everyday life, slower recovery from bouts of illness and the loss of independence.
Your body relies on protein to function. Seniors especially need a high protein diet to maintain:
- Overall health
- Muscle strength
- Balance, agility and resilience
Protein is essential for healing, building and repairing cells and body tissue. You need protein to:
- Heal from injuries
- Keep your fluid levels in balance
- Recover from surgery or illness
- Maintain healthy vision
- Balance your hormones and digestive enzymes
Recent research suggests that older adults who consume more protein are less likely to lose “functioning”: the ability to dress themselves, get out of bed, walk up a flight of stairs and more.
A diet high in protein can protect you from losing muscle, and muscle is important because you require the use of your muscles for everything you do.
Strong bones and muscles allow you to get out of a chair, walk to the store, do yard work, go dancing, or play with your grandchildren. Even simple tasks like pulling on your socks and getting out of the shower are made easier by healthy and strong muscles.
As we age, it is normal to lose muscle mass, but a loss of strength can also cause you to fall. You may also be more susceptible to illness and injury.
Recovery after illness or hospitalisation
For seniors with acute or chronic diseases, protein intake is quite important. Protein becomes much more important during events in an older adult’s life that force them into a situation of muscle disuse — a hip or knee replacement.
However, do note that seniors with kidney disease, should not increase their protein intake unless they’re on dialysis and should always consult their doctor before undertaking any new diet.
Older adults discharged from the hospital may supplement their diet with extra protein as this may help improve recovery from a hospitalization. If someone isn’t able to consume a piece of meat or has no appetite, drinking a protein shake during the day that supplements normal meals would help.
Tips to add more protein into your diet
Increasing the amount of protein in your diet requires you to have a plan. The first rule to follow is to be aware of your protein needs. Then make a list of high protein foods you love to eat. At every meal and snack try to swap out a starch or carbohydrate for a higher protein food, and to supplement with a protein shake.