When you hear the words “high protein diet” do you immediately think of bodybuilders? Well, getting sufficient protein is important to everyone’s diet, and especially in older people, in order to maintain overall health, muscle strength, balance, agility and resilience.
Why do we need protein?
Protein is one of the foundational nutrients that make up your body. Every cell in your body relies on protein to function including muscle, bones, internal organs as well as skin, hair and even nails.
Protein is essential for healing, building and repairing cells and body tissue. We need protein to:
Why do Seniors need more protein?
Research has found that older people are not able to use protein as easily as younger people, so their bodies may need more protein to meet its needs. Without sufficient protein, your body starts to break down muscle mass and lose bone strength.
A diet high in protein can protect against this loss of tissue. Strong bones and muscles allow us to get out of a chair, walk to the shops, do gardening, go dancing, or play with grandchildren. Even simple tasks like pulling on our socks and getting out of the shower are made easier with healthy and strong muscles and bones.
In lean, young adults, 30% of the body’s protein lives in the muscles, and 50% of their total body weight can be muscle (like those bodybuilders). As we age, it is normal to lose some muscle mass. By 75-80 years old, around 25% of the body is made of muscle. Most of the muscle we lose is in the legs, which leads to weakness, tremors and feeling tired and achy when walking, as well as an increased risk of falls. Ageing also uses up your nutritional reserves. When we are young, we can survive on a diet lower in nutrition, but by the age of 65, our reserves may be exhausted. Without the proper intake of nutrients daily, weakness and frailty can result.
How Much Protein Do Older People Really Need?
It is generally recommended that 10-35% of your calories should come from protein. That means if you eat 2000 calories in a day, you need between 200 and 700 calories to come from of protein.
Recent research shows that these recommended amounts of protein may actually be too low for elderly people. Seniors may actually need 1.0-1.3 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 70kg, this could mean consuming 70 – 90 grams of protein every day, regardless of your calorie intake.
Where Does Protein Come From?
Protein can be from animal or plant sources. Your body breaks down protein into amino acids. Your body then uses these amino acids as building blocks to build, repair and maintain your body. Amino acids are classed as either essential, non-essential or conditional. Essential amino acids need to come from your food. Non-essential amino acids are made by your body from the foods you have eaten, and conditional amino acids are the ones you rely on when you are ill or injured.
20 Tips for a High Protein Diet for Seniors
Increasing the amount of protein in your diet requires you to have a plan, and this starts with an awareness of your protein needs. Then make a list of high protein foods that you love to eat, and at every meal, try to swap out a carbohydrate for a higher protein food.
Breakfast tends to be the meal where most people lack protein. Here are some high protein breakfast ideas:
High Protein Lunch Ideas
High Protein Dinner Ideas
Most Australians consume the majority of their protein at dinner. Protein does not need to be evenly spaced throughout the day. If you like protein later in the day, take advantage of this.
A serving size for a meat protein is typically the size of your palm.
High Protein Snacks
Snacks are another place to add in a protein punch. Try a combination of fresh fruits or veggies with:
Making sure that your diet includes enough protein will help keep you healthy. You have more energy to look forward to, and your muscles and bones will be stronger. Try some of these protein rich suggestions for your next meal.