Protein does a lot of great things for our bodies. It builds new cells, repairs old ones, keeps our muscles and bones strong, and even helps us feel full between meals. Dietary proteins are made of building block units called amino acids and these amino acids are needed to make required proteins in the body. We need to make sure we eat enough high-quality protein in our diets, especially as we age so that our bodies have the necessary amino acids for our bodies to function correctly.
A U.S. study of more than 11,000 adults over age 50, based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that more than 1 in 3 adults are not getting the daily recommended amount of protein they need. which is 0.8 g/kg body weight/day. Further, new research suggests that older adults may need more daily protein than the RDA, with recommendations of 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or higher per day. If you’re like most people, a couple of food myths might keep you from getting the most out of what you eat.
Here are a few ways to make the protein in your diet work harder for you.
Myth: You don’t need protein for breakfast.
While you were sleeping, your body was in a state of fasting and protein was not being delivered to your muscles. Getting a high protein breakfast is a great way to replenish your muscles’ protein balance. However, if you're only eating toast or a bagel, you could be missing out. Including cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs, other protein foods can increase the protein content of your breakfast.
What really works: Aim to get protein at every meal, including breakfast, to nourish your body and satisfy your hunger. Start your day right with these high-quality breakfast food ideas.
Myth: Skipping meals won’t have an impact on overall protein intake.
Even though protein is in lots of foods, at least 40% of adults over age 50 don't meet the RDA. One major reason is likely meal skipping. The study mentioned previously found that 60 percent of those who fell short on protein reported regularly skipping at least one meal a day.
What really works: Try not to skip meals and prioritize protein when you eat. If you need a snack or to supplement a meal, try a protein drink such as Ensure® Max Protein, which has 30 grams of protein, as a way to work in a quick protein fix.
Myth: Your age doesn’t matter when it comes to protein needs.
Experts agree that protein needs increase with aging and illness. Muscle loss is a natural part of aging, and some older adults can lose up to 8% of muscle mass each decade, starting at age 40. That can take a toll on your strength and energy levels, making things that were once easy more challenging. On top of that, as you age, your body becomes less efficient at utilizing protein, so you must eat more of it to reap the benefits.
What really works: Compared with younger adults, older adults may need up to twice the protein intake at one sitting to maximize the rate of muscle protein synthesis after exercise. Even non-exercising older adults may require 50% more daily protein than the RDA. Finally, the recommended amount of protein also increases if an adult is malnourished because of an acute or chronic disease.
Protein Calculator: How much do you need?
Myth: Activity level doesn’t impact protein needs.
When it comes to protein, one size doesn't fit all. Just as age impacts protein needs, so does the activity. If you're an athlete or hit the gym hard, you may need twice as much protein as a more sedentary person to help rebuild and maintain stressed muscle tissues. Timing is also important. In addition to eating various sources of protein at every meal, powering up with a protein-rich snack after exercising can help repair any damage to muscles.
What really works: Aim to get 25 to 30 grams of protein after a rigorous workout. Try these muscle-building post-workout snack ideas.
Myth: All protein is created equally.
Proteins are made of building blocks called amino acids. Of the twenty amino acids in food proteins, nine are essential, meaning that the body has to have a daily supply of them to support normal growth, development, and function. Other amino acids are nonessential, meaning the body can make them from other amino acids. Protein may go by one name but there are actually two different kinds:
Animal foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy contain complete protein, while most plant-based proteins, except for soy protein, are incomplete. However, eating a variety of vegetable protein sources each day (e.g., grains and legumes) can provide enough complete protein. Also, plant-based protein foods, such as legumes and whole grains, offer ample dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial phytonutrients. And if you need another reason, a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine found that diets rich in plant-based protein are associated with increased life expectancy.
What really works: Try to include at least one source of high-quality complete protein in every meal. If you follow a plant-based diet, mix things up by eating different kinds of vegetable protein throughout the day, such as peanut butter on toast for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch and stir-fried tofu with quinoa for dinner. If you find yourself in a rush but still need your plant protein intake, grab Ensure’s first vegan nutrition shake. Ensure Plant-Based Protein shake has 20g of plant-based protein from a blend of fava bean and pea.
With a little protein know-how, you can prioritize this essential nutrient at every meal to maintain your strength, energy and overall health.
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