By Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S.

All food groups (protein, carbohydrate, fat) are essential for good health for everyone. Teamed with resistance exercise, the body requires a certain amount of the essential nutrient, protein, to repair, replace, rebuild, and retain muscle fibers. So, what is the appropriate amount of protein needed for seniors to develop muscle strength?

Depending on genetic factors, when we do not regularly engage in strength training, mid to late 20’s, and every year thereafter, we lose muscle mass if we remain inactive; especially if we do not partake in resistance exercise. More than 5 pounds of muscle are sacrificed every decade due to inactivity, a 3 to 5 percent loss of muscle tissue, with a 3 percent reduction in resting metabolism. After age 60, this can result in serious health/fitness issues, like strength loss, bone loss and reduced physical abilities.

Wayne Campbell, an authority on nutrition, indicated that the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 0.36 grams protein per pound of body weight is inadequate for people over age 50. He recommended that seniors should attain at least 25 percent more protein than the RDA to maintain muscle tissue if they strength train; and to increase muscle mass, at least 50 percent more protein combined with resistance exercise. For optimal muscle building, it is advisable for protein intake to be spread throughout the day, just before or right after a strength training workout.

Research disclosed that seniors do not absorb/process protein as easily/efficiently as a younger person, requiring a higher intake of protein, for tissue remodeling. Nutrition experts agree that 20-30 grams of protein should be consumed at each meal. In Quincy College’s Exercise/Nutrition Study with seniors, higher protein needs provided by Nutritionist, Dr. Carolyn Apovian was effective for satiation, muscle maintenance, plus weight loss.

Most people prefer to chew their protein meals, others drink protein alternatives, and a certain percentage do both. To determine which is more advantageous for body composition improvement when combined with resistance exercise, consider these studies.
In two resistance training studies we led with seniors, half drank a protein-rich shake (24 grams/protein, amino acid l-leucine, 35 grams/carbohydrate, 4.5 grams/fat) right after completing resistance exercise on 11 resistance machines. The other half just exercised.

STUDY ONE: Subjects who drank the protein shake added 5.5 pounds of muscle. Those who did not ingest the protein added 3.9 pounds of muscle. The shake group lost 9.0 pounds of fat. The non-shake group lost 4.9 pounds of fat, indicative of 41 percent more muscle gain and 83 percent more fat loss than those who did not drink the shake.

STUDY TWO: Subjects did identical exercises as above. Those who drank the shake added 5.2 pounds of muscle. Those who did not consume the shake added 3.9 pounds of muscle. Subjects who drank the protein shake fared better than those who did not drink the shake.

Next, we examined whether muscle is more receptive to assimilating amino acids from protein shakes or protein consumed during meals. In this Exercise/Nutrition Study, overweight subjects who did not consume protein-rich meal replacement shakes were compared to a prior Exercise/Nutrition study who consumed 2 daily protein-rich meal replacement shakes. Both groups did 20 minutes of resistance training, and aerobic activity, 2 days/week and consumed 1,200 to 1,800 calories daily with 0.7 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight per day.

The shake group had a completion rate of 80 percent. The non-shake group had a 65 percent completion rate. Both groups significantly improved: Body Mass Index, body weight, body composition, body shapes, systolic blood pressure. The shake group had significantly better reductions in BMI and body weight than the non-shake group.

Protein-rich shakes may be advantageous for some aspects of program compliance and weight loss for overweight individuals who are performing resistance exercise. The convenience factor associated with protein-rich shakes may also be responsible for greater program adherence. It is recommended that higher protein intake be combined with increased water consumption, and persons with kidney disorders should have physician approval prior to adopting high protein diets.

You can eat protein-rich meals from whole foods or supplement with high quality protein shakes to repair, replace, rebuild, and retain lean muscle resultant in significant fat loss and other health benefits. Research shows if 20-30 grams of high-quality protein from a shake is consumed in close proximity (30-60 minutes) of a strength workout, you will likely stick with it long-term, improve body composition, increase/maintain muscle mass, hence elude fat accumulation or fat regain.

Seeking to improve muscle, reduce fat, and add protein shakes to your workouts? Consider training at Wayne Westcott, Ph.D. Center for Health and Fitness, President’s Place, 1250 Hancock Street. Book a tour, free training session, or learn how to register. Call Rita on 617.405.5978. Free 1–2-hour parking (Hancock, Coddington, Washington Streets). A parking garage is next to the building for a small fee.

Rita La Rosa Loud holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology with additional education in Sports Medicine and Athletic Training. She is NASM Certified and has been actively involved in the fitness industry for over 35 years. She is also an author and writes fitness related articles for various fitness publications. She is a Fitness Researcher and Directs the COVID compliant Wayne Westcott, Ph.D. Center For Health and Fitness at Quincy College. She can be reached on 617.405.5978 and is available for speaking engagements.