By Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S.  

First, consider some basic facts regarding the function protein fulfills within the human body. Among other physiological functions, the principal role of dietary protein from a nutrition standpoint is to build and repair lean tissue (muscle) cells. Likewise, protein produces energy for muscle contractions when cellular forms of energy like fats and carbohydrates are not readily available. Additionally, protein is comprised of amino acids, which are considered the building blocks of protein. Research suggests eating a high protein meal (lean meats, fish, eggs, chicken, milk), or consuming plant-based protein shakes (soy, whey, casein, pea), prior, during, or post workout increases muscle protein production. Notably, when performing strength training exercises to temporary muscular fatigue where you no longer can perform another repetition in proper form, or muscle failure where you cannot finish a repetition, damage occurs to the muscle fibers of protein (muscle breakdown). This moderate-to-high-intensity training requires protein to repair the damaged tissues caused by the exercise and facilitates muscle growth.  

Dietary guidelines – Recommended daily protein intake 

The average adult recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams/protein per kilogram of bodyweight or 0.4 grams/protein per pound of body weight. As per Dr. Wayne Campbell, a leading nutrition researcher, individuals older than 50 who consume the RDA will lose muscle mass even if they strength train on a habitual basis! Campbell’s research revealed older adults who strength train require 25% more protein than the RDA to retain muscle mass and 50% more than the RDA to increase muscle mass. Seniors attempting to build muscle require at least 1.2 grams/protein per kilogram of body weight, which is about 0.6 grams/protein per pound of body weight. Simply put, older adults benefit from consuming 20-30 grams of protein per meal to maximize protein synthesis and the effects of resistance training. 

Westcott studies 

Adequate amounts of protein must be consumed to support the body and stimulate muscle growth during and after a strength workout. In our Protein and Body Composition Study, older adult subjects were placed into two groups. One group did strength training and endurance exercise only, the other group did the same workout but drank a high protein shake (24 grams/protein fortified by the amino acid L-Leucine) after finishing their exercise session 2-3 days/week for 23 weeks. Notably, the protein shake group added 41% more muscle and lost 82% more fat than the exercise only group! 

In another Westcott study, adults consuming a protein shake at the end of their strength session had greater increases in both muscle and bone compared than those who did not drink the shake. Participants in other studies with similar results to ours were also provided roughly 25 grams/protein after completing their workout. Because strength exercisers 50-80 years of age do not assimilate protein as easily as younger adults and require greater protein intake, it is recommended they consume 50-70% more than the minimum levels of the RDA guidelines.  

To repair and rebuild muscle, consider Quincy College’s Wayne Westcott, Ph.D. Center for Health, and Fitness, Presidents Place, 1250 Hancock St.. Call 617-405-5978 to try a class. Street parking and a parking garage are available. 

About the Author: 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 more than 35 years. She is also an author and writes   fitness-related articles for various publications. Currently, she is a fitness researcher and directs the Wayne Westcott, Ph.D. Center for Health and Fitness at Quincy College. She can be reached at 617-405-5978.