Protein Recommendations After 50 Confusing You?
One of the most commonly overlooked parts of fitness after 50 is protein. Strength training is crucial, yet misunderstanding protein recommendations after 50 can sabotage strength training results. Why is it so very confusing to find and follow protein recommendations after 50?
I crack open this question in this post. I leave you with the research I’ve done since 2013 focused on protein recommendations after 50. In spite of good persuasive arguments in several directions I’ve chosen one.
Both in primary research and personal research [I’ve tested the results of different diets with a stable set of activity and lifestyle habits on myself], and the observations I’ve made over 35 years of working with older adults, I’ve witnessed a similar outcomes. That is, some groups will continue to follow and believe one method, others follow other diets, the real outcome will be best visible in body composition and signs of aging in the 8th or 9th decade of life. There is either more disease, more vibrancy, or more frailty present. Usually the signs of optimal metabolism, body composition, and hormone balance during the 6th and 7th decades indicate a right personal path.
This post is meant to proved a method for you to identify your protein needs and ways those are established, as well as evidence you can use to know if you’re meeting those or not. Clearly, we’ve witness endurance athletes and strength-trained athletes who thrive on plant-based diets. We do need to look at over 50 athletes to be relative in comparison at least of age-related changes (protein synthesis, muscle loss without the presence of strength training). There are some, but fewer. One thing to consider is the switch to a vegan or plant-based diet is often from that of a high sugar, high processed food diet. Can we say that shifting to a mediterranean diet (inclusive of animal protein) wouldn’t produce similar results? Not without testing.
I’ve found that most people look for something to follow. A lifestyle change is hard without a map. It’s easier to eliminate entire food groups and be left with I can eat this and not that, than to make illusive “healthy choices.” Because for you, and I, and even others around your table, our gut health, our activity needs, our hormone balance, and goals all change “healthy.” Why are protein recommendations after 50 so confusing?
Here are five reasons.
1 Advocates of plant-based diets claim
… there’s no scientific proof that protein needs hover at 30 grams of protein per meal, and that this prevents muscle wasting and frailty later in life. That is baffling when leading authority’s say it, yet there definitely are studies- supported by leading protein researchers, registered dietitians, and presented at leading fitness association by other authorities listing evidence-based recommendations inclusive of 25-30 grams (or more) protein per meal.
It’s also hard to get 30 grams of protein per meal from an all plant diet without getting full as all plant-based protein sources include high fiber. That’s not claim, it’s just fact.
Plant-based diets repeat the same foods over and over in order to include adequate amounts of protein – which can quickly get stale and also is more likely to cause food sensitivity.
2 Soy is questionable
… given it’s status as an obesogenic (just as it sounds: causing obesity by increasing fat storage), a goitrogenic (interfering with thyroid function), and an estrogenic (confusing your endocrine system by mimicking estrogen).
Soy is either recommended or discouraged. I’m of the latter thinking having witnessed many private clients with diets high in soy (I come a midwestern state where soybeans are harvested). They had increased hot flashes and night sweats that all but disappeared with the removal of soy. This includes a client who at the time we worked together was stationed in Okinawa – where you would suspect that GMOs where not a part of the problem.
If you’re plant-based and relying on soy for protein I recommend that you:
A) Test for yourself by eliminating it 100% for at least a week then reintroducing it by eating it 2-3 times a day for at least three days.
B) Start with – or reintroduce first- fermented soy products like tempeh and miso which are often tolerated better.
3 A Growing body of research
…supports 20*- 30 grams protein per meal, specifically for older adults. It’s not just more for athletes which is very unintuitive. Actually, there’s more of a bell curve in that very active athletes do need more protein, while sedentary older adults on the frail side also need more protein. Muscle breakdown or wasting occurs as a result of age, exercise, and or too little calorie intake especially on a diet of low protein intake. Advanced age coupled with inactivity increases muscle wasting accompanied by weakness and spirals downward to falls and fractures as a result. The discussion about protein need becomes one about cost of health care services that could be prevented as well as one about quality of life.
“High quality” protein mentions these sources in order of highest to lowest concentration of essential amino acids and branch chain amino acids (for more detail see resources below).
A) lean meat (it runs)
B) chicken/turkey (it flies)
C) fish (it swims)
D) plant based sources** (usually don’t appear on “high quality” protein source lists)
Dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese do also appear below fish, yet many elimination diets and the doctors fully supportive of them find that women in peri-menopause and beyond feel better off dairy products and eliminate many of the frustrating symptoms they experience with hormone changes.
*20 grams for those most active “athletic” older adults who synthesize protein better than those less active, whose protein recommendations after 50 are closer to 30 grams. This is not intuitive. Most adults believe the opposite is true.
**I won’t go into the existing controversy about amino acids and their prevalence or absence in plant based foods. Yet, this is a source of continued controversy. There is a full essential amino acid (EAA) profile available in plant foods but the key EAAs in muscle metabolism are lacking. That’s an important distinction to make.
Flip: Test dairy consumption against your own digestion, elimination, bloating, gas, and skin clarity. No problems when you reintroduce it after leaving it out for at least a week? Rotate it into your diet every 2-3 days if you want to include it. Focus on lactose-free items.
4 You resist change
Everyone does! Even if you don’t like your current results, change is hard. It is specifically hard due to socialization you may have had your entire life. Born before the mid sixties, you grew up encouraged to eat in a specific way. Dairy was likely a big part of your life growing up. You may still feel strongly about it. (It’s easy to get emotionally attached to a way of eating, in fact defensive. )“I like milk.” Yet, that’s not what’s being challenged. It’s not about keeping or eliminating what you like or don’t like. It’s about finding a way to test the results you’re having right now, and determining why you may not be at the weight, energy level or mood you want to be regularly.
Notoriously, in the sixties, seventies and eighties diets that cut out fat and meat – even before bread became the villain were common. Those absurdities that you may laugh about still shaped early thoughts. It’s hard to lose them. Protein was among the first things to go in favor of “rabbit food” and lettuce salads back in the day.
As women of all ages embrace weight training and strength, it’s important to realize muscle is protein. Without adequate amounts of:
- Quality Calories
- Recovery time between workouts
- Strength training that adequately overloads muscle
… you slow or completely halt results. It’s as if you put your foot on the gas, and then on the break, making it impossible to get anywhere by exercising but without the adequate detail to fulfill the results you want.
Your need isn’t static. Even advocates of plant-based diets often recognize that after 60 or 65 it does become important to get animal protein back into the diet.
You don’t synthesize protein as well as you age. If you’re 55 and eat the same amount of protein at a meal as your 35 year old self, your body isn’t able to use all of it for the benefit of muscle repair and rebuilding or to benefit your immune system. To experience continued benefits you’ll need to increase protein.
One study of older adult males (average age 70) compared to young adult males (average age early 20s) found that on similar intensity exercise programs, the older adults experienced comparable results only if they consumed 40 grams of protein in post-workout meals compared to half that protein (20 grams) consumption in younger males.
End of life frailty and sarcopenia – significant muscle loss that occurs with aging IF weight training and diet are not adequate stimulus for maintaining or increasing it- are preventable. The side effects of doing now what will keep you on track for a longer healthspan later are increased metabolism, energy, and vitality.
An increase of protein should not be at the expense of plants or the beneficial components of a plant-based diet but can co-exist. You can get the amazing antioxidants as a result of a variety of plants in the diet daily as well as spare muscle loss with high-quality protein sources.
Common questions about protein recommendations after 50
What does 30 grams of protein look like?
- 4-6 oz of most animal proteins: (shrimp, salmon, chicken, bison, lamb, etc)
- A combination of: a high-quality (chemical and sugar free) protein (21 grams of protein), nuts or nut butter (8 grams per serving), eggs (6 grams each), quinoa (8 grams/half cup serving), beans/legumes (8-9 grams/half cup serving)
What can I eat for breakfast?
- bacon and sausage (choose organic, nitrate-free if you go this route)
- eggs (only 6 grams each- combine with other protein sources)
- Leftovers (no one said it has to be “breakfast food”)
What if I get too full to eat that much?
It’s definitely possible! (on the other hand if you’re “hungry all the time” your probably not eating enough at meals and certainly not enough protein, fat, and carbs (plus fiber) in the right amounts. Protein offers satiety- fills you up and keeps you comfortable for hours. But getting more may take some getting used to, so let your body get used to “more” instead of going right for a quota.
Little amounts throughout the day are not beneficial in the way a bigger amount at each of three meals is unless you’re ill or old and frail and can’t tolerate. Your body has a sweet spot for simulating protein that is right at 28-30 grams per eating. Too little or too much doesn’t have the same effect. Stop grazing to develop a better appetite at your eating events and fat burning will increase as your hormone balance improves. Protein recommendations after 50 include when you get that protein. Like a dose of medicine, it’s key.