Registered Dietitian Nutrition Advice After 50 Right On or Way Off?

Pardon the rant in this post. I received this message in an email from a client who’d recently had a consult with a Registered Dietitian at a fitness club:

“I recently had a session with a new RD at XXXX.  She stated that she did not believe most Americans do not get enough protein, rather the reverse.  She thought many get too much.  When I questioned her, she backed down a bit and said many younger people get too much.  What do you think about that?”

I’m steaming.

That’s what I think about that.

The woman who sent me the email was close to 70. Yes, she’s lifted weights for years. However, yes she’s had cancer, surgeries requiring periods of rest, and meds that deplete protein that combined with her age suggest she does not have room for indecisive support.

“She backed down… ”

What does that mean?

Does that mean for every client that doesn’t ask a follow up question they leave with a top-of-the-head impulse recommendation from a registered dietitian… instead of a logical assessment and application of science?

At first glance, the registered dietitian didn’t use a scientific basis to make the statement. I’m left to believe that in her late twenties at best (and I’m not sure she’s even there yet, she has not had a lot of repetition (certainly not the 10,000 hours that it takes doing one thing that it takes to be an expert) with clients to make a valid statement based on her experience with private clients.

It’s also up for discussion, what the Registered Dietitian in this equation qualifies as “enough.” In fact, this is the entire discussion. An older client with more life experience who has read more articles and hired more fitness and health experts than the dietitian could have accessed in her limited education and work experience could cause a change of belief (and that in itself is a problem) of a young dietitian in seconds. That’s cause for concern.

It’s also a sign of our times. Most adults are confused and sensing the current RDA “norms” are incongruent with current programs and diets. Many contemporary programs are built based on science. Many are not. As with product or service there is a continuum. There will be copycat programs and services that jump on in order to market and make a product that will sell without a basis that supports what, why, and how it works. A promise of weight loss, fat loss, and or a fast metabolism in days or weeks is very attractive and it sells.

Unfortunately, if it doesn’t teach a foundation of good health and eating habits that changes your long term behavior, it’s not a program, it’s a temporary diet. One of our problems is that we continue to look to external sources, like a Registered Dietitian, for answers. At this point many of those answers are available to us in seconds.

I frequently hear, and sadly, even women’s hormone health “experts” talk about their own experience when they were doing “Whole 30” or when they ate Paleo and it’s clear that this was a period of “dieting” that they now are “off.” It is important to remember that behind every registered dietitian, personal training, or health coach certification, degree, or license is a professional with her own emotions and journey. It’s hard not to allow that to influence their advice.

In You Still Got It, Girl I discussed the fact that any diet you go “on” has an “off” ramp. When you’re moving from diet to diet, long-term change and a positive relationship with food that’s good for you is out of reach. Diets are like holidays that comes a few times a year with excitement about possibility and all decorated and pretty. The rest of the year you struggle with the day-to-day consistency and never find your own high energy that comes from adopting to a new lifestyle.

You’re looking for what you should do instead of who you should be. Sound familiar?

registered dietitian alternative

Most American adults know protein is important: 90% of them admit they don’t know how much they need.

How can there be any hope for a clear recommendation under these circumstances?

Here’s the truth about science that’s been publicly acknowledged since at least 2008 (and likely in existence before that). The RDAs and recommendations for more protein taken in at each meal in a user-friendly way are not at odds. They are actually very similar and compatible. It requires a small amount of math. registered dietitian protein book I’m including an excerpt from my short PDF book, The Protein Report. If you’re confused about how much protein you need this short protein report will be extremely valuable to you. Even this brief excerpt will provide some insight.

First, I want to make it clear why I have such a stake in this. Whether it’s me or it’s personal trainers I mentor with attempting to support a client in reaching goals, we simply can’t without the right fuel behind the goal. I personally can’t live day to day in a high-energy and optimal weight, thought, and body composition without the right nutrition.

We’ve seen clearly what happens when decade after decade adults fail to reach their nutritional quota. Frailty and or obesity seem to be the norm still today even though we have answers. We can’t expect to solve problems with exercise not supported with the right nutrition and lifestyle habits in the second half.

I also find no fault with any specific Registered Dietitian. They too have their hands tied until they find their own voice. I do believe however that the time has come when we have to have more functional nutrition recommendations and acknowledge that no one set of standards fits every individual need. We have far too many hormone, metabolism, body composition, and socialization differences. We have life situations and conditions that change our need from one year to the next. Just as exercise has emerged into a personal, functional approach, so too does nutrition have to and is available to you if you look.

Excerpt From The Protein Report:

In the U.S., the current recommendation is for 0.8 grams of protein daily for each kilogram of your body weight, or 0.36 g/pound. That’s about 71 grams a day for the average 196-pound U.S. man, or 60 grams for the average 166-pound U.S. woman. (These are current average weights in America). The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) provides numerous obstacles.

  • First, it’s not user-friendly. Generally appearing first in grams of protein recommended for kilograms of body weight, the mere mathematical dilemma didn’t help someone plan their daily intake. [The aforementioned breakdown of protein need was done by a journalist interpreting, based on what your scale and your labels read, so that you could easier calculate your total per day.
  • Second, this total simply implies the protein can be taken in at any time. There is no breakdown of meals, snacks, or timing so an individual is left to make their own assumptions.

There is an increased range suggested by sports nutritionists of up to 1.2gms/gm body weight for body builders and often for endurance athletes and rapidly growing adolescents as well.

  • Third, protein recommendations come in percentages of total daily intake. The recommended range of protein intake is 10-35%. Many Registered Dietitians are shifting to recommend the higher end, or 35% as a better alternative based on weight loss research. However, this still presents a math problem. A person needs first to know desirable caloric intake, adhere to it, and do the math for protein grams.

As more health experts (registered dietitians, nutritionists, fitness professionals, health coaches) move away from calorie counting and encourage focus on high quality foods with high nutrient density this entire system becomes obsolete and contradictory. As our nation has gotten fatter over the last three decades it is obvious that calorie restriction and the old calorie-in and calorie-out concept is indeed a myth.

“The old calorie-in and calorie-out concept is indeed a myth.”

So with our current recommended protein intake range of 10-35%, the average American eats about 15% protein. Popular diets including Atkins diet (not the same name, and no, no relation!) promoted protein intakes of 60%. A protein intake of 35% is still within the dietary percentages recommended yet, is more than double for most Americans. Can you see the dilemma here in using the term “high protein” diet? It’s relative to what you’re taking in now. If you’re one of those at 15% now, increasing to 33% will be “higher” but not necessarily a “high protein diet.” It could be said that most Americans currently eat a “low” protein diet.

[End of the book excerpt]

Let’s do the math on a recommendation of 20-30 grams of protein per three meals a day. (included more in depth in the report)

For that 166 lb. woman ingesting 1.2 grams of protein/kg of body weight a day = 166 lbs. is 75.45 Kg

(providing you with the high end of the range that, by the way is also recommended for older, frail, and sedentary adults) 1.2 gm protein x 75.45 Kg = 90.5 grams of protein

A corresponding more user-friendly recommendation of 3 meals a day of 20-30 grams of protein at each meal means 60-90 grams.

Or what if we use 35% of a 2000 kcal diet. That’s 700 kcals total. Since protein has 4 kcals per gram that equals 175 grams of protein. That’s a lot! That is within RDA recommendations. That’s far higher than most are consuming, and though it may be appropriate for those who are weak, frail, seeking weight loss, without any renal issues (addressed in the PDF), it isn’t necessary for most. But, it IS within RDA recommendations. It’s higher than I’ve ever personally consumed in a day, I’m sure of it, whether I was on the couch for weeks with mono in my teens or training for an Ironman distance triathlon at 53.

Based on the above math and real life example, Registered Dietitians, who in many states are believed to be the best source of nutrition information and who insurance has deemed as the only covered source of nutrition advice, aren’t always providing their own education-based recommendations. Opinion is not a good basis for professional advice unless it’s based on evidence from thousands of either client outcomes or a research study reviews.

At this point, there’s still a problem, right? The answer is you.

A Registered Dietitian and You

No one can make you eat in a certain way.

If you hire a plumber or carpenter the outcome from the service is only as good as that professional. If you hire a doctor, a personal trainer, or a nutritionist, the outcome is dependent both on the professional AND on you carrying out the action items recommended to you. There are two places then where the system can breakdown.

One problem I see on the inconsistent nutrition-information-train is no one is doing math. Registered Dietitian, or you or I, we seem only to be adding calories or trying to subtract them. There is little support for you in determining the right amount to have at each meal. That alone would simplify things considerably. In Flipping 50’s 28-Day kickstart (and Fit-U programs (for those with more than 20 pounds to lose) I coach to aim for grams per meal and the most frequently asked questions are about what good sources of protein are… we’ve some how reached our mid life eating three times a day without knowing.

So that is an easy fix.

You can easily understand how much protein is in a chicken breast (4 oz is about 25-27 grams). You can read a label and enjoy your breakfast smoothie, and post-exercise protein (to avoid muscle breakdown if you’re struggling with weight loss or muscle gain). You can clearly understand if you have a gap between need and reality whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a flat-out carnivore. The bottom line for a woman (or man) over 50 is that protein (and adequate calories, the right micronutrient intake from food first, and supplements to fill in the gaps) is required to prevent muscle loss from aging, and from exercise.

These things cause muscles loss:

  1. aging
  2. exercise
  3. insufficient calories and or protein

If you lose muscle (and no it is not inevitable with age it simply requires more focus to avoid it), you will by default be fatter. If you have not been resistance training (with adequate stimulus) muscle loss averages a half-pound a year.

Yes, exercise is muscle breakdown activity. The rebuilding happens between sessions. It requires rest, adequate overall calories, and adequate protein to keep muscle and or build it. These three things are all equally important. It is not unusual to see either a frail older adult or an overweight adult over 50 who exercise vigorously regularly. In many cases (after far more than 10,000 repetitions) both the frail and the obese adult are not eating enough calories or protein or not resting enough between had sessions. If those are improved, sleep – the queen of rest is not adequate. Once you meet your needs? Success.

Your Next Step?

Read on only if you want support.

If you are struggling with what to eat, how much to eat, or following some food “theories”… your next step is not another “diet.” It is finding a dietary lifestyle you can live with, thrive on, that removes counting calories, points, or steps, and that allows you to have a relationship with food AND exercise for energy, and pleasure, that you can continue for life.

“have a relationship with food AND exercise for energy, and pleasure, that you can continue for life”

If you’re comparing yourself to your friends and your colleagues, or you’re basing what you should do 100% on a lab test that tells you what you’re sensitive to but it’s not working? Then take this next step and spend a 28 days with me identifying your high energy habits.

(I’m all for lab testing: I do it, I’ve ordered them and interpreted them for myself since 2013 and you can too but I also listen to the testing that happens in my kitchen and at my dining room table far more: you and I are not lab rats. We have emotions around what we eat too.)

This program and me as a coach are for you if you’re done with dieting and you’re ready to move from a struggle to more flow about your health habits. You’re ready to let your body and energy tell you what’s right. I am not a Registered Dietitian nor a nutritionist. I am a researcher and a hormone & exercise, and optimal aging expert who does her homework. I provide you with facts and a blueprint. We co-collaborate from there.

I am not for you if you want to do something for 28 days and then “go back to normal” eating and habits. It’s not for you if you love to struggle and you want to stay right where you are jumping around looking for the magic bullet. (You already have the magic, tap your shoes Dorothy.)

I would love to hear from you. What are your questions on your nutrition and specifically protein needs after 50?

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