Introduction: Recent research indicates that a moderate serving of high-quality protein (3-4 oz) with each meal can make a significant difference in healthy aging, body strength, weight management, and disease prevention. This is especially significant since approximately 20 percent of older adults do not meet the USDA’s recommended dietary allowance of protein. Read my three-part series on Protein to learn how you can achieve optimal health as you get older.
Benefits of Lean Protein for Healthy Muscle Mass
Given the growing baby boomer population (approximately 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old every day), loss of muscle mass in older adults is becoming an increasingly significant public health issue.
It’s a fact of life that our body changes as we age. Those transformations happen in body composition, skeletal changes, metabolism slows down, aerobic (oxygen) capacity declines, and our immune system weakens. So, how do we prevent these changes?
The most practical dietary strategy to stimulate muscle growth is to include high-quality protein during each meal, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Aug 2007). Research indicates that a moderate serving of high-quality protein (3-4 oz) with each meal can make a significant difference in body strength. This is especially significant since approximately 20 percent of older adults do not meet the USDA’s recommended dietary allowance of protein.
Be Lean Protein Savvy
Enjoying these high-quality protein foods can help you build a healthy lifestyle at any age:
- Consume 3-4 oz servings of protein-rich foods at each meal daily. ( 1 protein equivalent = 1 oz meat or 1 cup milk or yogurt or ½ cup beans or 1 egg )
- Vary protein sources weekly. Try poultry, fish, lean beef or pork, bean or all-vegetable meals, low-fat or non-fat milk, yogurt, cheese.
- Choose low-fat toppings. Top baked potatoes with cottage cheese, yogurt, marinara sauce or salsa, and top salads with balsamic vinegar, lemon, cottage cheese, or yogurt.
- Snack on healthy alternatives such as nuts, popcorn, wholewheat bagels, pretzels, popsicles, frozen nonfat yogurt, carrots, homemade Chex cereal mix, wholegrain crackers or toast.
Add Muscle with Protein
Building optimal muscle mass comes from pairing the right types of high-quality protein with the right exercise routine, and making that a habit. First, exercise is not all about the amount that’s important, it’s the type of exercise that’s important. Did you know that starting at age 25, you can lose 8-10 lbs of muscle mass each decade? Did you know cardio workouts such as walking and running will help you maintain muscle, but resistance training is what really helps you build muscle? Stimulating the right muscles, over several repetitions, helps you build muscle mass over time. In addition, eating lean protein within 30 minutes after resistance training helps builds muscle more effectively.
Exercise Variety Leads to Optimal Benefits
Enjoy changing up your routine with these exercises. And, remember to set goals that are appropriate to your age group and ability to get the most out of all of your efforts.
- Aerobic (heart, lungs, weight, stamina, balance)
- Flexibility/stretching (joints, range-of-motion)
- Strength (bones, muscles, core)
- Balance (reduces falls, hip & spine fractures; adds stability, coordination, functional fitness)
- All-in-one (yoga, pilates, aqua exercise, Zumba, bar/ballet classes, functional fitness, bands with cardio, circuit classes)
Sample Weekly Workout Plan/Goals*
- Cardio – moderate intensity, 30 minutes, 5 times/week OR vigorous intensity, 20 minutes, 3 times/week
- Strength – 8-10 exercises, 10-15 repetitions, 2-3 times/week
- Balance/Core – 3 or more times weekly
- Stretching – 5-10 sets per day
*Note: these particular sample exercise goals are intended for adults over the age of 65. See a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
In summary, you can age gracefully. Achieve optimal health as you get older with 1) 3-4 oz. lean protein with each meal daily along with other nutrient-rich foods, and 2) exercise for cardio, strength, balance, and flexibility weekly. Become proactive and live a healthy, active lifestyle starting today.
Remember to sign up for my blog, so you don’t miss out of part 2 and 3 of Protein series. You can also follow my updates on Facebook.com/GeorgiaKostasNutrition and Twitter @GeorgiaKostas. For more nutrition and wellness tips, recipes, handouts, and to get a copy of my book The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate (2009), visit my website www.georgiakostas.com.