In recent years, fat and carbohydrate have stolen the limelight when it comes to macronutrients and diets. Protein has been somewhat overlooked. However, after water, your body is mainly made of proteins. The word protein derives from the Greek word “protos” which means first, reflecting its importance in human health and wellbeing.
A protein-rich diet is particularly important as you age, because muscles break down and need tremendous encouragement to build and repair. We discuss the role of protein in the body, its importance in your diet as you age and the foods and lifestyle choices which help to maintain optimal muscle mass and function.
The building blocks of life
Proteins are complex structures which are created from subunits called amino acids. Your body needs 20 different amino acids to build all the proteins it requires to function correctly. Nine of these amino acids are classified as ‘essential’ to consume in the diet, as the body is not able to make these itself.
Proteins are the foundation of many things in the body, including muscle, connective tissue, hair, nails, skin, blood and brain tissue. They also create enzymes to facilitate crucial biological reactions. Without enough protein in the diet, natural systems and structures in the body become impaired, leading to degradation and dysfunction of movement and agility.
Essential protein in the diet
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight. The RDA reflects the minimum amount of protein you should have in your diet to prevent ill-health. As you age, protein requirements increase to support the natural loss of muscle mass and strength. The European Society of Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis advises post-menopausal women require more protein than the standard RDA and suggest 1 gram to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Many studies support that protein intake should increase with age.
Your body needs 20 different amino acids to build all the proteins it requires to function correctly. Proteins are the foundation of many things in the body, including muscle, connective tissue, hair, nails, skin, blood and brain tissue.
The quality of the protein that you eat is also essential. Meat, dairy and fish contain the richest source of protein as they include a high amount of essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins such as vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts are less amino acid diverse, so if you do eat an animal-free diet, make sure that you consume a variety of plant-based foods. Good sources of vegan protein are soy products such as tempeh and tofu, lentils, beans, soaked nuts and seeds. The amino acid leucine is of particular importance in the synthesis of muscle. The best source of leucine is whey protein, so for those that can tolerate it, it is advisable to add this to your diet to prevent muscle wastage and promote muscle building.
It’s not all about protein.
As well as ensuring that you get enough protein in the diet as you age, lifestyle and micronutrients impact how well protein is utilised in your body. Zinc and magnesium are crucial to protein synthesis, and folate (vitamin B9) supports amino acid synthesis, so a deficiency in these nutrients could affect your protein status as well.
To maintain muscle mass as you age, try incorporating resistance training such as lifting weights or doing press-ups into your exercise regime as well as ensuring an adequate protein intake.
Keep it even
So, to keep fit, well and functional as you age, make sure you get enough protein in your diet every day. The current consensus
in the health industry is to make sure that you consume protein with every meal and spread the intake evenly over the meals you eat in the day. Healthy natural protein powders can be a simple way to top up your daily dose.
When it comes to macronutrients, protein should get the recognition it deserves as the foundation of your health and wellbeing.
It’s worth reviewing your daily diet to make sure you are getting enough essential protein to thrive as you travel through the stages of life and the added necessities that can bring.