Why protein isn’t just for gym-going youngsters

By Judy Buttriss

- Last updated on GMT

Professor Buttriss: ‘Studies show that it’s never too late, even in frail individuals, to change diet’
Professor Buttriss: ‘Studies show that it’s never too late, even in frail individuals, to change diet’
Research suggests that age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) can be slowed by a combination of extra protein and exercise.

Loss of muscle mass and strength is a major contributor to disability, falls and frailty in old age, and undermines independent living. Muscle mass is estimated to fall by about 8% per decade over the age of 40, progressing to 15% per decade beyond 70 years of age.

Associated healthcare costs (£2.5m per annum for those in the UK aged 70 and over) are expected to rise in line with the number of people living beyond 70 years.

The current UK protein recommendation is 0.75g/kg body weight/day, but researchers are now advocating at least 1.2g/kg for older adults. Only 13% of adults aged 40 and above currently consume 1.2g/kg and one in three fail to achieve the lower (current) recommendation.

It’s never too late

Studies show that it’s never too late, even in frail individuals, to change diet and exercise habits to benefit musculoskeletal health, but starting early is preferable.

Focus groups reveal that while healthy middle-aged adults are receptive to health promotion messages, most don’t prioritise protein and many are unaware of the diverse variety of plant- and animal-derived proteins and the amount of protein they need daily.

Consuming protein regularly over the day is now considered important for muscle mass retention – yet, typically, we consume much of our protein in the latter half of the day.

The Protein for Life research team has identified breakfast and between meals as opportunities to improve protein intake in older adults​, in tandem with regular exercise.

It has called for investment in information dissemination and education, and for development of protein-rich products with enhanced nutritional profiles that remain affordable and sustainable from an environmental perspective.

  • Professor Judy Buttriss is director general of the British Nutrition Foundation

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