Protein is crucial for your muscles, skin, enzymes and hormones, it plays an essential role in all body tissues. Not only is protein essential for your health, but it’s also the most filling macronutrient. Consuming it can keep you feeling full and satisfied, which supports a healthy body weight. This means that because you are feeling full for longer you are less likely to experience cravings and be reaching for sugary ‘quick energy’ snacks throughout the day.
The Australian recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein suggests:
Adult women: 0.75g/kilogram of body weight/day.
Adult men: 0.84g/kilogram of body weight/day.
People who are pregnant, breastfeeding or over 70 years old: 1g/kilogram of body weight/day.
Expert Peter Attia, a physician focusing on the applied science of longevity, begs to differ and says that; ‘the RDA is likely predicated on how much protein you need to live versus how much protein you need to thrive’ going on to say that ‘we probably need closer to two grams per kilogram of body weight.’ Attia explains that 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight is simply not sufficient to build and maintain muscle mass as we age. Attia also assures us that eating too much protein is probably unlikely to be a problem for most. ‘A person would need to consume 3 to 4 grams per kilogram before they would start to challenge the kidneys' ability to excrete the excess nitrogen’. It is overwhelmingly a deficit of protein consumption that is more likely, particularly for middle aged women.
Biological sex, it seems, does not seem to play into your protein requirements as much as weight and activity level which both play a more important role in protein requirements. For example, pregnant or breastfeeding women require more protein than when they were not pregnant or breastfeeding.
Deficiency leads to various health problems, but it is also important to note that low protein intake may also be a concern, as it can cause subtle changes in your body over time. If you eat too little protein, for example, your body might use the protein you do eat for energy instead of building muscles, immunity, and healthy hair, skin and nails.
Now, how can you make the most of the protein you are consuming?
"Say that a 50 year old woman who has never participated in any strength training before, is going through menopause and has started putting on weight for the first time in her life. Her assumption is to do more cardio disproportionately. What do we do? The answer is that muscle is a lot like bone, in which you want to ‘lay down’ as much as possible because eventually it’s going to start receding, but it is important to know that it still is possible to gain muscle at 50 (Norton, L 2022)."
In fact, the best news is that it seems to not matter what age you are; studies have shown that people aged >60 who participate in a weight training schedule can increase their lean body mass almost as much as a young person would. So their relative gain is similar:
Muscle mass can be increased through training at an intensity corresponding to 60% to 85% of the individual maximum voluntary strength. Improving the rate of force development requires training at a higher intensity (above 85%), in the elderly just as in younger persons. It is now recommended that healthy old people should train 3 or 4 times weekly for the best results; persons with poor performance at the outset can achieve improvement even with less frequent training. Side effects are rare.
Why is all this important? Norton continues to say that unlike diseases which are often very age dependent, ‘accidental’ death rates are basically the same over a lifespan. What differs dramatically is the type of accident. In the early decades of one's life, accidents such as car accidents are the majority as opposed to in the latter decades when they become almost entirely accidental falls.
Essentially, if you are frail at the age of 70 there is a huge risk of morbidity and mortality resulting from falling. So yes, eat enough protein and make the most of it too.
The following is a list of high protein foods, try to incorporate protein into your meals:
For those of you who opt for plant-based sources of protein:
If you’re looking for more personalised protein recommendations based on your lifestyle, consider getting in touch with a registered dietitian or your health care provider to ensure you’re meeting your needs. They can help assess your diet to see if your protein intake is falling short.
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