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How Much Protein Per Day for Seniors?

Getting in enough protein per day is important for all age groups and especially the elderly. You might think that all protein does is build muscle but it is very important for our bone health, physiological functions, recovery during and after illness, and is even important for hair and nail health. Up to one third of older adults do not eat enough protein in their diets. In a 2018 study by the Gerontological Society of America researchers found that the control group who ate the most protein was 30% less likely to become functionally impaired compared to the group that ate the least amount.

However eating enough protein for seniors can be challenging due to: decreased appetite, swallowing difficulty, dental issues, or they simply do not know how important protein is for their health. Lucky for you or your loved one, getting in enough protein per day is one of the easiest lifestyle changes you can make which can have a huge impact your overall health and well-being. In this article I will go over how much protein seniors need per day, some good sources to get this protein from, and when getting enough protein is even more important than normal.

How much protein per day?

The most common recommend amount of protein is based off the RDA or recommended daily allowance provided by the Food and nutrition Board. They recommend 0.8 g/kg per day for adults over the age of 18 which includes adults over the age of 65. If you weigh 150 pounds you would need about 54 grams of protein for this recommend amount. The problem with using this amount is that it is a minimum dose to prevent a loss of lean body mass. It also does not take into account that older adults over the age of 65 require more protein than younger individuals due to the recent research which has found that elderly adults are not as responsive to protein intake as younger individuals. This can be countered by simply increasing the amount of protein consumed. Experts now recommend a protein intake between 1.2 and 2.0 g/kg/day or higher for the elderly. So for a 150 pound individual this would mean between 81 and 136 grams of protein per day. This is significantly higher than the RDA of 54 grams. Odds are that you are not consuming anywhere near this recommended amount so lets go over some good protein sources.

  • Most commonly recommended amount is based off RDA: 0.8 g/kg per day- However recent research suggests this is too low
  • Latest research by experts in the field now recommend a higher amount of 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg/day for the elderly
  • For a 150 pound individual this would mean consuming between 81 and 136 grams of protein per day.

Good protein sources

Eggs
Chicken breast
Steak

Getting in enough protein per day can be challenging for seniors as their appetite may be diminished as well as protein as a whole is usually not the easiest macronutrient to eat in large quantities. 3 to 4 oz of chicken breast can contain as much as 42 grams of protein however there is only about 230 calories in the chicken breast. Eating that entire amount can be difficult for seniors as protein can be very filling and can also be difficult to chew. Compare this to a large coke at McDonalds’ which contains 290 calories and is very very easy to consume. The difference being the coke is all sugar and the chicken is almost all protein. Chicken breast and steak can be a great choice if you are able to eat it on a regular basis but if you or your loved one has difficult chewing or consuming chicken or red meat the below choices may be easier to consume on a regular basis.

  • Protein shakes or drinks-While not as healthy and without the natural nurtients of whole foods these are very easy to consume and may be what is needed to get to the recommended protein intake for many seniors
  • Eggs
  • Low fat dairy products- yogurt, skim milk, low fat cottage cheese
  • Nuts or legumes

It should be noted that if you are able to consume your protein from real food such as eggs or chicken that should be the first choice of protein drinks or other supplements.

When protein is even more important

Injured knee

When recovering from an illness or injury

While getting in enough protein is important for the elderly at all times it becomes even more important when they are sick or recovering from an illness, injury, or even an outpatient surgery such as a knee or hip replacement. This is because when the body is healing from something it requires extra calories and if it does not have those calories from the diet it will try and take it from the skeletal muscle by breaking it down. Getting in enough protein during these times is crucial to allow your body to heal adequately. You might not realize it from the outside but if you just had a knee replacement your body thinks you were just in some type of traumatic event and is in a state of panic. Your bodies first and foremost attention will be on healing that knee up as quickly as possible and to do this it needs all the nutrients it can get. If you are not eating enough protein it will then break down your own muscle to get it. This is the last thing you want if you are recovering from a knee replacement and could have drastic negative effects on your healing process and could even lead to an infection, a failed knee replacement recovery with a need for additional surgery, or extra time required to recover. Do your self a favor and get in as much protein as you can erring on the side of caution on the higher end of 2.0 g/kg/day during these times and possibly more if you are able to.

  • Protein intake is even more important when you are recovering from an injury or illness
  • The body is in a state of panic and needs as many nutrients as it can get
  • If the body does not get the nutrients through your diet it will begin breaking down skeletal muscle to get the protein it needs
  • This can delay your healing time or possibly lead to further complications
  • Try to get a higher amount of protein during this time of at least 2.0 g/kg/day

When active as a senior

Elderly doing yoga

If you are one of those seniors who is still playing golf at the age of 90 than this article is of utmost importance for you. Unfortunately as we age our bodies ability to process protein is diminished which means the same amount of protein you were able to recover with at the age of 20 won’t cut it as your older. If you had a hard workout or hard day when you were younger your body might have only needed 0.8 g/kg or lets say 54 grams if you were 150 pounds. Lets say you are somehow still the same weight however are 80 years old and just went for a golf outing. Now you might need to consume up to 136 grams of protein to recover. Check out these articles if you are interested in learning more about the importance of protein for golf and if golf is good exercise. Is Golf Good exercise? Do you need protein for golf?

However you don’t have to be an avid golfer to require extra protein intake. Being active as a senior is one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being. Whether your are doing yoga, golfing, or being active in your community which requires you to walk a lot you will require more protein than your sedentary counterparts or when you were young. Try to aim for at least 1.2 g/kg/day if this is you and you should likely be aiming for the higher threshold on days you are particularly active up to 2.0 g/kg/day. If you are looking for some great core strengthening exercises check out this article: Core Strengthening Exercises For Seniors

How to get extra protein during the day

Getting in enough protein can be challenging for all age groups especially the elderly. If eating 3 or 4 chicken breasts a day sounds like an insurmountable proposition to you then you might find some of these ideas helpful.

Spread out your protein intake between 5 to 6 meals

One of the easiest methods to make getting enough protein is to try an include a protein source at every meal and split your day up to include 5 to 6 meals. Now these do not have to be fully fledged meals. A great method is to have your standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then include 2 to 3 snacks. Lets ay you have breakfast at 7:30, lunch at 12:00, and dinner at 6:00. This leaves a snack to be had at 9:30 or 10:00 as well as in the afternoon around 3:00 and another time at night around 8:30 to 9:15. Those times are just examples and you will have to adjust it to fit your schedule but this shows just how easy it can be to get enough meals in during the day. The snacks could be a protein shake or protein bar so that you are not having to spend so much time and energy making meals which can become tiresome very quickly.

Be consistent

clock

Building a habit takes time and consistently getting in enough protein is no different. Try to be consistent with the timings of your meals for several weeks and it will become second nature that at 9:30 you will grab your protein shake or bar out of habit. It might also help to have one of two of your meals be the same or very similar every day. I have found this to be one of the simplest methods for getting consistent as it can be difficult making a different dinner every day and trying to figure out how much protein it will have. If you have 3 to 4 oz of chicken breast and marinate it and/or season it the way you like with a side of potatoes or rice and do this consistently it becomes very easy to do over time. Many people myself included like to make breakfast the meal which is consistent as dinner allows for more variety however the choice is up to you.

Disclaimer

Although I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy by profession, I am not your personal Physical Therapist nor am I a medical doctor. All content and information on this website is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and does not establish any kind of patient-client relationship by your use of this website. A patient-client relationship with you is only formed after we have expressly entered into a written agreement with you that you have signed, including our terms to represent you in a specific manner. Although we strive to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in the area for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any professional, legal, medical and financial or tax related decisions.


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2 responses to “How Much Protein Per Day for Seniors?”

  1. Ethel Avatar
    Ethel

    Great tips!

  2. Ethel Avatar
    Ethel

    Important info. Thank you.

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