Everything you eat and drink can be broken down into three macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates and protein. All provide energy to the body to do work: from powering big muscle groups to fueling your workout to blinking your eyes.
The body stores extra carbohydrate in muscle cells, and extra fat can be stored in fat cells. But extra protein can’t be stored in the body. That’s why you need to continuously replenish it and to reach for protein-rich foods and drinks every day.
Protein Every Day – Throughout the Day
Not only is it important to get enough protein (a 150-pound older adult needs about 75 grams daily), but you should aim to include high protein foods or drinks at every eating occasion. Aim for 20-35 grams per meal or snack, which can be found in about 4 ounces of salmon, 1 cup of cottage cheese, or one high protein drink.
Why High Protein Choices are So Important
As we get older it becomes even more important to get enough protein. That’s because it plays important roles in our health in a variety of ways:
- Muscle Health. Protein is what fires up muscles and makes them do work. Sarcopenia is muscle weakness due to loss of muscle mass and function. This happens a lot as people get older, but it’s not inevitable. Getting more protein helps reduce sarcopenia risk, and that’s why we need even more protein as we get older.
- Bone Health. All your life you’ve been told to drink your milk to build strong bones. It’s not just the calcium in milk that keeps bones healthy – it’s the protein, too. Getting enough each day can help reduce the risk for hip fractures as well.
- Immune Function. Grandma’s chicken soup recipe may indeed be more than just comfort food. Protein, especially certain amino acids which are the building blocks of protein, seem to play a role in supporting immune health.
- Healing and Recovery. If you’ve ever had surgery, severe injury or illness or been in the hospital, chances are you were told to pump up the protein, possibly up to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight (or 135 grams per day for a 150-pound person). That’s because protein is involved in tissue repair and recovery.
- Weight Management. Protein tends to make people feel fuller longer. High protein diets are often recommended as a weight loss strategy since protein foods are digested more slowly. If you have a protein-rich meal or snack, you may not feel hungry again too soon afterwards.
Your body needs protein, and luckily there are many nutritious and delicious ways to get this essential nutrient. Check the Nutrition Facts panel of your favorite foods or drinks to see how many grams you’ll get in a serving. If you need some meal planning inspiration, check out MyPlate.gov.
Talk to your healthcare provider for questions or concerns about any diet or lifestyle changes and to find a plan that's right for you.