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What Is Protein and Why It’s Even More Crucial as We Age
You know it’s important to eat the right mix of nutrients to fuel your active lifestyle and promote overall good health. You’re probably also familiar with the three basic macronutrients we all rely on for daily energy: carbohydrates, fats and protein.
But in some ways, protein is in a class of its own, and it becomes increasingly important as we age. Let’s take a closer look at this stand-out nutrient.
Protein is perhaps best known for benefitting muscles. As the protein you eat moves through the digestive tract, it gets broken down into amino acids, which are then used to build and repair muscle tissue. Those amino acids also help prevent muscle from breaking down and shrinking over time, a phenomenon that begins as early as age 30 and speeds up as we reach older age.
While this nutrient is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, it’s critically important for overall health, too. It helps support communication between cells of the body and plays an important role in immune system function by helping the body mount a defense against invading viruses and bacteria. It even aids in recovery from illness or injury.
Protein needs vary from one person to the next, and your individual needs depend on your age, gender, weight and how physically active you are. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or about 55 grams per day for an adult weighing about 150 pounds. That’s the minimum amount needed to avoid deficiency and is useful for the average person over the age of 18.
However, research suggests that as we get older, our protein needs increase quite a bit. That’s because protein is the primary nutrient that supports muscle health and prevents muscle decline. For adults aged 65 and older, protein needs are about 1 gram for every 2 pounds of body weight. For a 150-pound older adult, that would be 75 grams per day. People suffering from heart failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), kidney disease or other chronic diseases may have even greater needs.
Even though muscle is made of protein, it isn’t stored there. In fact, the body doesn’t store it at all. That’s why you need to have protein as part of your daily diet. Even better – space your intake throughout the day, with a little each at breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time, about 20-35 grams at each eating occasion. Trying to squeeze in all of your protein needs into one meal isn’t useful – the body will can only use what it needs at that moment.
Foods that come from animals, like meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs, tend to be the richest sources of protein in the diet. Plant-based sources are available too, like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu and quinoa.
If you’re falling short of meeting your daily protein needs, or if you’re simply looking for variety and great taste, consider a supplemental nutrition drink like BOOST® Nutritional Drinks. These can be enjoyed with a meal or on their own as a between-meal snack.
For an easy way to find out how much you need, try this online protein calculator.
It can be hard to squeeze in nutrition, especially for active adults on the go. That’s why BOOST® Nutritional Drinks has a line of protein-rich beverages that also supply important vitamins and minerals that many older adults need. If your main dietary goal is to round out your daily protein needs, consider these two options:
See how BOOST® compares with other protein foods.
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