Double Your Protein For Health, Longevity & Leanness

Double Your Protein For Health, Longevity & Leanness

Ever wonder if you are eating enough protein?

You’ve probably noticed the vast array of high-protein foods on grocery shelves or been intrigued by claims that protein can help with weight management. Maybe you’ve wondered about the warnings that meat is unhealthy.

What’s true?

This article will help you figure out how much protein to eat by giving you a rundown on the recent research into protein, with a focus on protein needs to slow the aging process.

The U.S. government recommends that everyone eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. One kg equals 2.2 pounds, so a 160-pound individual would eat 58 grams of protein a day. According to a series of reviews, this amount grossly underestimates protein needs for certain populations, including older individuals, athletes, and people trying to lose body fat or counter metabolic diseases like diabetes.

Why do these populations need more protein?

#1: Protein Maintains Muscle

Optimal health for older people depends on maintaining muscle mass and bone strength. Once you reach age 50, your body is naturally losing muscle mass and bone density due to what is known as “anabolic resistance.”

In simple terms, this means that older people experience changes in digestion so that their bodies absorb fewer amino acids, reducing the pool of building blocks used to maintain muscle.  Gene signaling—the process that “tells” the body to incorporate protein into lean tissue—is also compromised as we age.

Older people also move less and don’t lift as many heavy things in daily life, which means that their muscle and bone experiences less physical stimulus to grow and stay strong. In one study, in as little as two weeks, people who decreased their daily physical activity lost muscle in the lower body. Over the longer term, muscle loss averages as much as 5% per decade after age 30.

#2: Protein Is Necessary For Strong Bones

One of the most common misconceptions about a high-protein intake is that it will lead to weak bones. The theory is that protein foods are acidic, which leads calcium to leach from bones to neutralize the acid. However, research consistently shows that the fear is unfounded and that people who eat more protein have stronger bone density and less risk of falling.

Partly this is due to how the body uses the amino acids in protein to build bone, but it also has to do with the fact that muscle and bone are inextricably linked: The more muscle you have, the stronger your skeleton will be. As we age, the natural loss of muscle coincides with bone loss, which is the reason fracture rates skyrocket in the elderly and often something as minor as a trip on the sidewalk can turn into a death sentence.

#3: Protein Reduces Fat Gain & Metabolic Problems

There are a couple of ways protein helps keep you slim as the years go by:

First, muscle is the “engine” for your metabolic rate. After you hit age 20, the number of calories your body burns daily decreases at a rate of 1 to 2 percent per decade. For young, lean adults, up to 50% of body weight is muscle, but by the time you reach 75, only 25% is muscle. This change represents a decrease in energy expenditure of about 500 calories daily. Few people cut back on how much they eat, which is why people gain body fat as they age.

Second, protein improves release of hormones in the GI tract that tell the brain your full, meaning there’s less chance you’ll overeat.

Finally, protein foods help balance blood sugar, reducing insulin levels and risk of diabetes.

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

Nutrition experts are recommending that most older adults eat double the U.S. government recommendation of protein, getting 1.6 g/kg of protein a day. For a 160-pound person, this equals 116 grams. What does this look like in real-life?

It’s roughly the equivalent of 2 eggs for breakfast (12 g), chicken or beef for lunch (30 g per 4 oz. serving), salmon for dinner (20 g per 4 oz. serving), Greek yogurt as a snack (25 g per 8 oz.), and whey protein post-workout (25 g), with the protein from nuts, seeds, and vegetables rounding out your intake.

This “menu” provides a nice mixture of rapidly digested protein sources such as whey protein and yogurt, as well as more slowly digested sources from whole meat. Whole meat is useful for satiety, whereas “fast” protein has been shown to limit protein losses in older people and it bypasses the fact that we aren’t always the best chewers.

You probably noticed that all these high-protein foods have one thing in common—they’re from animal sources, containing all the essential amino acids your body needs for maximal muscle building. What about plant based protein from seeds, vegetables, nuts, and beans?

The one drawback to a vegetarian diet is that it won’t provide sufficient levels of one particular amino acid, leucine, which is the most powerful stimulator of muscle building. One solution is to supplement with a blend of amino acids, known as the branched-chain amino acids, which contain leucine to ensure you’re giving your body everything it needs to maintain muscle and bone.

What Are Other Tricks For Ensuring Your Optimizing Protein Intake?

Spread your protein out over the course of the day. Each time you eat high-protein foods, you stimulate protein synthesis, improving the body’s muscle building processes. Most people get the bulk of their protein later in the day. Instead, “front-load” your protein by getting half of your total protein in by lunch time.

Always eat vegetables with protein. One drawback to animal proteins is that they can trigger inflammation in the GI tract. Two things can prevent this: Adequate fiber will improve digestion and antioxidant nutrients will help the body to counter inflammation and keep you healthy.

Choose whole proteins over processed foods with protein added. Meat, fish, nuts, beans, dairy, and seeds should make up the bulk of your protein. Packaged foods with added protein, like cereal, protein bars, or bread are often spiked with amino acids, which won’t convey the same benefits as whole protein foods and they often are high in refined carbs and other things that are better avoided.

Lift weights. Just like eating protein triggers protein synthesis, lifting weights builds muscle too. Putting the two together amplifies your results. A review found that when people over age 50 got an extra 42 grams of protein on weight training days, they built muscle to a similar degree as younger people. Overall, consuming the most usable, bioavailable protein sources such as whey protein with training increased muscle by 38 percent compared to a placebo.

Final Words:

Optimizing your protein intake is an insurance policy against aging. Combining a healthy, high-protein diet with weight training can keep your skeleton and muscles strong and put you ahead of the curve when it comes to overcoming the biggest challenges you face as the years go by.


Nowson, C., O’Connell, S. Protein Requirements and Recommendations for Older People: A Review. Nutrients. 2015. 7, 6874-6899.

Deutz, N., et al. Protein intake and exercise for optimal muscle function with aging: Recommendations from the ESPEN Expert Group. Clinical Nutrition. 2014. 33, 929-936.

Kim, I., et al. Quantity of dietary protein intake, but not pattern of intake, affects net protein balance primarily through differences in protein synthesis in older adults. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2015. 308(1), E21-28.