Proteins have many crucial functions. Did you know?
- The fibers of the muscle are made mostly of two proteins: myosin and actin. These slender fibers slide along one another to create movement. When protein intake is too low, the mechanisms for movement can be affected.
- Proteins, like actin and tubulin, trigger essential processes in all living cells. These include cell division, cell shape maintenance and movements, amongst others.
Protein in the diet
Proteins are a type of macronutrient, which, along with carbohydrates and lipids, are needed by the body to function normally. Protein generally makes up 10% to 15% of the body’s energy needs. Our body is not able to store amino acids like it does for carbohydrates and fats. So we need a daily intake of amino acids through protein in our diets to make new protein. Protein should be consumed evenly across the day and be part of each meal.
Protein can be found in:
- Animal sources, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. These contain the full range of essential amino acids
- Grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts, which may lack one or more essential amino acid
- Specific nutritional supplements
Older adults’ challenge of getting enough protein
It’s common that people eat less food with age. Contributing factors can be lack of appetite, changes to smell and taste, living alone, little interest in cooking, or difficultly in eating due to teeth/gum or denture problems. Eating less or eating sub-optimally means that older adults often miss out on getting enough important macro and micronutrients, despite their need for many nutrients being higher.
Protein is a macronutrient of particular concern; a study1 showed that up to half of elderly people consume less than the daily recommended amount of protein. Inadequate protein intake is closely linked to loss of muscle strength and functionality.
How much protein do older adults need on a daily basis?
- The recommended Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for adults is 0.83 g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day2.
- Several nutrition experts have recommended that elderly people should increase their protein intake compared to younger adults3. An intake of 1.0 g to 1.2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is recommended for seniors5. This means:
- A 50+ year old man weighing 80 kilograms should consume 80 to 96 grams of protein per day (which corresponds to 280-340 g of chicken breast per day).
- A 50+ year old woman weighing 60 kilograms should consume 60 to 72 grams of protein per day (corresponding to 210-250 g of chicken breast).
- Older women in particular, should increase their protein intake to 1.0-1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day4.