Specialized Home Care » Health » What is protein and how much does my body need?

I drive many miles each day. Podcasts are great for longer drives. I recently discovered a new podcast. The Proof, with Simon Hill, a physiotherapist and nutritionist. He centers around evidence -based information proven through scientific research. Good stuff, given the amount of misinformation today, especially on social media. 

Hill’s guest, on episode No. 190 if you want to listen, was Dr. Stuart Phillips, pHD, a leading researcher in exercise science and nutrition. 

Hill and Phillips discussed healthy aging, resistance training and nutrition in aging adults. 

They discussed an important topic. It involves protein and the older adult.

What is protein? And why is it so important for avoiding sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass/strength), maintaining and building muscle?

Protein is unlike carbohydrates and fats, which we burn as fuel. Protein cannot be used as fuel since it’s composed of nitrogen. Protein is a substance that makes structures in our body: heart, lungs, skin, blood vessels. You name it, protein builds it. 

If you don’t eat enough protein, combined with chronic inactivity throughout your day or on bedrest, the body rapidly loses muscle mass (called atrophy and sarcopenia).

What is enough protein for older adults? Or young adults through middle age?

Phillips reports through extensive, high quality research(randomized control trials, meta-analysis studies) that the optimal amount of protein for older adults should be more than the recommended daily amount, he said in the podcast. 

Currently, 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight is the baseline amount needed or the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) to prevent deficiency in a sedentary adult. 

For the older adult, Phillips recommends 1.2-1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight. So if an older adult weighs 180 lbs (81.6 kg), he/she needs 97-130 grams of protein a day for optimum health, especially if combined with a resistance training program.

That’s quite a disparity, 65 grams (RDA) and 97-120 grams (optimal). 

Phillips reports older adults typically don’t get enough protein. Then an illness hospitalization happens. That’s when trouble happens.

I agree. I recently have started asking Specialized Home Care (SHC) patients roughly how much protein they are consuming daily. Most didn’t know, or aren’t keeping track. Digging deeper, I found they are barely getting the RDA. Yikes! 

“Particularly if you are older and if you face a stressor, that’s when you’re going to suffer,” Phillips said on the podcast. “That’s when you’re going to see a big decline. When you’re older, this is the depressing part, when you go down like this, it’s hard to get it back (muscle, strength and function.)”

If you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering: how do I get that much protein? Especially for older people who have reduced appetite or difficulty chewing meat or plant protein. 

Protein supplements like nutritional shakes, powders can increase daily protein intake. “These are acceptable,” Phillips said. 

Try to eat 3 meals a day and 30-35 grams of protein at each meal, then a snack that has 15-20 grams. Combined with a resistance training program (see previous blog), your muscles will rebuild and get stronger! Scientifically proven!

-Michael, PTA