What Is The Right Amount of Protein?
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Preserve your
muscle mass
Age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3 to 5% of your muscle per decade. Men can expect to lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes, according to Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures. But we need not accept this fate: with progressive resistance training and the right diet, muscle mass can return in older adults, and further losses staved off. It’s never too late to rebuild muscle and retain it.

Progressive resistance training (PRT) is weight training that you gradually ramp up as your endurance, strength and flexibility improve. Training volume can be increased by weight, number of repetitions, number of sets or number of days.

This constant challenging builds muscle and keeps you away from plateaus where you stop making gains. A recent meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50 to 83 who did PRT and found that subjects averaged a 2.4-lb increase in lean body mass.

Typical PRT program
A typical training program might include:

  • 8 to 10 exercises that target all the major muscle groups
  • sets of 12 to 15 reps, performed at an effort of about 5 to 7 on a 10-point scale
  • two or three workouts per week

After you have established a routine, progress by adding a second and then a third set of the exercises. Another way is to decrease the number of reps per set and increase the weight or resistance to the point where you are able to complete at least eight reps, but no more than 12. As you improve, you can increase weight by trial and error, so you stay within the range of eight to 12 reps.

The power of protein
Once you have embarked on a strength training regimen, your protein needs will increase. This is one of those times when it is appropriate and important to ensure adequate protein intake. Protein is literally muscle food. As noted, the body breaks it down into amino acids, which it uses to build and repair muscle. However, older adults often experience something called anabolic resistance, which lowers their bodies’ ability to break down and synthesize protein.

For older adults who perform PRT, a recent study in the journal Nutrients suggests an optimal daily intake of 1 to 1.3 g of protein per kg of body weight. Under this regimen, a 175-lb man would need about 79 to 103 g daily. Note that this is nearly identical to what Carmichael recommends for a much lighter, younger athlete.

Though animal sources are considered the best for protein delivery because they provide the proper ratios of all the essential amino acids (known as “complete proteins”), limit consumption of red and processed meat because of high levels of saturated fat and additives. Instead, try:

  • 3.5 ounces of lean chicken or salmon (31 g and 24 g respectively)
  • 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt (17 g)
  • 1 cup of skim milk (9 g)
  • 1 cup of cooked beans (about 18 g)

Older people on a PRT plan trying to maximize muscle growth and improve recovery could try consuming a drink or meal with a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of about 3:1 or 4:1 within 30 minutes after a workout. A good choice is 8 ounces of chocolate skim milk, which has about 22 g of carbs and 9 g of protein.

Harvard Men’s Health Watch, March 2016, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass?utm_source=delivra&utm_medium=email&utm

Chris Carmichael’s Food for Fitness
, 2004, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY, pp. 25-41, 103-122

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