As you age, it’s vital you’re getting enough (and the right kinds of) protein. What proteins — and how much — should you be eating?
For such an essential component of our diet, it may be surprising to hear there isn’t broad consensus of how much protein is best to consume. The reason is that the “right amount” depends on a handful of factors: an individual’s age, activity level, muscle-to-fat composition, health and fitness goals, and more.
Many in the medical and nutrition communities do believe the Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is lower than most should be consuming. Before we get to specific numbers, here’s a refresher on what exactly protein is and its benefits.
Proteins are the main building blocks of your body, consisting of small compounds called amino acids. Our bodies make some amino acids, but others (the essential amino acids) need to be consumed in the food we eat. Proteins are used by our bodies in various ways:
- Proteins are essential for the building, maintenance, and repair of our muscles, tendons, and organs.
- Proteins are used in the production of enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters.
- Protein in our diets can aid in weight loss and prevent weight gain by boosting metabolism, reducing appetite, and keeping you feeling full after a meal.
- As we age, protein can help prevent muscle loss and osteoporosis.
- When battling severe illness or injury, proteins can help with recovery.
How much protein is recommended?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is the same for women and men: 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. However, depending on your lifestyle, age, and nutritional goals, you may benefit from more protein in your diet.
Speak to your doctor to determine the right amount of protein for you. You will likely require more protein if you:
- Exercise regularly, whether strength training or cardiovascular activities
- Are aiming to gain muscle mass
- Are looking to lose weight
- Are middle age of older
- Are recovering from injury
How to get enough protein in your diet
The healthiest sources of protein for those who consume meat are lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy. If you follow a plant-based diet, protein can be found in soy, nuts, seeds, beans, quinoa, and lentils.
Ideally you follow a whole foods diet to meet your daily allowance of protein and eat a variety of different proteins. If required, consider supplemental protein in the form of powders or protein bars. As you adjust your protein levels, monitor your energy level and maintain an open dialogue with your health care team.