You think you eat a balanced diet — grains, veggies, fruit, dairy — but you’re questioning what ‘balanced’ is more and more. So of course when it comes to protein, you wonder if you are getting enough? If you haven’t really assessed it for years, you may need to up your intake.
It can be hard to tell if you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient, but there are some signs you can watch for. If your hair, skin, and nails aren’t what they used to be, you may need more. As estrogen lowers, these signs are sometimes blamed on hormones, but changes in your diet may be indicated.
For my over 50 clients, failure to see changes in muscle even when they’re lifting weights properly is a sign they need more protein. Essential amino acids in this nutrient are the building blocks of muscle.
Another sign? You find yourself snacking or, at least, wanting to snack between meals. Protein improves your satiety so you feel full longer. Low energy can be attributed to many things at midlife but boosting protein intake has led many of my clients to say, “I have so much more energy.” That might be because many protein sources are rich in iron and low iron levels make you weaker and tired. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, it may be time to re-examine what, and when, you’re eating.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein has always been presented on a modest basis of a 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. There are several problems with that recommendation.
First, the RDAs are the minimum amount a person needs to avoid disease. That’s a significant difference from thriving. It also requires a lot of math. Scientists studying the way the body processes protein find it is more important to focus on a per-meal amount than a per-day amount. Most of us are not going to try to calculate either a percentage at a meal or the grams per kilograms before we order our meal.
A special report and independently published study, created after a special Protein Summit of 40 protein experts, suggested almost double the RDAs is a better goal for optimal health. The emerging science included in the independent studies that resulted from this summit suggests a more user-friendly amount per meal.
If you’re trying to lose weight a higher protein intake spread throughout the day, on a per meal basis tends to help prevent the loss of muscle. That’s an absolute must for maintaining a high metabolism and avoiding frailty as you age. Shoot for 25-30 grams per meal at least twice or optimally three times a day. That’s the more user-friendly recommendation. There’s one more unintuitive concept.
The benefits of a combination of strength training and adequate protein intake for older women are many. Stronger muscles mean you’re more able to do activity that will create stronger bones and decrease risk of falls later. It also means more ease maintaining an optimal weight and body composition.
You’ve always been led to believe athletes and bodybuilders need more protein than the average or inactive person. However, as you age, and if you’re more sedentary, your need actually increases. Muscle protein synthesis declines as you age. So, if you’re athletic you’re better able to use protein to your benefit than if you’re sedentary, but you’re still not doing it as well as a decade ago.
You can boost your body’s ability to use protein by strength training. You do have a slightly more blunted protein-synthesizing effect than males after strength training, however. So again, strange as it might seem, being female over 50 means you need more, not less. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
So what are the best ways to increase the protein in your diet? If you’re doing animal protein sources 25-30 grams is equal to 4-6 ounces. That’s roughly your palm to your first knuckle. Spend a week reading labels or consulting Google for nutrition information in foods and you’ll be automatically able to eyeball how much of this nutrient is in your meals. Some foods to consider:
It is unlikely that you will add too much to your daily diet thanks to its satiety effect. If you’ve got a concern about kidney issues, unless you have an existing renal issue, the reports included have found no negative effects from increasing protein to the per meal amounts.
Just be sure you don’t cut out other foods! If protein crowds out processed foods and snacks, hooray! However, you want to fill your plate with a wide variety of vegetables, healthy fat, and resistant starches too.
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