Why You Need to Eat More Protein
as You Age
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November 12, 2016

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

I know a man whom I will call "Ted" who is the envy of his
brothers because, even at age 70, he weighs exactly what
he weighed when he was 22.  His waist line is lean and he
appears in perfect health.  He is a picky eater, shunning
alcohol, meat, cheese. He does indulge himself his favorite
desserts. However, since he swims regularly, and walks
everywhere, he maintains an ideal weight.

But lately Ted has started to notice a few changes that are
troubling him. Blessed with a mane of thick hair, he has
started to notice that lately his once thick mane of hair has
started to thin. You can now see some of his pink scalp
peeking out among the shiny white strands. He also has
noticed his teeth are getting looser.

What's going on? His doctor was unable to pinpoint the
exact cause of his sudden hair loss until he closely
examined my friend's diet. Then, he had a "eureka"
moment.   Could the low-meat diet which was responsible
for my friend's clear arteries have had the unfortunate
consequence of triggering his hair loss?

Ted was advised to eat much more protein, at least 4
ounces per day.  

So, Ted added two servings of fish a week. Result?  His hair
just kept thinning out.  He went back to his doctor, he told
him this time, to add back in red meat. But, doctor, Ted
stammered, what about all those risks for red meat --heart
disease, prostate problems and so on?

His doctor explained that, unless he was willing to take iron
pills --which Ted cannot do because they upset his stomach
-- eating lean red meat is essential to maintaining the levels
of iron he needs to maintain his hair.

So, Ted finally relented and added two servings of ground
beef to his weekly diet.  After two months, he hair started
to fill back in.

All of this got me thinking ---what are the exact protein
requirements as we age?  And why exactly do we need to
eat even more protein as we age?

To answer this question, we need only look at a community
of nursing home dwellers.

You Lose Muscle as You Age and the Loss Accelerates Each

Age 40 is a turning point in your health.  After age 40, your
muscle strength declines between 16% to 40.9% over the
next 30 years, according to a study from scientists at the
University Medical Center Mainz of Johannes
Gutenberg-University in Germany.

Take a second to step back and look at that stat. You are
up to  40% weaker at age 70 than you are at age 40.

One of the reasons you get weaker and weaker as you age
is that you are steadily losing muscle mass.  Your once thick
thigh muscles, especially, begin to thin out. By the time you
are 70, few of us have thick, strong thigh muscles.

Your arm and back muscles also start to decline in mass
and strength.  Your arms may get flabby because they lack
the muscle to burn fat and the remaining skin just has less
structure to hang on, so they flap.  Your back muscles get
weaker, so they are less able to hold you erect and you

You literally lose about 1% of your muscle mass each year
after age 40.

And, as alarming as your rate of muscle mass loss may be,
it pales in comparison to the loss of actual muscle strength.

Scientists who have measured muscle strength loss as we
age have found that, on average we lose about 3 times
more muscle strength as we do muscle mass.  In 2006, a
team of scientists led by Dr. Bret Goodpaster of the
University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania examined a group of
3075 Medicare recipients between the ages of 70 and 79
over a three-year period.

The only requirements for entering the study were that the
participants had to be able to walk a quarter of a mile,
climb 10 steps with no difficulty and have no other
problems that interfered with them going on about a
normal, independent daily life.

By the end of the study, the scientists were down to only
1950 people --- some had died, others could no longer
walk stairs or walk at all or had developed other health

The drop off in participation should give you some idea of
what we're up against as we enter our retirement years in
terms of maintaining optimal health, but that's a story for
another day.

At any rate, the scientists measured leg strength and found
that the men had lost astounding amounts of strength in
just 3 years -- white men lost 15.38% of leg strength over
the 3-year period, compared to a loss of 7.94% for white
women. Black men lost 19.74% of leg strength while Black
women lost 10.21% over the same period.

Without the muscle mass and leg strength you used to
have, you just can't lift heavy grocery bags and luggage
and kids the way you used to do without even thinking.  

As a result, you enter a vicious cycle --- you have less
muscle strength so you can't lift as much, which leads to
even weaker muscles, which mean you can lift even less
and on and on it goes, until you can't lift yourself up from a
chair very well.  You can't climb stairs very well anymore.
You are much more likely to fall.

The name for the condition in which you lose muscle mass
as you become elderly is "sarcopenia".  

Protein to the Rescue?

You need protein to maintain muscle mass and you need
muscle mass to maintain muscle strength.

Of course, you also need to
use your muscles to maintain
and even gain strength.

You need ---
need  --- to walk up stairs.  

You need ---
need --- to lift bags of groceries.

You need ---
need --- to get down on the floor every other
day and find a way to safely get back up while maintaining
your balance.

And you need ---
need, absolutely need --- do hold a plank
for 45 seconds to a minute. If you can't do 45 seconds ,
build up to it.

But here is what you also absolutely need: you need to eat
enough protein.

But how much is enough protein? It turns out that the
answer is not so simple. The World health Organization has
sponsored studies throughout the years which put the
minimum amount of protein you need to consume daily at
approximately 0.6 grams for every kilogram of your body

But a group of scientists in 1994 led by Dr. Wayne W.
Campbell and Dr. Marilyn C. Crim of Purdue University and
USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts
University reached a very different conclusion. They
estimate that you actually need 1.14 grams daily for every
kilogram of your body weight.

This amount is needed, they say, to maintain an equilibrium
of nitrogen gas in your body. Nitrogen gas is needed to
keep your arteries relaxed and your blood pressure normal,
among other things.

Using the 1994 study as a guide, a 150 pound (68
kilogram) man or woman would need to eat 77.5 grams if
protein a  day. That works out to be about 11 ounces of
protein per day or a bit less than 4 ounces each of your
main meals.

As a rule of thumb, 4 ounces of any meat or fish is about
the size of the palm of your hand.

You can increase your protein intake by adding whey
protein powder to your milk to make a breakfast shake,
stirring in powdered milk into your soups or, my favorite,
adding extra egg whites to your breakfast scramble-up.


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Is 50 the new 35? George Clooney is looking good at age 50. Clooney
was born May 6, 1961.

But did you know that Cary Grant was 55 years old when he shot this
scene in 1959 from Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest"? Cary Grant
was born on January 18,1904!
Madonna, the Material Girl, was born
August 16, 1958. On her next
birthday, she'll be 58!
You need 4 ounces of protein at each of your main meals
to maintain muscle mass as you age.