Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass, begins at about age 40 and accelerates after age 75, notes University of New Mexico researchers Chantal Vella, M.S., and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. If you are a senior, supplementing your diet with high-quality protein and participating in resistance training can help prevent muscle loss as you age. Whey protein powder, a derivative of milk, is a natural protein supplement that can help seniors maintain lean muscle mass.
The loss of muscle mass can result in a decreased quality of life because as you lose muscle, you lose strength and the ability to perform basic activities. In addition, muscle burns more calories at rest than does fat. Therefore, if you lose muscle, your metabolism drops – leading to weight gain. Although whole food sources of protein, such as fish, chicken and meat, are ideal for getting enough protein in your diet, seniors sometimes have lighter appetites and may not get the requisite amount of protein they need from their diets. Whey protein blends easily into soups, casseroles, cottage cheese, yogurt and shakes, making it an easy and palatable way to boost protein intake.
The journal "Clinical Nutrition" published a review in September 2008 noting that the elderly may need more than the Institute of Medicine recommended minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Seniors who consume about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight – approximately 15 to 20 percent of total daily calories – may experience optimal health, muscle mass, strength and function. For a senior weighing 150 pounds, this is equal to 102 grams of protein daily – the amount in 11 oz. of chicken.
Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk. It has a complete amino acid profile, meaning it is comparable to meat, eggs and soy in terms of quality. The exact amount of whey protein found in supplemental powder varies, but usually ranges from 15 to 25 grams per serving. While you should aim to get protein from a variety of sources, a daily serving of whey protein can help you reach your protein needs. A study published in the May 2011 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that ingestion of 20 grams of whey protein per day effectively stimulated muscle protein accretion. Muscle protein accretion needs to be equal to or greater than protein breakdown to prevent sarcopenia.
In the November 2000 issue of "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care," researchers from McMaster University in Canada note that resistance exercise training is an effective treatment for the loss of muscle mass caused by aging. The researchers go on to note that supplementing that training with amino acids, which are present in whey protein, can also help stem muscle loss. A study published in the August 2001 issue of the "Journal of Physiology" found that consuming a protein supplement with 10 grams of protein soon after resistance training is particularly helpful in increasing the muscle mass of elderly men. However, research has not definitely proven that taking whey protein independent of exercise will prevent sarcopenia.
- “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” ; Whey Protein Stimulates Postprandial Muscle Protein Accretion More Effectively Than Do Casein and Casein Hydrolysate in Older Men ; B. Pennings, et al.; May 2011
- University of New Mexico; Sarcopenia: The Mystery of Muscle Loss; Chantal Vella, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
- "Clinical Nutrition"; Optimal Protein Intake in the Elderly; Robert R. Wolfe, et al.; September 2008
- Dairy Council of California: Whey Protein;
- "Journal of Physiology"; Timing of Postexercise Protein Intake is Important for Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Training in Elderly Humans; B. Esmarck, et al.; August 2001
- “Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care”; The Utility of Resistance Exercise Training and Amino Acid Supplementation for Reversing Age-Associated Decrements in Muscle Protein Mass and Function; G. Parise, et al.; November 2000