Eating more protein provides no benefit for this group

Eating a diet rich in protein grows more important as you age, but for one group of seniors the benefits of eating more protein may have been overstated.

Proteins are large molecules critical to many of the body’s functions. They are needed for cells of all kinds to grow and repair. The body also uses protein for energy, particularly when you haven’t eaten enough carbohydrates.

Protein is found in a wide variety of foods, including meat, eggs, dairy products, legumes as well as nuts and seeds. Making sure you’re getting enough in your diet each day is essential for your health.

Read: Wide variety of proteins protects the heart, research finds

As you get older, your body isn’t able to process protein as efficiently as it once could and as a result you need to consume more protein to maintain healthy muscle mass.

Or at least, that has been the conventional wisdom. But it turns out it may not be true for everyone.

Research from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston shows that for older men, loading up on protein might not actually be providing much benefit at all.

Read: Foods with more protein than eggs

“It’s amazing how little evidence there is around how much protein we need in our diet, especially the value of high-protein intake,” says Professor Shalender Bhasin, lead author of the study.

“Despite a lack of evidence, experts continue to recommend high-protein intake for older men.

“We wanted to test this rigorously and determine whether protein intake greater than the recommended dietary allowance is beneficial in increasing muscle mass, strength and wellbeing.”

In a six-month randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial; 78 men aged 65 and over split into four groups and given one of four diet/medicine combinations.

Read: Signs you’re low on protein

The first group was given a diet containing 0.8g/kg/day of protein and a placebo injection; the second was given 1.3g/kg/day protein and a placebo injection; the third 0.8g/kg/day and a weekly injection of testosterone and the fourth given 1.3g/kg/day plus the testosterone injection.

All participants were given pre-packaged meals with individualised protein and energy contents and supplements.

The researchers found that consuming protein at levels greater than recommended daily intake levels had no significant effect on lean body mass, fat mass, muscle performance, physical function, fatigue or other well-being measures.

“Our data highlight the need for re-evaluation of the protein recommended daily allowance in older adults, especially those with frailty and chronic disease,” Prof. Bhasin says.

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