The Importance of Protein

Don Beaver, Director of Fitness

Maintaining independence, quality of life, and health is crucial for active older adults. One of the major threats to living independently is the loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. Several studies have identified protein (especially with its essential amino acids) as a key nutrient for muscle health in older adults. Protein is one of the three macronutrients (fats, carbs, and proteins) that are essential for the development of organs, tissues, muscles, bone mass, and hormones in the body. Protein is a great source of energy while supporting the growth and function of our bodies. It also helps make antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses while keeping cells healthy and also creating new cells.

Benefits of Protein

* Reduces appetite and helps maintain an ideal weight. Protein will help you feel full and, as a result, reduce your overall consumption and caloric intake.

* Increases muscle mass and bone density. Protein is the building block of your muscles, bones, cartilage, and skin. In past columns, I have emphasized that maintaining good muscle mass increases your metabolic rate, burning more calories—even when at rest—while the maintenance of your bone density reduces the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, such as hips.

* Improves your ability to stay in shape through 1) more rapid recovery after exercise and/or injury, 2) reduces muscle loss while building lean muscle, and 3) as mentioned earlier, curbs your appetite, maintaining a healthy weight.

Can you consume too much protein?

Clearly, it is important for each of us to consume protein every day but, just as in most cases, too much of a good thing can also be bad for you. Too much protein can be stored as excess body fat and lead to weight gain over time. Too much protein can also lead to intestinal indigestion, irritability, and headaches to more serious risks such as cardiovascular disease and liver and kidney injuries. So, as you watch your calories and sugar and salt intake, you should also make sure you are ingesting the appropriate amount of protein.

Then, how much protein should we consume?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consumption of .35 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, meaning a 165-pound person should consume an average of 60 grams of protein a day.

Sources of Protein

Supplements are generally not needed with so many available sources of protein in the normal diet, such as lean beef and pork, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts/seeds, all legumes (beans), unrefined whole grain cereal, and wheat products.

Remember, let’s all do our best to maintain a healthy body and lifestyle while enjoying the journey!