How to Get Enough Protein to Help Fight Muscle Loss

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Sarcopenia is a medical condition characterized by an age-related decline in skeletal muscle mass and strength. This condition is a major problem affecting many people and is estimated to occur in 25 to 45 percent of older adults in the U.S. and in similar proportions in other populations. Two of the factors contributing to this condition are lack of exercise or movement and inadequate nutrition, specifically with insufficient amounts of protein. If left unchecked, sarcopenia can lead to disability, osteoporosis, falls, hospital stays, and even death. Sarcopenia is diagnosed by a physician using specific criteria including low muscle mass function (either low strength and/or low physical performance).

What to Do.

Whether you have received a diagnosis of sarcopenia or if you are looking for proactive ways to help prevent sarcopenia, a combination of weight-bearing (or resistance) exercise coupled with consistent dietary changes is associated with improvements in muscle mass and function.

Nutrition Goals: Push the Protein.

Consuming greater amounts of protein from diet and nutrition supplements can help prevent and treat age-related muscle loss. Older adults require more protein than younger people to stimulate the same amount of muscle growth and older adults who eat more protein have greater muscle mass than those who eat less, and middle-aged adults with higher protein intake have a significantly lower long-term risk of developing sarcopenia as they age. Many nutrition experts want the current protein RDA of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight to be increased to at least 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. People who exercise or have chronic disease need even more–around 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Protein: Timing Matters. Not only does the daily quantity of protein matter, but the times it is consumed are also important. Spreading protein intake throughout the day is more beneficial for boosting muscle. Older adults should aim to consume around 25 to 30 grams of protein with each meal.

Here are some tips for increasing protein throughout the day:

* Focus on protein first when meal planning. For each eating occasion, first choose a protein source and then build the remainder of the meal around it.

* Slather it on. Peanut butters, nut butters (like almond or cashew), and seed butters (like sunflower) all provide protein that can be added to sandwiches, eaten with whole grain crackers, or as a dip for fruits and vegetables. You can also add peanut butters and other nut butters to warm cereals and oatmeal for an added source of protein.

* Boost your intake of beans, lentils, and legumes. Not only are all these foods a good source of dietary fiber, they are also great sources of protein. Include beans or lentils in your salad, add chickpeas or lentils to your next soup or casserole. Or, with simple spices and preparation, these foods can be standalone side dishes or entrees.

* Sprinkle (seeds) freely. Add pepitas (also known as roasted pumpkin seeds) or sunflower seeds to your entrees, hummus, and other dips for a simple and tasty way to increase your protein.

* Rely on your blender by using milk (dairy or non-dairy) as a base and incorporating protein powders, smoothies and shakes provide an easy way to get a convenient, drinkable meal that provides this vital macronutrient.

Physical Activity and Movement. Muscle building exercises are an imperative part of battling sarcopenia; however, a one-size-fits-all workout regimen may not be appropriate for everyone. Please talk with a qualified physical therapist or trainer to develop an activity level and age-appropriate regimen for regular weight-bearing and strength-promoting exercise.

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