Timing of Protein Can Aid Healthy Aging

The amount and timing of protein intake at meal times is critical for older people.

One of the enduring health challenges with ageing is the loss of lean tissue mass or muscle. Protein is a critical nutrient for building muscle. Food for Health Ireland research published in the January edition of The Journal of Nutrition [1] has found that eating protein evenly throughout the day might be better than the current practice of eating the majority of the daily protein intake at dinner time.

Protein is a nutrient in the spotlight and not just for recovery from exercise. As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass and strength due to a reduction in the muscles’ anabolic response to protein intake and less daily physical activity. This gradual loss of muscle mass, which can occur as early as the 4th decade of life, is termed sarcopenia and is credited with a litany of health problems in older people, including insulin resistance, low bone mineral content and density, falls and fractures. Estimates of the prevalence of sarcopenia are 1–29% in community-dwelling populations and 14–33% in long-term care populations[2].

Professor Philip Jakeman, University of Limerick explains the research, ‘60 participants aged between 50-70 years completed a 6 month intervention study. Half the volunteers consumed a milk-based protein supplement at breakfast and lunch, the 2 low-protein meals of the day, with the other half consuming a non-protein supplement containing the same amount of calories. On completion of the study, the between-group difference in the amount of muscle was an impressive +0.6kg (1.3 pounds) in favour of those who consumed the milk-based protein supplement.’

This research shows that eating sufficient, high quality protein evenly throughout the day is better than the current practice of having most of our protein with the evening meal.