Is the Aged Population Getting Enough Protein?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Protein is a nutrient essential for growth, muscle function and immunity and plays an important role in health at the extremes of life stages.

In the early years, protein is essential for the normal growth and development of children. However, in later years adequate protein intake is vital for the preservation of muscle mass and the benefits to strength, mobility and general health that this brings..

Current New Zealand and Australian recommendations for protein intake by adults aged 70 years and over are around 25% greater than that for younger adults (NHMRC 2006). However, research has highlighted the importance of even greater protein intake by healthy older adults for the continued support of good health, promotion of recovery from illness and maintenance of normal levels of physical function. (Volpi et al 2013).

Sarcopenia is the progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging and is accelerated with immobility, disease and under-nutrition. This process was long believed to be inevitable, however, in light of evolving research, evidence-based guidelines (Bauer et al 2013) now support a higher range of protein intake for older adults (1.0-1.2g/kg) than that currently recommended in New Zealand and Australia (0.94-1.07g/kg).

In October 2014, the Nestlé Nutrition Institute, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Australasian Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (AUSPEN) collaborated to convene a symposium on the role of protein in a range of clinical conditions and life stages. The theme of the symposium ‘The Role of Protein: Over-rated or Under-stated’ was explored by eminent researchers in the area of ageing and nutrition including Professor Douglas Paddon-Jones from the University of Texas.

At the Symposium, Professor Padden-Jones outlined that along with a greater daily intake of protein for older adults, we also need to consider how protein is distributed over the day. Age-related muscle loss occurs for many reasons, however, age-related resistance to the protein building effects of dietary protein from a meal (known as anabolic resistance) is a significant contributor. Professor Padden-Jones outlined research that reveals people’s ability to utilise protein for muscle building at any given meal occasion is optimal at around 30g of protein, or the equivalent of 100g of cooked lean meat.

This research highlights the need to review current menu-planning guides for the elderly and to consider balancing out their protein intake evenly across the day.


NHMRC, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand 2006

Bauer J. et al. Evidence-based recommendations for optimal dietary protein intake in older people: a position paper from the PROT-AGE Study Group. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013 Aug;14(8):542-59

Volpi E. et al. Is the optimal level of protein intake for older adults greater than the recommended dietary allowance? J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013 Jun;68(6):677-81

About Karen Kingham

Karen Kingham is the Nestlé Professional Brand Nutritionist. Karen completed her Bachelor of Science and Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney, and has experience working as a clinical dietitian both in public and private hospital systems. Karen has spent time as a consultant to the food industry and also writes regularly for the food media in both print and online mediums. Karen advises on new product development and oversees nutrition communications for Nestlé Professional in Australia and New Zealand.