Is Whey Protein A Good Choice For Seniors?
By Wen Liu • November 12, 2019
Getting older means changes in your body. Physical changes like muscle loss, brittle bones, and wrinkly skin are the telltale signs that you’re getting older.
The good news is that whey protein can help stave off the muscle loss that can diminish your mobility and recovery time. Quality of life is so important as you get older, so ensuring proper protein intake should be high on your list.
When seniors drink whey protein, they’re more likely to consume adequate protein throughout the day than if they’re relying on just eating meat. That’s because a slight loss in appetite is a normal part of the aging process.
While many of the changes you experience as you move into your twilight years are just a natural progression, the ones that may have a negative impact don’t have to happen so quickly.
By taking steps to keep your muscle mass as you age, you can dramatically improve your quality of life in your later years. And the best way to do that is to ensure that you’re getting adequate protein in your diet every day.
Studies show that whey protein is among the best options for seniors to consider.
Negative Effects of Muscle Loss
As you age, the synthesis of muscle from the foods you eat gradually becomes less efficient. This means that you’ll need to eat or drink more protein to maintain the same amount of muscle as you did as a younger adult.
In fact, some researchers are considering whether or not to increase the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of protein for seniors at the national or global level.
Considering the fact that seniors tend to lose their appetites as they age, this equation makes it hard to keep your muscles strong.
The overall effect of this phenomenon is a decrease in strength and mobility — and possibly in your independence.
Muscle is critically important for every activity you want to do, from getting up out of a chair or bed, standing to cook in the kitchen, gardening, taking your dog for a walk, or playing with your grandkids.
Not only is muscle mass important for doing the activities you want to do, it’s also super important for stabilization. A lack of strength in your ankle stabilizers, hips, and thighs could mean poor balance and a greater likelihood of a fall. Furthermore, a lack of adequate protein intake also slows the recovery process should you sustain a fall or injury.
According to a 2014 study, muscle loss can begin as early as age 40, and it can range between 16.6% and 40.9%.
Considering 40 is by no means “elderly,” it would make sense that seniors and the elderly should be even more concerned about sustaining muscle mass through the years.
Whey Protein for Seniors
Whey is the liquid byproduct of fermented dairy like cheese and yogurt. If you’ve ever bought mozzarella floating in a liquid or noticed a bit of liquid floating at the top of your container of yogurt, you’ve seen whey.
Whey protein is the product of a process that strips away the liquid part and leaves the protein constituents behind. They’re then put in powder form to be mixed with water, juice, or your choice of milk to make a delicious shake.
Study after study suggests that whey protein is a great option for seniors looking to maintain their muscle mass.
Not only is it considered a fast protein — meaning it’s easy to digest and absorb — it’s also a complete protein. It includes all of the essential amino acids critical for building muscle.
The term “essential” means that the human body cannot produce it on its own. There are nine essential amino acids:
- ➡️ Histidine
- ➡️ Isoleucine
- ➡️ Leucine
- ➡️ Lysine
- ➡️ Methionine
- ➡️ Phenylalanine
- ➡️ Threonine
- ➡️ Tryptophan
- ➡️ Valine
These essential amino acids play a key role not only in building up muscle but in helping regulate blood sugar levels. Both of these functions are important for older adults.
Interestingly, some studies show that supplementing just the essential amino acids isn’t as effective in muscle retention and blood sugar regulation as a fuller spectrum of amino acids (which whey has). A non-essential amino acid called cysteine is particularly effective at building muscle and offers a synergistic effect to the essential aminos, according to research.
Furthermore, two other non-essential aminos, arginine and aspartate, play a disproportionate role in insulin secretion. Taken together, the bulk of the research shows that supplementing whey protein is a lot more effective for seniors in their efforts to build and retain muscle mass and keep their blood sugar levels in check.
Alternative proteins like collagen protein and soy protein are also options in the market place. Unfortunately, they don’t hold up to scrutiny when applied to the goals of seniors in particular.
One study compared muscle mass recovery in seniors after a simulated hospital stay. One group took whey protein and the other took collagen protein. After the simulated stay was over (which was simply a restriction of calories and movement), subjects both lost the same amount of muscle, but the whey group regained the losses far more quickly than the collagen group.
Researchers in this study say that the difference was the presence of leucine, an essential amino acid present in whey but not in collagen. More work in this area still needs to be done, but as of now, whey protein is the clear winner.
Finding Top Quality Whey Protein
Animal welfare, food quality, and the subsequent effects on the environment are all concerns when it comes to consuming animal products. Beef, in particular, has a notable environmental impact, especially when the cattle are raised inhumanely and fed the wrong sorts of food.
You’ve likely heard that grass-fed beef is healthier than the corn-fed varieties raised in feedlots. Well, the same is true of the dairy products that come from those cows. What the cow eats affects not only the quality of protein in its body but the milk that it produces as well. And since whey is a byproduct of milk, it affects the quality there too.
Grass-fed dairy cows create milk with higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and another beneficial omega-6 fatty acid called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA aids in fat loss, according to a number of clinical trials.
The standard American diet (SAD) fills most people’s diets with far too many omega-6 fatty acids at proportions that can create chronic inflammation. By choosing grass-fed beef and dairy, you can replace some of those omega-6s with omega-3s.
How Seniors Can Use Whey Protein
Having adequate protein throughout the day is important, so make sure every meal contains some form of it. If you’re used to having hot cereal and coffee in the morning, you can mix your whey protein right into your coffee. Or you can make hot chocolate with chocolate whey protein as a mid-afternoon snack.
The more typical way to add whey into your diet is to blend it into a shake. You have the option to turn your protein shake into a full-on smoothie with fruits and vegetables (most ideal for unflavored varieties) or simply mix with ice and your favorite milk product for the ones that already have a flavor built in.
The idea is to make sure that by the end of every day, you’ve consumed enough protein to help you maintain your muscle mass. And you want to space it out to give your body a chance to absorb it. For a 2000 calorie diet, that’s about 100 grams of protein every day.
What About Exercise?
Food quality and protein intake are so essential for maintaining muscle mass, but exercise can’t be overlooked.
In fact, physical activity is among the most important things you can do not only to help you keep your muscle mass, but to maintain bone density, keep your wits about you, and keep your mood elevated.
Walking is among the most helpful activities you can do every single day to keep your blood flowing and your body moving.
Resistance training is also really important. Before you say, “I don’t want to get bulky,” understand that lifting weights doesn’t automatically do that. Unfortunately, many women have tended to steer clear of weight training, due to a fear that it might make them bulk up like a man.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Weight training and resistance training, when done strategically with the help of a pro, will simply tighten and firm the body. It won’t make you bulky. In order to get bulky like a bodybuilder, you’d need to take on a level of work in resistance training that very few people — much less older people — are able and willing to do. Big muscles don’t happen by accident.
Resistance training helps build your muscles and bones, improves glucose sensitivity, and, importantly, helps prevent falls.
Muscle loss is a natural part of getting older if you don’t make the effort to stave it off. It’s possible to maintain and even build muscle mass after age 40, despite the steady decline in your ability to synthesize the food you eat into muscle.
Keeping your muscles is important for your quality of life as you get older and want to continue doing the things you love with independence. The best way to do that is to ensure that you’re eating adequate protein every single day, and to space it out throughout the day. Exercise is also critically important.
Whey protein is an easy and delicious way to add more protein to your daily diet. By mixing it into your morning coffee or blending it into a smoothie for lunch or a mid-day snack, you can help yourself get the amount of protein you need to keep you feeling great and staying active every day.