How Much Protein Do We Need as We Age?

by Matt Weik

Here’s one thing we can all count on—we aren’t getting any younger. In an effort to not look and feel older than we really are, we turn to fitness and nutrition. However, one thing many people ask is if we need the same amount of protein as we did in our 20’s as we do in our 40’s (or older)? Researchers have looked into this and finally have an answer.

That’s it?

When it comes down to how much protein you should take post resistance training as a middle-aged man, the magic number according to researchers appears to be 9g (minimum) of milk protein. If you’re like me, you might be a little surprised at just how low that number is. In addition, it was milk protein concentrate being used—which is a cheaper alternative to whey protein. The researchers mentioned that they wanted to indicate what the lowest dosage would be as anything higher would have an additional cost to the consumer at the end of the day and might be unnecessary. Therefore, they wanted to ensure men understood the minimum amount needed to show an anabolic signaling response assuming they fit within the age range of this study.

In addition, the cost of whey protein seems to consistently be rising with both manufacturers and retailers working off of low margins just to keep the product moving off shelf.

The study

For this particular study, done by The University of Auckland, a sample of 20 middle-aged men between the ages of 38 and 55 were used. These men were deemed healthy, yet did not engage in any type of resistance training. This study is one of the first that looked specifically at middle-aged men, rather than the normal sample of young adults.

The 20 men were split into two equal groups for the study and were either given a beverage made up of 9g of milk protein concentrate, or a beverage consisting of an isoenergetic carbohydrate placebo after completing their bout of exercise. Each participant was asked to complete four sets of leg exercises and then within three minutes of completion, drink an assigned beverage given to them. Both before and after the bout of exercise, researchers drew blood to have as a sample as well as conducting a muscle biopsy from the participants leg both 90 and 240 minutes after drinking their respective assigned beverages.

Through the blood sample and muscle biopsy, the researchers found that as little as 9g of milk protein concentrate was enough to increase muscle protein synthesis. One researcher mentioned that “formulated products containing nine grams of milk protein would be expected to exert a stimulatory effect on muscle anabolism after resistance training.” The researchers did, however, also state that “nine grams of milk protein is likely to enhance muscle anabolism even though the magnitude of this potential effect is difficult to quantify based on the current data.” They aren’t tossing the research to the side, though, as it is still relevant to the sports nutrition industry as a whole due to the large percentage of the industry sales coming from protein.

One area of interest that I have had articles published is the future of protein foods where consumers begin shifting from protein bars, protein shakes, and protein powders over to real food items that contain added amounts of protein to them. Think along the lines of protein chips and protein cereal. One researcher was thinking along the same lines as me when he said, “This may be of benefit in the development of food products targeting population groups that are unable to tolerate single dose high-protein products or that are unfamiliar with the tastes and sensory properties of high-protein supplemental foods and beverages.”

It should be interesting to see how many companies decide to go with milk protein concentrate in their formulas moving forward as well as in what dosage they are recommending for a serving size. Are some brands going to launch a new line of products dedicated towards middle-aged men? Will brands maintain the normal 20-30g of protein per serving or will they start backing it off a little? Only time will tell, and I’m sure more relevant research is going to be conducted on this topic as well, so we should all definitely keep our eyes peeled for that down the road.

Cameron J Mitchell, et al. “Minimal dose of milk protein concentrate to enhance the anabolic signaling response to a single bout of resistance exercise; a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Published online, doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0175-x