This is one of the very important facets of eating that I have not yet discussed. However, proteins activate certain mechanisms of primary aging and they play a crucial role in healthy aging. It’s therefore a topic at the center of my concerns to keep people healthy for as long as possible. First of all, if you are thinking about high protein diets for weight loss, know that I consider it a bad idea. Put your efforts into improving your overall lifestyle and your diet (consult a nutritionist) and you may also consider fasting. Fasting can be a powerful tool to help control body weight. I recently wrote several blog articles that explain the basics and health benefits of fasting. Here is the 3rd: Fasting article 3: the desired intensity.
Here I’ll talk about what proteins are, their roles in human health, the link between muscle mass and bone density, as well as the importance of the amount of protein consumed. There will be a second article in which I will tell you about what to do to increase your protein intake and also when it is most important to consume it during your day. I’m also going to tell you about the products of a Quebec company that I particularly like, in the field of certified organic plant proteins: the company Nature Zen.
What are proteins and why do we need them?
Protein is one of the three main groups of macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fats. They make up our muscles of course, but they are also necessary for our enzymes, the membrane receptors of our cells, certain structural elements and our neurotransmitters. Their primary roles are therefore manufacturing and action roles, compared to the energy role of carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates and fats also have other functions, but they are primarily sources of energy. We will focus on proteins.
Macronutrients are made up of smaller blocks. Carbohydrates are made up of sugars, lipids or fats are made up of fatty acids, and proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids because we are not able to manufacture them ourselves; we must eat them in our diet. In all, there are mainly 20 amino acids that make up our proteins. There are other amino acids, but only about twenty make up all of our different proteins. It is important to have an adequate supply of the 9 essential amino acids and we produce the other 11 amino acids ourselves. The best way to make sure you have the essential amino acids is to diversify your protein intake.
Protein intake according to our age?
The role of structure and action of proteins makes it an essential element, of course, in the prime of life. The needs also depend on our level of physical activity and our muscle mass. It is well known that people who want to increase their muscle mass have greater protein needs. Protein intake has a double impact: 1) providing the raw material for growing or repairing muscle mass and 2) stimulating anabolism. Anabolism is the production of macromolecules, including the proteins that make up our muscles. Anabolism includes all the mechanisms of synthesis and catabolism, all the mechanisms of degradation.
A great law in biology is that everything that is not used disappears. If we don’t use our muscles enough, the body comes to the conclusion that it doesn’t need them and degrades them (catabolism) in part to reuse the amino acids. Our body is a great recycler.
Protein intake stimulates protein synthesis
Now, why can protein intake boost protein synthesis? It’s simple, it’s because our bodies need to be able to assess nutrient intake to determine if there are enough resources available to grow and reproduce. Thus, as mentioned in the articles on fasting, our cells have two ways of evaluating the energy/nutritional intake of our diet: carbohydrates and proteins (the first source of energy and the first source of basic components for our muscles). Carbohydrate and protein intake stimulates growth.
Particularly, protein intake will stimulate the production of growth hormone and IGF-1 (Insulin growth factor 1) to promote muscle mass. Protein intake is therefore particularly important for growing people, athletes and the elderly. The first two groups, I already explained its importance, so let’s talk about the elderly.
Protein intake for the elderly
I mentioned to you that in biology, everything that is not used disappears. This is due to the fact that in the human body there is a constant balance between production/anabolism and destruction/catabolism in order to allow us to always optimize the use of the resources at our disposal. If during a period of our life we use our arms more, like when I was working on the farm, we will automatically have bigger muscles in the arms. This is also true for cyclists and their legs, who don’t necessarily have big arms. Unfortunately, as we age, our ability to adapt decreases and resistance to anabolism appears. So it’s more difficult to stimulate our body to produce muscles.
If we produce less muscle and the tendency to destroy is still there, we will destroy more than we build and we will lose muscle mass. Two things can help fight this process: resistance training and protein intake. Here I will also open a small parenthesis on bone density. Muscle loss and bone density are linked for a very simple reason: stimulation of bone growth. The bones are also in a constant balance of construction/destruction and construction is stimulated by the traction/pressure exerted on the bone. So while the arm muscles were getting stronger because I was working on the farm, all of the bones that supported those muscles also had to be stronger due to the pull on them. So if you don’t stimulate the muscles enough, you lose them and at the same time lose bone density.
Going back to protein intake, adequate intake, which should increase as you age, will also help stimulate bone growth especially if it is accompanied by physical exercise. The protein intake facilitates the absorption of calcium. What is sufficient intake? Depending on the country, the recommendations for protein intake will vary. The usual recommendations are about 0.8 gr/kg for adults (60 kg woman = 132 lb = 48 gr protein, 100 kg man = 80 gr protein). As you age, the recommendations (65 and over) are 1 to 1.4 g per kg, taking into account the level of physical activity.
In the second article, I will talk to you about what to do to increase your protein intake, including products from the Canadian company, Nature Zen, and also when it is most important to consume it during your day.
- Bauer J, Biolo G, Cederholm T, et al. 2013. 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;14(8):542‐559.
- Deer RR, Volpi E. 2015. Protein intake and muscle function in older adults. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015;18(3):248‐253.
- Dominic Picetti, Stephen Foster, Amanda Pangle, Amy Schrader, Jeanne Y. Wei and Gohar, 2017. KNOWLEDGE AND CONSUMPTION OF PROTEIN IN OLDER ADULTS: OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT. Azhar International Journal of Development Research Vol. 07, Issue, 04, pp.12519-12524, April, 2017
- Nowson C, O’Connell S. 2015. Protein Requirements and Recommendations for Older People: A Review. Nutrients. 2015;7(8):6874‐6899. Published 2015 Aug 14.
- Shams-White MM, Chung M, Du M, et al. 2017. Dietary protein and bone health: a systematic review and meta-analysis from the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(6):1528‐1543.