In a word: more. In his article "How to Eat for Maximum Muscle at Any Age," researcher and world-class powerlifter Layne Norton, Ph.D., recommends aiming for these daily protein standards over the course of your life:
- Under 18 years: 0.6-0.8 grams per pound of body weight
- 19-40 years: 0.8-1.1 grams per pound of body weight
- 41-65 years: 1.1-1.3 grams per pound of body weight
- Over 65 years: 1.3-1.5 grams per pound of body weight
"Even if you don't measure out your protein to the gram, the lesson here is that as you age, you need more protein," Layne Norton, Ph.D., says.
Why so much? As we age, our bodies become less efficient at using protein. Over time, this protein deficiency, or "anabolic resistance" as it is also known, can lead to decreased strength and loss of both muscle mass and mobility.
A common problem among elderly people is sarcopenia, or loss of muscle tissue. Protein can help reverse this natural process. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association recommends that people over 65 years of age consume a minimum of 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to maintain and regain lean body mass, and research has also suggested that it is best for elderly people to consume their protein evenly throughout the day, with 25-30 grams at each meal as a general goal.
Recent research by leading protein researcher Robert Wolfe, Ph.D., provides similar protein recommendations for the elderly, at a range of 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, a number that's right in line with International Society of Sports Nutrition's recommendations for athletes.
This benchmark can be challenging to meet for many older people who feel full quickly, which is where protein shakes may come in handy. "Liquid does tend to empty out of the stomach faster, and this may help with that early onset fullness," explains Douglas Kalman, Ph.D., RD.
However, eating right isn't enough. Studies also uniformly recommend that older people continue to perform endurance and resistance training. The upshot for older people: You may not always feel like an athlete, but an athlete's protein intake is exactly where you should set your sights, and training is just as important to your livelihood as it is to theirs.