The importance of Protein Supplements in the Elderly

With age, people experience a progressive loss of muscle mass and strength that can seriously reduce functional abilities. Weight training can be an important way to counteract this process. Proper diet, especially consuming protein after a workout, can also help to gain muscle size and strength. Does it matter when this protein is ingested, though?

A recent study in The Journal of Physiology determined the importance of when a protein supplement was taken after exercise in seniors. Thirteen 70- to 80-year-old men completed a resistance-training program consisting of three strength exercises (leg press, knee extension, and lat pulldown – a back exercise) done on fitness equipment, performed three times per week. Seven of the men took a protein supplement within five minutes of exercise, while the remaining six took the supplement two hours later.

After 12 weeks, leg muscle size, isokinetic strength (force against a nonmoving object), and overall lean body mass increased in the immediate-supplementation group only. Both groups increased the amount of weight used in their workouts – but the immediate-supplementation group increased their strength by a larger margin.

If you are advancing into your senior years, it's especially important that you maintain a regular workout to retain your ability to perform daily physical tasks. Regular resistance training or weightlifting can successfully prevent or slow muscle and tissue loss. Also, be sure to eat a protein supplement or high-protein food – poultry, fish, eggs, milk, beans – immediately after you work out. Protein is the building block your muscles require for repair and growth.

Esmarck B, Andersen JL, Olsen S, et al. Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. The Journal of Physiology 2001:535, pp. 301-311.