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Originally published February 26, 2018, last updated February 28, 2018
A comprehensive scientific review of research found that eating protein well past the recommended amounts can be especially beneficial for people older than 40.
Past studies have focused on one kind of person or one kind of protein, and for the short term. But the new finding comes from an analysis of aggregated results from the best of past studies looking at weight training and protein. It found that eating more protein than current recommendations can significantly enhance the effects of weight lifting, especially for people age 40 and older.
The review, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that men and women who ate more protein while weight lifting developed larger, stronger muscles than those who did not — they gained an extra 10% or so in strength and about 25% in muscle.
How Much Protein?
The researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions looked for a sweet spot for just how much extra protein made the difference. They landed on 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or about 130 grams a day for a 175-pound man — beyond that, more protein didn’t show stronger muscles. Even so, that amount is significantly higher than what the federal government recommends: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 56 grams for a man, 46 grams for a woman. To give you an idea of how much that is, one large egg has about 7 grams of protein, and a 65-gram piece of beef has about 20 to 25 grams of protein.
The findings have special significance for older Americans, who naturally and gradually lose muscle mass. This process, called sarcopenia, is associated with health problems such as insulin resistance, low bone mineral content and density, and falls and fractures. Older Americans already are not getting the ideal amount of protein, and they don’t respond to extra protein as readily as their younger counterparts. But the lack of responsiveness in elderly adults can be overcome with higher levels of protein consumption, one study found.
What Type of Protein?
So what type of protein should you try to consume? The review concluded that any type of protein resulted in muscle benefits — beef, vegan, soy, liquid or supplement. The review provided clarity on the mixed messages that health professionals have gotten over the years on the efficacy of supplementation, said Robert Morton, the study’s lead author. The meta-analysis puts the debate to rest, he said.
However, more research is needed, Morton also said. In the meantime, grab those weights and increase your intake of protein if you want to build or maintain muscle in your later years.