What is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass, muscle strength and the loss of the coordination of muscle movements vital for daily activities, particularly in the elderly.1 From the age of 30, we lose our muscle mass by approximately 3–8% per decade, although this accelerates from the age of 50.2
Who does sarcopenia affect?
Sarcopenia commonly affects people around the 60s and beyond and gets worse with each year. Sarcopenia affects both sexes equally and there is no evidence to show that it affects more in different ethnicities.
Symptoms of sarcopenia
Sarcopenia affects one’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and the nerve cells that are associated with strength and mobility; sarcopenia affects the way you move. Sarcopenia symptoms include:
- Loss of muscle mass
- Inability to maintain balance
- Loss of the ability to walk and stand for any length of time
What causes sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is a natural process of ageing. As we age, our muscles lose mass, tone, and function. Like many age-related concerns, sarcopenia arises with age because of the body’s ability to produce muscle cells is much slower than their break down.
Other causes of sarcopenia include:
- Chronic inflammation, which may be due to ageing or certain health concerns, leads to the loss of muscle mass. 3
- Not getting sufficient vitamins: studies have found a strong link between inadequate protein, vitamins B12, C and D intake.4
- A lack of exercise can result in the loss of muscle tone and strength and certainly accelerates it.5
How do you test for sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia diagnosis involves checking muscle mass, muscle tone, muscle strength and one’s ability to perform physical activities such as the ability to walk and the ability to climb stairs. A DEXA scan is usually performed to check for fat content, muscle and bone density and muscle mass.
Sarcopenia is not a reversible condition; its progress can be halted and if the right choices are made earlier, then one can perhaps prevent sarcopenia. The focus of treating sarcopenia is promoting physical fitness to enhance muscle strength in the upper and lower body.
Some studies indicate that nutrient deficiencies can spur on sarcopenia.4 Other studies show that increasing protein intake can help manage sarcopenia symptoms. 4 A study carried out by Ferruci L. in 2012 showed that people between the ages of 35 and 85 lost 12% of muscle mass; however, this equated to a 40% decline in muscle strength.
Research on sarcopenia treatment is now focusing on using hormone supplements to increase muscle mass but these are not currently approved for sarcopenia treatment.
In summary, sarcopenia treatment typically involves lifestyle and dietary changes.
Why is protein vital for ageing adults?
Many of us are guilty of how we associate protein. We tend to associate high protein diets with body builders, those involved in trying to achieve a sculpted look, or trying to lose weight.
Protein is vital for ageing adults as it supports muscle health, promotes bone strength, and sustains physical and mental function. Maintaining muscles is very important for the over 50s and for those who are dieting.
We use the protein we eat in our food to support growth and maintenance of our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, as well as to make skin, hair, and nails.
We know that as we age, we lose muscle mass and strength, and this increases our risk for falls and frailty. Resistance exercises, particularly knee extensions, hip extensions and leg curls, can help reduce losses in muscle mass and strength, and more so if we give our bodies sufficient protein.
How much protein should you eat per day?
Now that we understand the importance of consuming protein daily, how much protein should you consume daily?
The Department of Health advises that all adults, regardless of age, need around 50 grams of protein every day. This easily achievable in a normal daily diet but this is only applicable if you are relatively inactive or under the age of 50. There is evidence to support the need to eat more protein if you are older, engage in sport activities or are trying to lose weight.
Recommended daily protein intake for older adults (50+)
The actual recommended daily intake for older adults, aside from age, also depends on sex, weight, and the amount of exercise or activity a person undertakes. In general, older adults should be aiming for 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For someone who weighs 68 kilos, or 150 pounds, this equates to 82 grams of protein per day.
This figure is only the minimum recommendation and active people need more and those recuperating from an injury or illness.
Protein-rich foods for older adults
Lean meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are great sources of protein and these animal derived foods deliver the best quality protein. This is because these sources of protein contain nine essential amino acids which the body cannot make and must obtain from our diet.
Plant-based proteins can be found in beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soya-based products. Most plant-based protein foods do not contain the full spectrum of amino acids. Additionally, plant-based protein sources are not digested properly unlike animal-based protein and so if you are a vegetarian or vegan then it would be advisable to eat a little bit more to get sufficient protein.
Alternatively, add a scoop of Lamberts Pea Protein Powder to soups, cereals or made into a smoothie. This plant-based protein powder is a concentrated source of plant-based protein providing 16 grams of protein in each 20 grams scoop.
If you are not a vegan, then the best source of protein to supplement one’s diet is whey protein. Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from the watery part of milk that separates during cheese production.
Whey protein is popular amongst athletes because it provides protein and amino acids used as building blocks for muscle growth. Whey protein contains high levels of leucine, an amino acid known to stimulate muscle protein manufacture. Additionally, whey protein is absorbed faster and utilised quickly compared to other types of protein.
Since we need to obtain between 75 and 85 grams of protein a day, this is very hard to achieve, as ideally this level of protein should be spread out during the day. Many of us will have cereal or toast for breakfast, so we won’t get much protein from this. Likewise soup or pasta for lunch is not going to also provide sufficient protein and it’s not until the evening meal that we eat much in the way of protein foods. This is not ideal because we simply cannot achieve the levels of protein the body needs from one meal.
It is for the reasons mentioned above that I believe that every non-vegan adult over the age of 50 should consider taking some whey protein powder to achieve the requirements to try and prevent sarcopenia. Whey protein powders are not tasty, which is why they are usually flavoured.
Lamberts Whey Protein Powders are available in Vanilla and Chocolate flavours and provide the highest quality whey protein powder. These whey protein powders have added whey protein isolates to provide a greater amount of protein in each serving. Just one serving provides 23 grams of quality whey protein, which is almost a third of the recommended daily amount.
Incorporating protein-rich foods into our diet to support healthy ageing. Protein plays an important role in muscle and bone health, brain health, and supporting our overall health.
Whether you prefer animal-based or plant-based protein, make sure you incorporate a variety of different sources of protein and ideally, try to supplement the gap of your daily protein requirements with Lamberts Whey Protein Powders if you are not vegan.
Sarcopenia can significantly impact the quality of your life so taking charge early can hopefully prevent frailty and fragility later in life.
- Larsson L, Degens H, Li M, et al. Sarcopenia: aging-related loss of muscle mass and function. Physiol Rev. 2019;99(1):427-511. doi:10.1152/physrev.00061.2017
- Dr Brendan Egan at TEDxUCD
- Dalle S, Rossmeislova L, Koppo K. The role of inflammation in age-related sarcopenia. Front Physiol. 2017;8:1045. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01045
- Ganapathy A, Nieves JW. Nutrition and sarcopenia: what do we know?. Nutri-ents. 2020;12(6):1755. doi:10.3390/nu12061755
- Steffl M, Bohannon RW, Sontakova L, Tufano JJ, Shiells K, Holmerova I. Rela-tionship between sarcopenia and physical activity in older people: a system-atic review and meta-analysis. Clin Interv Aging. 2017;12:835-845. doi:10.2147/CIA.S132940
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