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Adequate protein intake is vital to anyone seeking to preserve muscle mass, especially since the aging process threatens the loss of all that hard-earned muscle through a process called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia causes a loss of muscle mass and strength in all individuals as they age, even in die-hard gym addicts.
The aging process hits us with a double whammy because 1) our dietary protein needs increase over time, and 2) our ability to synthesize new proteins plummets as a consequence of diminished levels of testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor-1. In other words, it becomes tougher and tougher to meet the aging body’s protein needs, and the result is a loss of muscle.
One of the biggest challenges in meeting the protein demands of the body as we age is the physical challenge of consuming adequate protein. Protein powders are an excellent means of meeting protein requirements in a low bulk form since they are dissolved in liquid. Whey protein in particular is an excellent protein source for anyone over the age of 30, provided they have no issues with allergy or intolerance to whey.
Whey protein is rich in branched chain amino acids, especially leucine, which is considered the most important branched chain amino acid for protein synthesis, especially in older people. Branched chain amino acids are also responsible for proper dermal collagen protein synthesis, so they play a huge role in the condition of the skin, maintaining its suppleness and tone.
Another age-related benefit of supplementing one’s diet with whey protein is the presence of lactoferrin, which fortifies bone and prevents osteoporotic fractures by activating osteoblasts. Whey protein also contains high levels of cysteine, an amino acid which boosts glutathione production. Glutathione, an antioxidant with powerful anti-aging effects, steadily declines naturally as we age, and since its production relies on the presence of cysteine, the introduction of whey protein into a meal plan can guard against age related diseases.
Whey protein has profound effects on glucose metabolism as well. It reduces serum glucose levels in healthy individuals while impairing glucose tolerance in diabetic and obese individuals. When consumed consistently as part of a sensible high protein meal plan, the result is a reduction in body weight and an increase in fat oxidation. This is due to the release of leptin, cholecystokinin, and glucagon like-peptide 1, all of which create a feeling of satiety.
In summary, the benefits of whey protein are numerous and significant, especially for older individuals. If you have yet to incorporate whey protein into your meal plan and you have been lamenting the ravages of Father Time, do yourself a favor and add whey protein to your daily regimen.
References: Sousa G et al. Dietary whey protein lessens several risk factors for metabolic diseases: a review. Lipids Health Disc. 2012;11:67