Eating protein throughout the day reduces muscle loss in older people

Eating more protein at breakfast or lunchtime could help older people maintain muscle mass with advancing age, and reduce age-related muscle loss says new study

Protein from nuts

We all know protein is important for maintaining muscles, and we lose muscle-mass as we age, but researchers from the University of Birmingham University found older people could reduce age-related muscle loss by spreading their protein intake evenly across all their meals. This will ensure their protein levels work as efficiently as possible at maintaining muscle mass.


The body’s mechanisms for producing new muscle require regular stimulation to function efficiently, and this stimulation is caused by protein. However, as we age these mechanisms become less efficient.

Researchers in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham, studied the dietary intake of young, middle-aged and old-aged individuals with a particular focus on the amount, pattern and source of protein consumed.

The 120 participants divided into three age-groups; in the first, participants had an average age of 23; in the second an average age of 51; and in the third an average age of 77. All participants were asked to complete a food diary over a three-day period, weighing out every single food item consumed.

They found the oldest age-group, compared to the young and middle-aged individuals, were more likely to eat a lower-quality protein source, such as bread, at lunchtime.

The results offer compelling evidence for revising nutritional guidelines so they can help older people adopt habits that spread consumption of good quality proteins across all their meals.

“We know that older people show a blunted response to muscle building when consuming a certain amount of protein. Therefore, older individuals need to eat more protein to get the same muscle-building response as younger and middle-aged people,” explains study author Dr Benoit Smeuninx.


“Most people are reaching the Recommended Daily Allowance of protein, but our results show that a one-size-fits-all guideline for protein intake isn’t appropriate across all age-groups. Simply saying older people should eat more protein isn’t really enough either. We need a more sophisticated and individualised approach that can help people understand when and how much protein to consume to support muscle mass.”