Eating protein three times a day could preserve muscle mass in seniors

EATING enough protein has already been found to be beneficial for seniors to help preserve muscle mass. However, a new Canadian study has found that splitting protein equally across three meals a day could have even greater benefits.

Carried out by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke and the Université de Montréal, the team looked at both the amount of protein consumed and its distribution across each meal using one of the most comprehensive cohort studies in Quebec, NuAge (Nutrition as a Determinant of Successful Aging).

Loss of muscle is an inevitable part of aging, however eating enough protein has previously been shown to be one way of reducing the problem, which can have more serious health consequences including an increased risk of frailty, falls or mobility problems.

"Many seniors, especially in North America, consume the majority of their daily protein intake at lunch and dinner. We wanted to see if people who added protein sources to breakfast, and therefore had balanced protein intake through the three meals, had greater muscle strength," explained the study's lead author, Dr. Stéphanie Chevalier.

Data was taken from 827 healthy men and 914 healthy women aged 67 to 84 years who were followed for three years, with the team analysing participants' protein consumption to look at possible links with strength, muscle mass or mobility.

They found that both men and women who balanced their protein throughout the day had more muscle strength than those who consumed more protein in the evening meal and less at breakfast.

However, the distribution of protein throughout the day was not associated with mobility.

Protein can have a positive effect on muscle mass in seniors as the body's tissues, including the muscles, are composed of proteins, which in turn are composed of amino acids.

Increasing these amino acids by consuming enough protein can boost protein synthesis, helping to reduce the loss of muscle mass.

Dr. Chevalier, adding that one of the essential amino acids known for protein renewal is leucine. "It would be interesting to look into protein sources and their amino acid composition in future studies to further our observations."

The results can be found published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. — AFP Relaxnews