Every year, each of us has a shared experience: we get one year older. Aging is a normal process of life but the consequences of aging do not happen uniformly and can be influenced by the actions we take today.

Although we know what we can do to do to support healthy aging – eating a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and keeping up with brain exercises – there are some aspects of aging that are not so commonly discussed. One of them is sarcopenia.

What Is Sarcopenia?

One of the most significant processes of aging has to do with our muscles.  As we age, there is an involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. This condition is known as sarcopenia.

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The impact of sarcopenia can be serious. One very concrete example of this is the rise of hip fractures as we age. Over 95% of all hip fractures are because of a fall. Hip fractures highlight the compounding effect of aging and the vital role of our muscles. One consequence of aging is the possible loss of calcium in our bones, known as osteoporosis. Thus, bones may be more easily fractured. However, when we lose our muscle mass and strength, we are more prone to falls.

When we have adequate muscle strength, we can reduce the likely event of a fall and thus minimize the risk of fractures.

Sarcopenia Prevention for Older Adults: The Role of Nutrition

The good news is we can take preventative actions to reduce the consequences of aging on our muscle mass and strength. There is strong evidence suggesting that nutrition has an important role in the prevention and management of sarcopenia.

Slowing the rate of sarcopenia by consuming a sufficient amount of protein and improving muscle strength can improve quality of life.

In fact, according to the ESPEN (European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism) Expert Group, the following consensus and recommendations are made on protein intake by older adults to help them sustain muscle strength and function:

Following a healthy diet earlier on in your life, such as a Mediterranean Diet, which studies suggest a positive impact on muscle function, can lower the risk of sarcopenia in older adults.

According to researchers, protein intake plays a critical role in muscle mass, strength, and functionality in general and especially for the elderly.

Improving Your Diet with Adequate Protein

Susan Bowerman, Registered Dietitian and Senior Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, observed that muscle loss can occur at any age, not just in older people. This may be due, in part, to a high carbohydrate and low protein diet as well as a lack of resistance exercise— factors that are crucial for muscle building.

She offers the following recommendations for improving protein intake:

Even if older adults stay active and engage in regular bouts of resistance training, the body’s ability to build and maintain muscle mass will suffer if there’s not enough protein on the plate – and there are reasons that older people may not be giving their bodies the necessary amount.

As people age, their calorie needs gradually decline – due to a combination of factors that include a lower metabolic rate and a reduced activity level. In order to avoid weight gain, then, many people cut back on their calories and eat less food. But, without careful planning and the right food choices, a drop in calorie intake could mean that the total amount of protein they eat might drop, too.

And, when you look at what older people are spending their calories on, protein isn’t high on the list. Among the top 10 calorie sources for adults 70 years and older are bread, cakes and pastries, cookies, potatoes, ice cream, cold cereal, pie and soft drinks – and, altogether, these foods represent more than 20% of total calories eaten.

Boost Protein Intake, Not Calories

The first step to improve your diet is to cut back on refined carbohydrates and sweets. From there, you’ll want to seek out foods that provide the most protein for the fewest calories.

Here are some ways to obtain top-quality protein from both animal and plant sources:

Food ItemAmountCaloriesProtein (g)
Protein Powder (sources vary, check labels1 1/2 ounce (45 g) (varies depending on protein source)12030 (varies)
Grilled Fish4 ounces (120 g), cooked weight130-17025-31
Tuna, water pack4 ounces (120 g)14527
Notfat cottage cheese1 cup (225 g)14028
Yogurt, plain, Greek Style1 1/3 cups (300 g)17528
Chiken, Turkey Breast<4 ounces (120 g) cooked weight17532
Beef, lean4 ounces (120 g) cooked weight180-20025
Tofu, firm1/3 block19021
Beans (black, pinto, garbanzo) or lentis3/4 cup cooked170-18011-13

Adequate dietary protein, coupled with resistance exercise, is a good way to minimize the loss of muscle mass, which is vitally important for daily function and mobility. Remember to exercise daily, since this can also lift your mood, lead to better sleep, help with stress management, and improve your balance.”

The Role of Nutrition Policy

While we frequently rely on general guidelines for nutrition, there may be unique nutritional needs for optimal health in specific age groups and life stage conditions.

In the U.S., the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans incorporates approaches based on life stages to help prevent disease and keep Americans healthy from birth into older adulthood.

As a global leader in nutrition and lifestyle, Herbalife Nutrition submitted comments to the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, sharing our expertise and providing science-based evidence on the need for a higher amount of protein intake in older sarcopenic adults compared to the current general nutrition recommendation.

Our global nutrition philosophy has protein as an important macronutrient coupled with living a healthy active lifestyle – two important ingredients to healthy aging. As we age, our main philosophy is to focus on the critical steps we can take to improve our overall health and well-being through optimal nutrition and keeping up with an active lifestyle.

I have witnessed individuals who are living with more vitality today than they did 10 years ago.

If you make the right lifestyle choices, you may be one of those individuals too. Even though aging is guaranteed, the consequences are not.

Kent L. Bradley, M.D., MBA, MPH – Chief Health and Nutrition Officer

Kent L. BradleyM.D., MBA, MPH – Chief Health and Nutrition Officer

Dr. Kent Bradley is the chief health and nutrition officer for Herbalife Nutrition. He is responsible for all nutrition and product training. Dr. Bradley is a retired Army colonel, graduate of the United States Military Academy. He holds a master’s in public health from the University of Minnesota, an Executive MBA from the University of Denver and a medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. He is board certified in public health and preventive medicine and holds a certificate in corporate governance from INSEAD. An avid enthusiast for staying active through a mix of team sports and outdoor activities, Dr. Bradley’s favorite products include Herbalife24® Rebuild Strength and Herbalifeline®.