Maintaining muscle mass is an essential part of healthy aging, but a new study from the University of Birmingham shows that most people eat proteins fairly unevenly throughout the day. To preserve muscle mass, more protein should be consumed at breakfast or lunch.

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

The study involved 120 participants divided into three age groups: those with an average age of 23; a second group with an average age of 51; and a third group with an average age of 77. All participants were asked to complete a food diary over a three-day period, weighing out every food item consumed.

The study results showed that, while most individuals across all three groups met or exceeded current national guidelines (RDA) for protein intake, the protein intake and distribution across daily meals and snacks varied widely. To produce new muscle mass, the body’s mechanisms need stimulation in the form of protein. However, the mechanisms are less efficient in older people, so they need to consume more protein than younger people, and the protein intake should be spread evenly across all meals.

When evaluating protein intake across the different age groups, the researchers found 18 different patterns throughout the day. Most noticeably, the team found that old people, compared to 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 revised nutritional guidelines that could help older people adopt habits that spread consumption of good quality proteins across all their meals.


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