How to Slow Age-Related Muscle Loss

As you may have suspected, dietary protein is key to building and maintaining muscle mass. But it’s not necessarily a matter of taking in more protein.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #398

Research shows that for guys in their twenties, muscle synthesis peaks at an intake of about 20 grams of protein. As we get older it takes a little more protein to hit that peak—about 30 grams at a single meal. That’s about what you’d get from four ounces of cooked chicken, lean beef, pork, or about six ounces of tofu. Protein intakes above that amount don't really provide any extra muscle-building benefit.

Now, consider our typical eating patterns: If we’re only eating 10 or 15 grams of protein at breakfast, we're not consuming enough maximize muscle protein synthesis. Meanwhile, if we’re eating 50 grams of protein at dinner time, some of that protein is being wasted in terms of its muscle-building benefits.

You can build and maintain more muscle by dividing up your protein intake more evenly over the day. 

So, even without increasing your total protein intake at all, you can build and maintain more muscle by dividing up your protein intake more evenly over the day. Instead of hitting that muscle-building peak dose of protein only once a day, you could be reaching it three times a day. In terms of hanging on to muscle mass as we age, this could make a big difference.

How to Increase Protein at Breakfast

Protein powder can be an easy way to increase the protein content of breakfast without adding an excessive number of calories or having to eat a huge meal. For example, you can add a scoop of whey protein to a smoothie, stir it into your oatmeal or yogurt, or even blend it into your peanut or almond butter and spread it on toast.  If you’re a breakfast baker, you can replace 1/3 of the flour in your muffin or pancake recipe with whey protein powder. Any one of these strategies can boost the protein in your breakfast from the typical 10-15 grams to the optimal 30 grams.

Try to include a similar amount of protein at lunch and dinner, too. (You can look up the amount of protein in common foods using a diet tracker like My Fitness Pal) or on my Protein Cheat Sheet. 

As always, your questions and comments are welcome. Post them below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page, where we discuss each week's podcast topic in more detail.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.