The power of personalization: Trial highlights value of increased protein intake for older adults

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© a_namenko / Getty Images
© a_namenko / Getty Images

Related tags personalized nutrition Protein

Personalized dietary advice is a cost-effective way to boost protein intakes and increase strength for community-dwelling older adults, says a new study from Finland and The Netherlands.

Data published in the European Journal of Nutrition​ indicated that advising older adults to increase their daily protein intakes to at least 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (g/ kg BW) resulted in significant increases in walk speed and leg strength.

“Our findings support the need for re-evaluating the [European] protein RDA of 0.8 g/kg BW/d for older adults, but need replication in other studies,” ​wrote the researchers.


Commenting independently, Dr Robert Wildman, Founder of the International Protein Board, told NutraIngredients-USA that the study is important for a couple reasons: "First, it continues to reinforce the belief that as we increase in age, especially the last 2-3 decades of a typical lifespan, our base protein requirements increase as well,” he said.

"Secondly, it demonstrates how consuming a little more protein daily than standards such as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), can lead to measurable improvements in physical activity for older people, which can support better exercise compliance as well as boost self-esteem.

"And as a dietitian its always encouraging when simple and practical education efforts, as is the case in this study, can make such a big difference."

Dr Wildman added that the foundation of this study touches on two key Protein Matters of the International Protein Board: "First, the need to reevaluate protein requirements and recommendations especially in populations such as aging individuals. We know that protein requirements are elevated for athletes as well as during pregnancy, lactation, injury recovery and even weight loss. So we need to get there with aging as well.

“The second Protein Matter focuses on the factors that can contribute to an elevation in protein needs for older adults. These include reduced efficiencies in digestion and absorption, as well as the response of body tissue like muscle to the amino acids derived from dietary protein," ​he said.

Study details

The new study included 276 community-dwelling older adults in Helsinki and Amsterdam randomly divided into three groups. The first group was advised to increase their protein intake to at least 1.2 g/kg BW per day; the second group had the same advice plus advice to eat protein (en)rich(ed) foods within 30 mins of exercise; and the third group received no advice and just continued to live and eat as before (this was the control group).

The results showed that, after six months, 37.5% and 30.3% of the first and second groups, respectively, achieved the goal of consuming 1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight.

Both groups displayed faster walking times and leg extension strength after six months, compared to the control group. Specifically, the first group completed a 400 meter walking test 12 second faster than the control group. The benefits were even more pronounced for those with slower walking speeds at the start of the study, with slow walkers in both protein groups completing the 400 m test between 15 and 18 seconds quicker.

“Based on observational data, our mean change of 12 seconds would imply a 6% lower mortality and 10% lower mobility disability risk, and a mean change of 17 seconds among the slower walkers would imply a 8% and 15% lower risk, respectively,” ​said the researchers.

However, there did not seem to be any overall additional benefits from the additional advice received by the second group, said the researchers.

Dr Wildman added that the iPB currently recommends that older individuals should consume 1.4 g/kg BW, which aligns with the methodology of this study. In addition, the iPB provides a protein calculator to generate recommendations daily protein intake for older individuals as well other populations like fitness, sports, weight loss, etc.

Source: European Journal of Nutrition
2021, Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02675-0
“The cost effectiveness of personalized dietary advice to increase protein intake in older adults with lower habitual protein intake: a randomized controlled trial”
Authors: I. Reinders, et al.

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