It's important to eat sufficient protein as we age – research shows that optimal protein intake can improve physical function, prevent sarcopenia and the loss of muscle, help maintain bone mass, and assist with hunger and weight control.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (or 0.36 grams of protein per pound) per day. This equates to about 65 grams for a 180-pound person. For most people, this amount is typically easy to eat with common protein foods (a 3-ounce chicken breast has about 25 grams of protein and 1 cup of black beans has 15 grams).
However, some studies show that over one-third of adults over 50 do not eat their daily RDA of protein.
Further, there is some evidence that even higher amounts of protein can be beneficial – with some studies showing a positive effect up to even 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram (in this case for building muscle mass). For most people, this is a lot of protein – it equates to about 130 grams for a 180-pound person.
If you do decide to eat more protein, there are many ways to do it. And while protein powders or supplements might be part of that plan, it can certainly be done with food alone.
One approach is to just eat at a restaurant like Texas Roadhouse – their Bone-In Ribeye, without any sides, is a 20-ounce cut of meat that provides 143 grams of protein. But that isn't a particularly healthy approach; that ribeye also comes with 1480 calories and 101 grams of fat.
For a more well-rounded approach, check out this example day of eating that achieves 150 grams of protein in under 2000 calories – without using chicken, beef, or pork:
Breakfast: Tofu scramble with 2 veggie sausage links (30 grams protein / 294 calories)
Snack: Chia pudding made with chia seeds, Greek yogurt, maple syrup, and raspberries (20 grams protein / 253 calories)
Lunch: Vegan red lentil curry with 2 cups steamed broccoli (23 grams protein / 439 calories)
Snack: Dry roasted edamame with a mozzarella cheese stick (21 grams protein / 210 calories)
Dinner: Shrimp scampi with easy white bean salad (56 grams protein / 680 calories)
Total: 150 grams protein / 1876 calories (note: In my calculations, I lowered the fat in a few of the linked recipes to keep under 2000 calories).
Do you need to eat this much protein? That will ultimately depend on your goals. Despite some of the promising studies, the science on the optimal protein amount isn't always 100 percent clear – and it will depend on which health benefit you are looking for when compared against your risk for chronic disease.
At the very least, maybe give one of the suggested recipes above a try – and you might find a nice addition to your weekly meals.
And if you want help fitting some higher protein meals into your day, check out the individual nutrition counseling option available through UNM Employee Wellness – sessions are free for all UNM employees.