Protein Intake for Older Adults

Apr 13, 2022 12:52pm

What do bodybuilders and older adults have in common? 


You’re waiting for the punchline…but the answer is actually that they both need adequate protein intake. You have more in common with Arnie than you think!

 Protein is essential to the body for every day function. One of the major threats to independence in older adults is the loss of muscle mass, strength and function that progressively occurs with ageing (also known as sarcopenia). Protein is important to build and repair muscles and bones and also to produce hormones and enzymes which support the organs, blood and immune system. It has been shown that protein intake greater than the recommended amounts may improve muscle health, prevent sarcopenia, and help maintain energy balance, weight management, and cardiovascular function (Baum 2016). 

It is estimated that 38% of adult men and 41% of adult women do not meet the recommended daily intake of dietary protein. 

Experts in the field of protein and ageing recommend a protein intake between 1.2 and 2.0g per kilogram of body weight per day (Baum 2016). 

Weight (kg) x 1.2 - 2.0g = amount of protein needed per day 

For example, the average weight of a man over the age of 60 is approximately 88 kg, this would mean he would need to consume a minimum amount of 105g of protein a day (88x1.2=105). Average weight of a woman of the same age is 75kg and they would need at least 90g of protein a day (75x1.2=90). 

Feel free to complete your own calculation to estimate the amount of protein relevant to you. 

Note that these numbers are based on a healthy body weight. If you are overweight, your minimum protein intake might seem so high to be unachievable. If that is the case, recalculate entering a healthy body weight for your height.

Is a high protein diet safe?

Previously it was thought that high protein diets had a detrimental effect on bone and kidney health. However, this idea has been debunked in the scientific literature. Studies have shown that even protein intakes up to around 4g per kg of body weight per day to be safe, and that is a protein consumption that is arguably too high to sustain pragmatically (Antonio et al. 2015). High protein intakes are now thought to be well and truly safe, and potentially even beneficial for bone and kidney health in otherwise healthy individuals.


How do I know how much protein I’m eating? 

So now you’re aware of how much protein you should be consuming, where do you get that protein from? 

Some common sources of protein include:

  • Lean meats - beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo
  • Poultry - chicken, turkey, duck
  • Fish and seafood 
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products - milk, yoghurt, cheese 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Legumes and beans - all beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu 

Below are some common and easily found protein sources and the amount of protein they contain:

Egg (x1) = 13g protein 

Steak 100g = 25g 

Tofu 100g = 8g 

Can of tuna (100g) = 28g

A food diary is the best way to start to identify what you are eating and determine if additional protein is needed to be added to the diet. Starting with a 3 day mid-week diary is an easy way to see on average what your everyday intake looks like. 

An easy way to add some extra protein into your diet is through dietary supplementation and protein shakes. A protein shake (on average) contains approximately 25g of protein which can be a useful tool as an addition to the diet to increase your protein intake. Researchers have shown that protein shakes combined with exercises showed significant health benefits in a group of men over the age of 70 (Bell 2017). Protein shakes are safe for the vast majority of older adults but speak to your doctor if you have any dietary or major health concerns. 

So release that inner body builder and get some more protein!


Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Orris, S., Scheiner, M., Gonzalez, A., & Peacock, C. (2015). A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women – a follow-up investigation. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, 12(1). doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0

Baum, J., Kim, I., & Wolfe, R. (2016). Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?. Nutrients, 8(6), 359. doi: 10.3390/nu8060359

Bell, K., Snijders, T., Zulyniak, M., Kumbhare, D., Parise, G., Chabowski, A., & Phillips, S. (2017). A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial. PLOS ONE, 12(7), e0181387. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181387

Phillips, S., Chevalier, S., & Leidy, H. (2016). Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, And Metabolism, 41(5), 565-572. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2015-0550