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Protein essential for muscle maintenance in older people

High-quality dietary protein, such as that naturally found in dairy foods, is essential in maintaining muscle for older people.

Protein essential for muscle maintenance in older people

Move it and feed it protein – or lose it! That’s the message today from international researcher, Professor Luc van Loon, Maastricht University, the Netherlands, who is in Australia to share the latest muscle-related science with local health experts, in particular those working with active adults and older people.

“Muscle maintenance is not just for ‘gym-ers’,” he contends.  “It’s important for anyone who is already active and absolutely critical for the older population.

While the benefits of resistance type exercise for muscle building and maintenance are generally well known, Professor van Loon also stresses the need to consume ample high-quality dietary protein, such as that naturally found in dairy foods.

“Aging is accompanied by the loss of skeletal muscle mass and muscle strength, leading to the loss of functional capacity. This, in turn, can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle and a greater risk of developing chronic metabolic disease and associated cardiovascular complications,” Prof. van Loon explained.

“These health issues make people more dependent on the healthcare system and are often accompanied by a reduced quality of life.”

Van Loon’s research team investigates the synergy between physical activity and protein intake as a means to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and, as such, to support muscle mass maintenance in the elderly population.

“Being physically active prior to a meal or snack is of particular relevance to allow dietary protein that is consumed to be adequately used to synthesise new muscle protein,” Prof van Loon advises.

According to Dairy Australia’s Nutrition Science Manager, Dr Roxanne Portolesi, we typically consume protein-rich meals at dinner time with too little protein consumed at breakfast and lunch.

She said: “We need to re-think our approach to protein intake and ensure that it is consumed across the day, for example milk and cereal at breakfast, yogurt as a snack, a flavoured milk before exercise, cheese in a salad or sandwich and dairy as a dinner ingredient or dessert.

Prof. van Loon stresses that skeletal muscle is continually being built and broken down.  Simple steps can be taken to ensure a proper balance between synthesis and breakdown, thereby maintaining muscle mass and function.

His warning comes in the wake of new research published last month that highlights just how quickly muscle atrophy can occur.

The Dutch study, co-authored by Prof. van Loon, found that just five days of muscle disuse, such as during bed rest or limb immobilisation as a result of injury or illness, has a significant impact on muscle mass and strength.

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