In a recent study, McMaster University researchers found one protein source, in particular, whey protein, is most effective for seniors to rebuild muscle lost.
Older people are more likely to lose muscles from inactivity due to illness or long hospital stays. Exercise buffs have long used protein supplements to gain muscle.
The study compared the impact of different forms of protein supplements on older adults, a growing population challenged by the loss of muscle and strength, or sarcopenia, which in turn can affect balance, gait and the ability to perform the simple tasks of everyday life.
The researchers found that protein did not stop lean muscle loss caused by inactivity, however, whey supplements helped to rebuild muscle once the participants’ activities resumed.
The team suggests that whey is one of the highest quality proteins and is ideal for older persons.
Whey is considered a high-quality or complete protein, meaning it is rich in all essential amino acids and is higher in leucine, one of the essential amino acids the body cannot make itself and therefore, must derive from food.
Collagen peptides, by comparison, are much lower in their leucine content, lack or are low in essential amino acids.
In the study, the researchers set out to compare the impact of whey versus collagen protein on muscle loss during periods of inactivity and then recovery.
They recruited men and women who were non-smokers, non-diabetic and between the ages of 65 and 80 years old.
One group of subjects consumed whey protein, the other collagen peptides, throughout the study.
For a five-week period, their diet was controlled, including a two-week time frame where their daily steps were restricted to 750 per day and their calorie intake reduced by 500 calories per day, conditions that might mimic what older people often experience during a hospital stay.
Participants returned to normal activity levels during a one-week recovery period.
The team had predicted that the collagen peptide group would experience a significantly greater muscle loss than the whey protein group, but that didn’t happen.
Both groups lost the same amount of muscle.
While protein was ineffective in mitigating muscle loss, say researchers, when participants returned to normal, muscle-building activity, the whey group recovered more skeletal muscle.
In future research, the team plans to focus on women specifically, who tend to experience greater difficulties in rebuilding strength.
Stuart Phillips is the senior author on the paper and a professor of kinesiology at McMaster. Sara Oikawa is the lead author at McMaster.
The study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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