by Matt Weik
For years the primary consumer of whey protein supplements has been those who engage in exercise, bodybuilders, and athletes—ultimately a younger demographic. Everyone else seemed to find it taboo or worthless. However, researchers looked at a different demographic and how whey protein can help them—more specifically, senior citizens.
That’s right, toss Pop’s a protein shake and hop aboard the gainz train. Personally, I didn’t find the research anything new from my own person knowledge, but for many, it might be worthwhile knowing and educating your parents/grandparents on these new findings.
A new whey to improve health and strength
For years it’s been known that senior citizens need to make sure they are not only eating properly, but also getting up and moving. The mind and body slowly starts to deteriorate when it’s dormant. And now, researchers are saying that seniors should consider consuming protein shakes regularly to for health benefits.
As we age, we tend to lose lean muscle mass—especially if we aren’t exercising and utilizing resistance training. When loss the muscle occurs, a decline in strength generally follows. When senior citizens begin losing muscle and strength, their normal day to day activities become more challenging. And due to the increased challenge, there is an inherent risk of falls.
When getting up in age and when bone mass and density aren’t exactly in their prime, the risk of breaks and fractures are a real concern. A simple fall can break a bone and even if the fracture isn’t severe, it can still completely change the way of life for that senior—even causing them to need to be in a nursing home or assisted living facility. The one thing that scares seniors almost as much as death, is when they no longer have control of their quality of life. If they are confined to a wheelchair, or need someone to take care of them all day every day, to them is no way to live the rest of their life. Many can end up becoming depressed and fall into downward spiral.
This is further reinforced when one researcher said, “Older people who do little to prevent the progression of sarcopenia (the loss of muscle with aging), drift toward a state where they find activities of daily living, like rising from a chair or ascending stairs very difficult or maybe impossible.”
The senior study
To look at how whey protein can help senior citizens, a group of researchers from McMaster University gathered two groups of men over the age of 70. They used one group as a placebo and the other they gave a protein shake. Neither group was asked to exercise and the first part of this study lasted a total of six weeks. The researchers wanted to see if there were any noticeable benefits to the whey protein group in terms of muscle mass and strength, even when an exercise program was not followed and executed.
Then for the next part of the study, the same groups were asked to extend taking their supplements (placebo or protein) for an additional 12 weeks while completing an exercise program that included high-intensity interval training as well as resistance training twice a week. Many might be questioning the type of exercise they had seniors perform, but one researcher mentioned, “We chose that combination of exercises to get a maximal benefit in terms of fitness and muscle strength. I know many think older persons can’t do that type of exercise, but that’s simply untrue.”
After the total of 18 weeks were completed for both parts of the study, the researchers were blown away with their findings. When compared to the placebo group, the seniors who consumed the protein shake improved their overall strength as well as showed an improvement in muscle size. When they compared the amount of muscle they would have lost without the additional protein each year, researchers found they gained that amount in muscle within the first six weeks of the study. This finding is actually astonishing. What they would have originally lost in a year, they gained in six weeks. Then when the resistance training was added to the study, further strength gains were shown.
One researcher stated, “Clearly, exercise is a key part of the greatly improved health profile of our subjects, but we are very excited by the enhancements the supplement alone and in combination with exercise was able to give to our participants.”
These findings are lifechanging when you think about it. The quality of life improvements that can be had simply by including whey protein into a nutrition plan are astounding—regardless of if the individual is engaging in an exercise program or not. This shows an even more reason to push your “supplements” onto your parents/grandparents. Seek out a protein powder that they enjoy and make sure they are drinking a shake every day. If they aren’t thrilled with the taste or are in need of more calories throughout the day, you can have them put in fruit, oats, or even natural butters like peanut butter or almond butter. Instead of water they could also use milk to increase the calorie count as well as take in more calcium in their diet to help improve their bone health.
Whey protein—it’s not just for meat heads anymore! Now Pop’s can improve his overall strength and lean musculature by including a shake in his regimen. Next thing you know he’ll be busting out the tank top and looking swole! Ok, that part is just a joke. But, the benefits of including a protein shake, and at a very minimal cost, is something every senior citizen should be looking into.
1.) Kirsten E. Bell, Tim Snijders, Michael Zulyniak, Dinesh Kumbhare, Gianni Parise, Adrian Chabowski, Stuart M. Phillips. “A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial.” PLOSONE, 2017.