Protein Intake For Older Athletes

How Much Protein Is Enough?

Protein intake for older athletes is an essential and often overlooked aspect of any fitness routine. I’m starting to understand that my mindset needs to be less, more, more, and more.

Less overall volume of training. More short, high-intensity sessions. More recovery time. And more protein. This last part escapes the attention of most, yet it’s one which will undermine training, performance and recovery. More protein.

So how much protein is enough? A lot more than we tend to ingest. The reference intake is 0.75 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for an adult. In the UK, it appears that adults are consuming the reference amount. For athletes, anything from 1.2 grams to 2.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight are recommended, by bodies such as the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Olympic committee. I’m fortunate to work with one of the world’s leading sports scientists, and he is at the higher end of the scale, recommending to me 2.0 to 2.5 grams of protein for each of my 103 kilograms of bodyweight; 200 to 250 grams a day.

How Much Protein Intake For Older Athletes?

I’m not an elite athlete by any means. Average is a generous description. So why would my colleague recommend a high intake for me? The answer is age related, protein intake for older athletes needs careful consideration. Protein ingestion to stimulate muscle protein synthesis must be around 50% more in older athletes. While younger athletes respond optimally to 25 grams of post-exercise protein, older athletes have this same response to a 40 gram post-exercise portion of protein.

Doering et al demonstrated that masters athletes had lower muscle protein synthesis than younger athletes, and that slower recovery was demonstrated in cycling time trials carried out over three days after a treadmill trial. The 20 gram serving of protein given to all athletes in the trial was not sufficient to support recovery in masters athletes. Protein intake for older athletes needs to be higher, it’s clear.

The Protein Practicalities

It’s clear that 200 grams protein per day is a minimum for me. Not because I’m about to set any records, but because my body needs to recover more effectively. This should be spaced out over the day. I find it difficult to ingest this much via, say, chicken breasts; I would need four decent-sized ones to reach my target. I’ve tried low-carb diets before, and large quantities of animal protein gets tired quickly. I say that as a committed carnivore.

If protein intake for older athletes must be higher, then I need a plan. I’m going to try a high protein shake in the morning. PhD Synergy plus Greek yoghurt plus whole milk gives me 60 grams of protein to start the day. Then if I go for a casein shake before bed, that’s another 40 grams of slow release protein. Halfway there with those two alone. A post-exercise protein bar. Then my everyday diet. Looked at in that way, it seems doable.

So let’s give it a go. What’s the protein intake for older athletes? – higher than most of us would guess.

Also published on Medium.

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