Muscle loss is a common occurrence as we age. The best tactics to reduce the risk of muscle loss is through diet and exercise. Unfortunately, many seniors aren’t as active as they should be, and the risk of muscle loss continues to be higher among this group of people. In order to reduce muscle loss in inactive seniors, researchers uncovered the best protein supplement that can help maintain strong muscles.
Muscle loss, or sarcopenia, is particularly dangerous for older adults because it can increase the risk of falls, injuries, and reduce the ability to perform certain tasks.
For their study, researchers did not find that protein supplements stopped lean muscle loss due to inactivity but did uncover that whey protein supplements could help rebuild muscle once participants were active once again.
Senior author of the study Stuart Phillips explained, “The important message here is that not all proteins are created equal. Whey is one of the highest quality proteins and is ideal for older persons.”
The researchers aimed to compare the effects of whey protein versus collagen protein on muscle loss during inactivity and recovery.
Whey protein is rich in many essential amino acids and is higher in leucine, which is an amino acid that the body cannot make itself and must be derived from diet.
Collagen peptides are much lower in leucine and tend to be lower in other essential amino acids.
The study involved men and women who were non-smokers, non-diabetics, and aged 65 to 80. One group consumed whey protein while the other group consumed collagen peptides.
For five weeks, the participants consumed a controlled diet where for two weeks, their steps were restricted to 750 a day and calories were reduced by 500 – this is similar to what older individuals would experience in a hospital stay. After the two weeks, the participants returned to their normal routines for a week, known as the recovery period.
The researchers predicted that the collagen group would experience greater muscle loss, but in actuality, both groups experienced the same amount of muscle loss.
Lead author Sara Oikawa added, “While we already know that complete protein sources are more potent for stimulating building processes we were surprised to discover that after two weeks of limiting steps among the participants, there were no apparent differences in muscle loss between the two groups.”
During the recovery period, the whey protein group recovered more skeletal muscle, revealing whey protein should be integrated into a healthy lifestyle to promote muscle growth.
Oikawa concluded, “When we consider measures that can be taken to help seniors as they age, it’s clear that whey is an important ingredient. Conversely, we should avoid collagen in formulations targeting older people.”