Gaining weight while losing strength is too often a consequence of getting older. A regular gym routine can help you stay in shape, but even consistent core exercises may not be enough to prevent inevitable muscle weakness and belly-fat gains.
But new research suggests that combining a protein shake a day with resistance training could help you to keep that six-pack and stay fit well into your 60s.
Both resistance training and protein supplementation are well-studied methods that older adults can employ to beat both muscle loss and weight gain. The type of exercise and extra protein, particularly whey protein, is shown to help increase rates of muscle protein synthesis while improving fat loss.
A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms the effectiveness of this exercise and nutritional strategy. The study identified and evaluated 17 randomized controlled trials that used protein supplementation along with resistance training strategies such as weight training in older adults including both men and women.
Stronger Effect Than Exercise Alone
The study concluded that protein supplementation combined with resistance exercise training “had a stronger effect” in slowing age-related muscle and strength loss in older adults compared with resistance exercise training alone.
“Clinicians could use nutrition and exercise strategies, especially PS [protein supplementation] plus RET [resistance exercise training], to effectively improve the physical activity and health status of all older patients,” the study authors wrote.
In the systematic review, National Taiwan University scientists extracted data only from selected parallel trials that combined resistance training and protein supplementation and either compared it to resistance training only or resistance training and use of a placebo drink.
The scientists found that protein supplementation combined with resistance training had positive effects on body composition. These included increases in lean body mass, skeletal muscle mass, and leg lean mass along with reductions in total fat mass and body fat percentage. In addition, the study found that the combination led to greater muscle volume, muscle strength, and physical mobility in older adults, which included those who were overweight or obese.
An intriguing finding was that protein supplementation had a more favorable effect on older adults who had a higher body mass index (BMI), which suggests that it could be specifically beneficial for those who are overweight and at greater risk of muscle loss with age.
High-quality protein supplements, such as whey protein, were also shown to effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis even in resting conditions.
Notably, the study reported that no trial selected for the review reported any side effects or adverse effects. This once again confirms that the regular use of protein shakes in older adults is beneficial.
Keeping Muscle is Important With Age
Protecting muscle and strength should be a chief priority for anyone who is concerned about their health. For older adults, it’s vital for keeping up with the physical demands and physical mobility.
For these reasons, it’s thought that maintaining muscle mass and strength may even be more important than losing weight with age. However, being overweight or obese can also leave older adults at greater risk of muscle loss, lack of mobility, frailty, and disability.
Following the guidance of the scientists, drinking a protein shake daily and resistance training can be effective for improving quality of life. It’s important for older adults to check with a doctor before engaging in any exercise program.
Liaho CD, Tsauo JY, Wu YT, et al. Effects of protein supplementation combined with resistance exercise on body composition and physical function in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2017;106:1078-91.