Food and Nutrition

Here’s How Your Protein Needs Change in Your 30s, 40s, 50s, and Beyond

Erin Bunch

Photo: Stocksy/Ivan Gener
Of all the macro and micronutrients required for good health, people seem to worry most about whether or not they're getting enough of one in particular: protein. Many of us feel as though we could be deficient or on the brink of deficiency, even if we can't quite articulate what "enough" protein is, or even why it is that the consumption of protein eclipses most other nutrition-centric concerns we might have. So if you're confused or concerned about your daily protein intake, you're not alone.

After all, protein does play many important roles in the body, so the zeitgeist-y focus on it isn't unwarranted. According to Bill Cole, DC, a cellular health specialist and functional medicine expert, it does most of the work in our cells and is required for proper functioning of our tissues, oils, and glands. It's also responsible for oxygenating and repairing the body, helping to make digestive enzymes, and even producing and regulating some hormones. So yeah, getting "enough" is important.

But how much protein do you *actually* need, and does it change over time as you age? Registered dietitians lay it all out below.

Dietician-recommended daily protein intake, over time

Your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s:

Generally, registered dieticians Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN and Keri Gans, MS, RDN both point out that the FDA's recommended daily amount of protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight for those over the age of eighteen. "For example, a person who weighs 150 pounds requires at least 55 grams of protein each day," says Rifkin.

This recommendation generally doesn't change until individuals reach the age of 65, with a few caveats. Both dietitians say that those who are trying to gain muscle mass should up their daily protein intake from 0.8kg/g to somewhere between 1.4 and 2g/kg. Pregnant and breastfeeding women also have increased protein needs, both nutritionists say. Rifkin recommends that this population bump their intake to 1.1g/kg, while Gans frames the goal amount as 75-100 grams of protein per day.

Your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond:

After the age of 65, the daily protein intake recommendation shifts to 1.0-1.2g/kg of body weight, and this increase serves an important purpose. "A protein insufficiency is common in the elderly and results in loss of muscle mass, also known as sarcopenia," says Gans. This issue is compounded by the fact that we tend to move less as we age, which further causes muscle loss. "So besides increasing protein intake, it is recommended that an individual also include resistance training as part of their overall exercise routine," she explains.

And actually, Rifkin says you may want to bump up your intake a bit earlier, but for the same reasons. "Research suggests that increasing protein with age may help maintain muscle tissue, and as we age, we naturally lose muscle mass due to hormonal changes, inactivity, and various other factors," she says. "This loss in muscle can negatively impact quality of life, so increasing protein to 1-1.5g/kg may be beneficial after 50 years of age."

Additionally, she explains that aging individuals are at higher risk for protein catabolism (or break down), and they therefore have a more difficult time utilizing protein in their bodies. "This can lead to more falls, injuries, and health issues, so it is imperative to maintain adequate protein intake across all stages of life," she says.

How to meet your recommended daily protein intake

So, that's actually quite a bit more straightforward than you might have imagined, right? If you're not sure what you weigh in kilograms, and the whole measuring system is messing you up, it might be easier for you to think about it in pounds: 0.8kg is about 0.36 pounds, so just multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 0.35 and voila!

Once you've done those calculations, you might then be surprised by how relatively small the amount of protein you require on a daily basis actually is, and how relatively easy it is to meet. A few examples: One large egg has approximately six grams of protein; one five-ounce serving of salmon has approximately 30 grams; a serving of tempeh has around 30 grams; one serving of greek yogurt has around 17 grams; and a handful of almonds will give you around six grams.

Importantly, Rifkin notes that your protein can come from animal or plant sources, so vegans aren't S.O.L. when it comes this critical macronutrient, though they may have to be somewhat more strategic about obtaining it. "Animal sources of protein are more bioavailable in the body, meaning your body is able to make better use of the amino acids; however, all forms of protein can contribute to total protein intake," she says.

In fact, Gans says it's best to get protein from a variety of sources, so that you're getting a well-rounded smattering of other macro and micronutrients simultaneously. "For example, legumes, a plant-based protein, are also rich in fiber, which is good for digestive health; seafood is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for heart health, and dairy foods provide calcium, recommended for bone health," she says.

If you're not still not sure if you are protein deficient, take a look at these warning signs. Otherwise, as long as you're eating a balanced diet and aren't an athlete, pregnant, or over a certain age, you're likely getting plenty of protein each day.

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