You may not realise it, but proteins are key to your health and quality of life as you age. From supporting lean muscle mass to boosting your immunity, proteins are essential for living a long, healthy life.
Many of us already know that proteins are the building blocks of life. But what’s often overlooked is the power of protein to maximise longevity and healthspan. When consumed in the right amount and balance, proteins can become a powerful ally.
In this article, we’re going to discuss why protein is so important for your longevity and healthspan—and how much you should be consuming to get the most out of it.
What Is Protein and Its Components
Protein is a major component of all living cells and is made up of amino acids. There are 20+ types of amino acids, but nine of them are essential, meaning they cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed through diet.
The nine essential amino acids are:
When consumed in adequate amounts, amino acids are key in helping you build lean muscle mass, prevent disease, and live a longer life.
The Importance of Getting Enough Protein
You may have heard of protein as the building blocks of muscle, but did you know that proteins in our body make up so much more than just muscle?
They are used to help build and repair tissues all over your body, in essentially every organ. Even collagen in our skin, tendon, bone and connective tissue is a type of protein! It is also needed to create hormones, immunity particles, and enzymes for many different chemical reactions in the body.
Sufficient amounts of protein are key to building and maintaining muscles, avoiding age-related muscle loss (or sarcopenia), maintaining a healthy immune system, supporting bone health and promoting tissue healing after injury or wear and tear — all of which are crucial in preventing chronic illness associated with aging.
Furthermore, increasing muscle mass and strength is something that almost everyone should strive for to make sure we are able to function, play, travel and enjoy our later years. We lose muscle steadily as we age, and we have yet to come across a single 80 year-old who complains of having “too much muscle” or being “too strong” for their age - rather, nearly everyone wishes for more strength and independence!
The RDA for Protein Intake: Is It Enough?
So how much protein should we be getting in order to maximise lean muscle mass, quality of life and longevity while preventing disease? The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However, this figure is just enough to prevent diseases caused by protein deficiency—it's not enough to maximise lean muscle mass and longevity.
There's a growing body of evidence showing that higher protein intakes (particularly in older adults) are associated with healthier aging and lower mortality rates, with a 2019 publication also supporting this finding in the Chinese population. Multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of higher protein intake of double or more than the RDA, particularly in exercising individuals. Additionally, the diseases and poor quality of life associated with being under-muscled are undeniable, including metabolic disease, poor bone health, frailty and inability to perform basic tasks independently.
Based on this, we recommend an intake of 1.4-2.2g of protein per kg bodyweight per day (or even higher for certain individuals with specific goals).
However, it goes beyond just getting enough protein—it's also important to consider when you take in your protein and what type of protein you're consuming as well to maximise the benefits.
Timing of Protein Intake and Quality of Protein
It turns out that timing and quality of the protein can make a big difference - how often, how much and what types of protein should we look for?
Many gurus state that our body is only able to “absorb” 20-35g of protein in one sitting—but this is a misunderstanding of the science. What the data actually suggests is that maximal muscle building response (or muscle protein synthesis) occurs after eating 20-35g of protein, but this doesn't mean that our body is just going to pass out and “waste” anything more than the first 35g that we eat. It just isn’t maximally being used for muscle building.
That being said, if you're goal then is to gain muscle or hold onto your muscle during weight loss (ie. lose mainly fat), the best way to go about it is trying to distribute your intake over 3 to 5 meals throughout the day to maximise the muscle building response. Trying to spread out your daily intake evenly throughout the day instead of loading up in chunks at mealtimes may help your body utilise it better;
Not all proteins are equal either. We should consider the quality of the protein too, based on the amount of essential amino acids it contains and your body's ability to digest and absorb it. Animal proteins, and protein isolates (often found in protein powders) are better absorbed (>95%) than plant proteins (60-70%). They also tend to contain more of the essential amino acids. With this in mind, Mito Health can help you find personalised recommendations for the best sources of protein for you based on your goals, tastes and preferences!
Concerns Around Eating Too Much Protein
Another common concern when it comes to protein intake is that consuming too much of it can harm your kidneys or increase the risk of cancer, however these claims currently don’t have enough science to confidently back them up in healthy people.
Research suggests that the fear that too high protein can affect our kindeys is not a realistic concern for most people without kidney disease. In fact, in order to over consume protein to such a degree that it could affect your kidneys, you'd need to be consuming an enormous amount—at least 3.5 to 4 grams per kg per day (imagine eating 280g of protein per day)!
Eating the right amount of protein, the right quality of protein, and at the right times, are powerful tools to maximise your healthspan and longevity. When it comes to protein, knowing your body and understanding what it needs is key.
The protein RDA (0.8g/kg/day) is simply not enough, and here at Mito we typically recommend much higher levels depending on your unique body and goals. There is scant evidence to suggest that eating too much protein leads to kidney damage and rather higher protein reduces the chances of early death.
Mito Health provides personalised services to help you get the balance of protein your body needs and make sure you get the most out of your longevity. Get in touch today to see how we can help.