Sunday, March 18, 2012

Get Older, Stay Strong: Exciting New Research

Sarcopenia, a medical term based on Greek words meaning “poverty of flesh,” is applied to the loss of lean muscle mass often observed in old people.  Traditionally, this deterioration has been seen as a natural part of the aging process:  old people were thought to be incapable of maintaining their strength and building new muscle as well as young people.  Recent research is calling this view into question.  

In a video clip Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, describes one study in which young and old people were each given 4-ounce portions of lean beef.  Researchers were able to use a stable isotope form of one amino acid to track the process by which the food was transformed into muscle in the human body.  In both young and old subjects eating the beef stimulated the ability to build muscle by about 50% for about three hours.  The conclusion:  “Aging per se doesn’t really impair our ability to take food and turn it into muscle.”  Dr. Paddon-Jones, an Associate Professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, studies mechanisms contributing to skeletal muscle protein synthesis and breakdown and identification of interventions to counteract muscle loss in healthy and clinical populations.” 

So what do we need to do in order to maintain muscle mass as we get older?  Recent research suggests that instead of consuming the bulk of the day’s protein at dinner, as most Americans do, we should spread it out over three meals, consuming 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal for a daily maximum of 90 grams.  Eating larger amounts of protein, 12 ounces of beef rather than 4 ounces, does not produce additional gains in muscle mass, according to Paddon-Jones.  Meals of less than 20 grams actually reduce protein synthesis in older adults.   The research also emphasizes the importance of exercise, including resistance work, in preventing sarcopenia.

Based on these recommendations I am going to start adding roasted soybeans to some of my meals.  A third of a cup has 13 grams of protein and 163 calories, better than many protein bars.

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